Tag Archives: ways into tech

Kris Plum

”…. there’s no better feeling than seeing your code work or learning new avenues of technology”

photo of Kris PlumHow did you find your way into tech?

I have recently been hired as a data analytics and visualisation consultant. I started my undergraduate studies in Literature, German and French. A year later I dropped out and travelled for two and half years. I then went back and completed my undergraduate degree in English Literature. Thereafter, I worked my way from a temporary worker in a digital marketing company to being a full-time Media Strategist and then worked my way into a social media marketing/search engine marketing position. It was in this role that I developed a love of technology and data. This role introduced me to the world of technology, specifically web development. I had only known of web development as hardcore coding, but it was through understanding how a web page ranked and the importance of how a website was developed for google ranking that I began to be aware of the simplicity and creativity of web development.

In this time, I had also made a female friend who was a software engineer. I remember asking her how she got into such a role. She told me she had an undergraduate degree in dance and was previously a ballet dancer and that her dad was the one who taught her code. She then told me how anyone could code and that she was trying to get into UX design. It was then that I decided that the intricate world of tech would be for me but not then as I decided to go and travel abroad for another 3 years.

I went and travelled, found my now partner and decided to pursue a career in tech. I searched for a university that would offer a master’s in computing but one that would provide training in web development and UX. The university that I found was Edinburgh Napier University which offered the diverse program I was looking for and had the permaculture Lionsgate. I was extremely intrigued by the Lionsgate project as I had spent years while travelling working on organic permaculture farms. The permaculture Lionsgate is a project that combines sustainability and technology. The Lionsgate sounded like an absolute dream as my sole reason for getting involved in technology is it has the biggest potential for assisting the climate emergency and reversing global warming.

What does your role involve?

From what I’ve understood of the job duties and through my discussion with my future managers, it seems that the role will involve a lot of data analysis. What I’m most looking forward to is working on big projects that will influence stakeholders to make important infrastructure decisions. I’ve also been informed that I will learn how to calculate carbon emissions for each infrastructure project. Thereby, being able to help influence stakeholders to make positive decisions based on the data.

Essentially this role involves the use of data to encourage positive infrastructural growth..

What advice would you offer?

I think you should try a diverse range of tech courses as you would be surprised as to what aspects of technology you find interesting. Computing is an extremely rewarding degree and there’s no better feeling than seeing your code work or learning new avenues of technology.

In terms of gender imbalance on the course I personally didn’t have this experience on my course as my program was very international, which I absolutely loved. Although any of the boys that I worked with on my course seemed just as lost as I was, which made me feel much better as it put this stereotype of boys being more tech savvy to bed as I clearly saw that it wasn’t true. I feel that even if it had been more male than female, I think you would be surprised to learn that everyone is learning together.

Amelia Olsson Robbie

“The most exciting thing for me is the challenge. Nothing stands still.”

photo of Amelia Olsson RobbieWhat does your current role involve?

I’m the Asset and Configuration Manager for the Chief Digital Office in the Scottish Government, looking after all the assets — hardware and software — within Social Security Scotland. It’s a new post, we’re creating all the policy documents and profiles of what we’re going to be doing, from development to hosting.

What do you enjoy about your role?

The most exciting thing for me is the challenge. Nothing stands still. There’s a lot of plate-spinning. But you’re always learning about what happens here and what happens there and about what each team is using something for and how that all fits together. It’s like a sort of giant jigsaw puzzle, really. And as soon as you think you’ve done the jigsaw, because you’re working in tech, there’s something new and something changes and the whole landscape shifts. It’s always: How can we make things better? How can we use this? I’ve got very clear things that I’m meant to be trying to achieve, but it’s never going to be the same day twice, which is good.

I’ve had so much support from my line manager, from my team, the people around me, to be able to learn more and develop in a way that I want to, the things that I find interesting. I’ve been able to develop a couple of avenues that I want to pursue, which has been really helpful.

What would be useful to support women in tech?

I had a baby last year and everything around the maternity leave and coming back to work, and making sure that situation was comfortable for me, was really, really supportive. When you’re coming back from time away, especially in an atmosphere like tech where everyday is a learning day and everything changes, you feel like you’ve been out of the loop for so long, and it’s quite challenging, quite fast-paced, and you get nervous. But we had a discussion about what would work best for everyone, rather than me having to feel like I was making difficult adjustments, and now I work compressed hours and get an extra day off to be able to spend time with my daughter. They were really keen to let me know that they were welcoming me back; they were really keen for me to come back and there was lots for me to do and lots of opportunities. So that was critical for me.

Also, having an atmosphere where you can get additional support and training — because if you have taken time out, you’re concerned about your performance. I think it is a slightly more female trait to not necessarily have the same level of confidence and to want to make sure that you are absolutely nailing every thing that you’re given and you can prove you’re doing just as well as everybody else. I have been really encouraged to seek promotion opportunities. I’ve been encouraged to push myself, to write up everything that I’m doing and realise how much I’ve achieved. My manager is great at helping me consider what more I can actually do and thinking about where I want to go. I think having an atmosphere that feels more encouraging, rather than driven, has really helped.

And encourage girls to consider careers in tech?

I think that the way we consider Tech can be quite off-putting. Tech can seem like a monolith, even just what that word encompasses, so I would try to break it down a bit — think about how you use technology and what it can do for you. And just be curious, try to find out a little bit more about it, because there’s so much you can do with it, it’s fascinating. There will be something out there, in technology, that can either massively support you or it can be something that’s really, really exciting. There’s actually something really creative about it, in some ways.

How did you get into tech?

I was working for an education consultancy and the company underwent a refresh. They were looking into technical applications to support them in what they were doing. And I got heavily involved in that and started to do a lot more project management and technical project management. And then transferred over to doing project coordination for the Scottish Government. So, my technical background was initially self-taught and taught on the job. My degree was in French and Spanish:  coding, technology, it’s a language. It’s all about systems and how things get put together.

Mairi Macdonald

”I guess I would say don’t count yourself out, and don’t be afraid to jump; I didn’t have a clue I’d be going down this route only six months ago.”

photo of Mairi MacdonaldHow did you find your way into tech?

I only began to consider a career in tech relatively recently.  I was a strong student in school and stepped on the ‘get into medicine’ conveyor belt pretty early, though I quickly realised at uni that it was not for me. I really struggled to pinpoint an alternative degree that matched my proficiency in maths and science with my interests in social change and human behaviour. Later at 25, I was waiting to start a social science degree and was parenting my two-year-old twins, when I realised that my childcare costs would be too prohibitively expensive to allow me to undertake a traditional degree.

I started to read about applications of machine learning and soon recognised that data science does not stand alone but has application in all fields, and for someone with broad interests this really appealed to me. In an ideal world I see myself working at the intersection of computer science, social science, and psychology; using practical, hard science tools to understand and design interventions for social problems. I’m also very interested in data ethics. Growing up in rural Scotland I had very little exposure to what the possibilities in tech might be and assumed it would be too complicated and very dry – the opposite, I now realise, is true.

In order to step into tech I looked for graduate apprenticeships.  One opportunity in my area grabbed me: a position in the Improvement Service. A little over a month later I began my BSc in Data Science through the University of Stirling while working four days a week as a trainee data scientist with the Improvement Service.

What do you like about your course?

Obviously the earn and learn opportunity is very secure and has made further education viable to me, but also it is very valuable to see real-world applications of the degree in my job every week. It can put the more abstract aspects of the course into context. As an adult learner, I have better time management skills and can manage work and study simultaneously.

I’ll be graduating at 29, but with four years’ work experience. Having experienced university before, I can also say that remote learning suits me very well. I can learn and study very flexibly around my job and childcare, and content delivery is engaging and stimulating. The faculty at Stirling are very supportive and approachable, particularly so for the GA cohort.

What advice would you offer?

It took me long enough to be able to point to a career and think ‘that one is for me’, and then was fortunate enough to stumble on a pathway soon after – that is half the battle I think, and one that many people struggle with. I was beginning to feel like I’d ‘missed my chance’ and was frustrated at the pressure put on me to misguidedly pick a future at a young age. Starting something completely new at 25 as a parent of young children seemed a bit mad, but it was a brilliant decision and I’m certainly not alone; I study with peers 20 years my senior.

I guess I would say don’t count yourself out, and don’t be afraid to jump: I didn’t have a clue I’d be going down this route (or even that I’d be good at it) only six months ago. There is plenty of room in this industry for the most niche of interests, and it is so important that the sector includes diverse minds and voices so that human bias is not built into data science. I’m still slightly amused that I ‘work in tech’ because it’s not what family or friends expect from me, but I now find I am excited and almost impatient to study, and I’ve had a very successful start.

Gemma Mackintosh

“…Building up new skills from scratch is hard, but that’s not a reason to avoid it – it’s a reason to give yourself time to make mistakes”

photo of Gemma MackintoshHow did you find your way into tech?

I started out studying undergraduate psychology at university, then followed up with a PhD in a related field, which was a very slow-drip introduction to data and statistics. I only really got into R coding during my PhD, and despite the challenges associated with being self-taught, I enjoyed the problem-solving. This is primarily what pushed me to pursue a career in data science, as opposed to continuing with academia.

I’d actually been interested in working with the emergency services from a really young age. However, I’d always been concerned about my capability when it comes to the operational side of things, and my strengths were always more suited to a support role. I joined the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) around 10 months ago as a Data Services Developer, which couldn’t have been a more exciting introduction to data science and business intelligence in the public service.

I work in a close-knit team focusing on data management, quality assurance, and delivery of high-quality products that make the data useful, both for others in the service and a wider audience. I’ve had some amazing opportunities to use and advance my skills in R, and I’ve even picked up some new skills in SQL and PowerBI. Recently I even had the opportunity to explore more complex data modelling, and I really look forward to adding this to my repertoire.

On being a Woman in Tech

It’s no secret that there are barriers for women when it comes to ‘making it’ in tech, however, my experience with SFRS has been incredibly positive in this regard. A lot of women, myself included, feel, or at some time have felt as though a higher level of drive and ambition is required, and that there is a real danger of being seen as ‘difficult’ when pushing boundaries that need to be pushed. I like to think that any truth in this is becoming a thing of the past, and I strongly believe that women are becoming more respected in the tech industry.

Something really special about working in tech is the speed at which it progresses – both globally and locally. I honestly couldn’t say for certain what I’ll be doing this time in 10 years, but I know it’ll be something exciting, perhaps even something that doesn’t exist yet. The ability to say “I contributed to this advancement” is something that draws a lot of people into this industry, and it’s certainly a huge perk of the job. Even your smallest achievement of the day could be something that’s never been done by anyone in the world before you. I’m grateful that this previously male-dominated industry now gives women like myself the opportunity to experience this.

What advice would you offer?

Building up new skills from scratch is hard, but that’s not a reason to avoid it – it’s a reason to give yourself time to make mistakes. It’s easy to compare your skills to others’ but take the opportunity to learn from them rather than criticising your own skills. Some of my best memories are solving complex code problems with my PhD cohort, many of whom picked up the joy of coding much earlier than I did. I’m glad I used their passion to build up my own.

And don’t be afraid of changing your path, because there’s lots of different avenues for tech roles, and if the one you’re on doesn’t feel right for whatever reason, another certainly will!

Louise Drumm

”…[Tech] has also been an area with lots of change, so there are always new platforms and developments to make things interesting”

photo of Louise DrummHow did you find your way into tech?

My brother is 10 years older than me and when he got interested in computing and studied it at university it meant there was a computer in the house and I started to type out the Basic programmes printed in magazines. It was a slow business, but I got a real satisfaction from it, even though I must only have been about 7 or 8. Years went and I did a degree in English Literature. I went on to work in theatre as a technician and director. I wanted to return to study something and I was torn between computing and music technology. In the end I did a MSc in IT Software and Systems, because I really wanted a broad knowledge. I had no clear idea where it would take me. Though very challenging, I enjoyed the course and discovered the creativity involved in coding. My dissertation project related back to my undergraduate degree as I built an e-learning package for Old English. This is how I moved into the area of learning technology and I’ve worked in a number of universities since. I have done software development, but mostly it has been as a learning technologist and more recently as a lecturer.

What does your role involve?

What I really enjoyed about being a learning technologist was that it involved both technical and the interpersonal skills. I would work closely with an academic to help them realise their ideas for how they wanted to teach online. This would require training them in the use of some tools or platforms, but also in depth conversations about how their students learn, how they teach their subject and what technologies can bring to these activities. Other times I would be trouble-shooting issues with the systems, or more commonly, user mistakes.

There were opportunities to develop my skills in certain areas, such as design or multimedia. It has also been an area with lots of change, so there are always new platforms and developments to make things interesting. When I moved into a lecturing role, I could bring a lot of that on-the-job knowledge to my research and teaching, as I now run the MSc in Blended and Online Education. I really like working in a university as I get to meet and work with people who work in lots of different areas and there are opportunities for continuing professional development.

What advice would you offer?

The market for learning technologists is very competitive since the pandemic and there are now more opportunities to specialise or move into management roles. It’s good to keep an open mind about where you might go and where development opportunities might lead you to. It is also good to feel connected and true to what is important to you. I know that as an undergraduate student I was not as engaged or successful as I could have been, so I’m always mindful that the work I do might be helping other under confident learners be reach their potential.

Jen Campbell

Product Owner in the Scottish Government’s Digital Transformation Division

photo of Jen CampbellWhat does your current role involve?

I’m a Product Manager, sometimes referred to as a Product Owner, in the Scottish Government’s Digital Transformation Division. My role is to understand the users’ and the business needs and set the direction for what we’re developing. It’s quite a common role in the private sector, in terms of things like developing apps. In Government, we tend to focus our work around services, so we’re thinking about the service that’s being delivered to the end user. My team are working on a service for outbound payments to people, whether that’s benefit payments or grants or pension payments. We’re still very much in a development stage, so my role day-to-day involves things like interpreting what’s come out of user research, understanding business needs, such as rules around payments, and using that to determine the priorities around what we need to build and deliver. I work closely with everybody across the team — delivery manager, business analyst, user researcher, service design, developers and technical architects — lots of different roles.

What do you enjoy about your role?

I like being in the middle of things. I like the fact that I need to look all around, I need to be interacting with the development teams, I need to know what they’re doing. I need to have enough of an understanding that I can have conversations with them and give direction in some areas, without being too deep in the technical detail. I’m also interacting with people in the financial processes side, as well as potential users in some scenarios as well. I’ve got a 360 degree view of what’s going on and I need to be at the centre, being the person that can make sense of all those different bits and pull it all together. I’m a Big Picture type of person so I like having that wider viewpoint and trying to see the connections between things, seeing where we could make things better. And I really enjoy learning new things, for example I’m learning a lot about Cyber Security at the moment — because of the nature of what we’re doing, it’s really important I’ve been able to spend quite a lot of time with experts learning about it. Similarly, things like Cloud Architecture were quite new to me, but I’ve had the opportunity to start upskilling myself and I’ve really enjoyed that as well.

How did you get into tech?

While studying Politics and French at uni, I did an internship in an HR department of a big insurance company in the US and spent quite a lot of my time on a digital project, looking for a new provider for part of their recruitment process. I spent a lot of time gathering requirements and spending time with their technical teams — stuff that is similar to what I do now and I really enjoyed that. After uni, I went into a graduate scheme with Accenture. That was quite an accelerated period of development, doing loads of different stuff and learning lots — business analysis work, some change stuff, some project management, really  getting exposure to the breadth of what you can do by working in digital projects.

Then I joined the Scottish Government as a (digital) Transformation Manager. That was a great opportunity, because it brought together two areas that I was interested in career-wise, combining an interest in government and current affairs with digital. Initially I worked on the Social Security programme which felt like an opportunity to really make a difference. They were building this up from scratch and taking a user-centred approach — putting people at the heart of it — and I saw a really big digital opportunity there. I was working on what’s now the Child Disability Payment and I found that really rewarding, because we were trying to develop a service that worked well for people who are often in a really difficult circumstance, and focusing on making the service as straightforward and supportive as it could be. Since then my role has evolved and I’m now a Product Manager and also head of our Product Community of Practice.

What would be useful to support women in tech?

I think it can be difficult at times to know whether you have the right skills to do a certain job, so there’s something about understanding career paths and what you can do with different skillsets — how you can evolve them and move, whether it’s sideways or upwards, whatever gets you to where you want to go. A lot of stuff in the tech world, that we work with day-to-day, is really new. So while people can have years of experience in IT, they probably don’t have years of experience in every brand new technology that comes out. As things are opening up and changing, there are opportunities: you can learn about new technologies, and you can be as much of an expert as anybody else in it, because it’s new.

And encouraging girls to consider careers in tech?

It’s a wider set of careers than you might initially think. Tech is everywhere, so it opens doors. It can be a way to have a real impact in probably anything you can think of that you’d like to make a difference in. I was always interested in politics and government, and I’m able to make a difference in that field through a technology role. Think about what you’re interested in, be flexible, and be open to the new opportunities that can come with the development of new tech in the future.

In a lot of tech jobs, what you’re doing is developing something for people, so a lot of your job can end up being around understanding people. I’ve always worked in teams that work very collaboratively, so you’ve always got that opportunity to build those relationships and have a great working experience with your team.

Laura Anderson

Cyber Security Analyst and final year Graduate Apprentice

photo of Laura AndersonWhat does your current role involve?

I’m a Cyber Security Analyst, working in the Cyber Operations Team. So we’re looking at the alerts that are coming in from our different applications and tools, and we look at the vulnerabilities we have across Social Security Scotland. I’ve been in this role for a couple of months now. I’m still at university as well, doing the Graduate Apprenticeship scheme, at Edinburgh Napier. It’s really good having the on job experience as well as having the university side of it. I feel like I can bring in some of the skills that I learn in university into my current job role, which is beneficial for me and for the team as well.

What do you enjoy about your role?

There’s always something new every day. Every day is a learning day, because tech is ever-changing and there’s always something new. Sometimes it can be quite challenging, but the challenge is always good. There’s always something new going on that you have to try and develop more and work with your team. I think we’ve got a really good team as well, there’s so much support here.

How did you get into tech?

I started working with the Chief Digital Office about four and half years ago, as an admin assistant, doing a Modern Apprenticeship. Once I completed that, I then had to decide: Ok, what am I going to do now? The opportunity had came up for a Graduate Apprenticeship in the Security Team and I thought that’s such an interesting job, there’s so much to do. Security is so wide, there’s so many different aspects that you can go down, so many different roles. So I thought that will be such a great opportunity.

I worried that I didn’t have a great technical background, coming from retail. I didn’t have coding skills, I’d never looked at it before. But I took the opportunity and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made. I found the support from my colleagues, from line managers, from mentors, has just been incredible. I feel like no question is a stupid question, like line managers and mentors are always keen for you to ask questions, no matter how small. I’m now in my fourth year of the Cyber Security Graduate Apprenticeship, doing my honours project, and a couple of months ago I was promoted to Cyber Security Analyst. I love doing what I’m doing now.

Kehinde Babaagba

”… one of the greatest  beauties of tech – one can create and innovate with tangible results to show for it. ”

photo of Kehinde BabaagbaHow did you find your way into tech?

I have always loved numbers and numeracy, and I recall being thrilled to solve maths problems from a very young age. Hence, I knew that any profession I would venture in had to be one that would hone my Maths skills. Being a person of many interests, I also loved public speaking, singing, and the arts and because of the subject selection process for university qualifying exams while I was growing up, I was faced with the choice between either an art or science subject focus. This was not particularly an easy task for me, however, my penchant for problem solving and numeracy surpassed all other passions and was in line with the science focus. After passing my university qualifying exams, I gained admission to study Computer Science at Bachelor’s level, followed by Computing Information Engineering for Master’s, after which I went on to do a PhD in Computing.

The choice to be an academic came naturally to me due to my love for problem solving, as earlier stated, which is at the heart of research – a crucial part of being an academic. Furthermore, since I thoroughly enjoy speaking to people and disseminating knowledge, teaching and presentations came with little difficulty to me. My career journey till this point hasn’t been marked with absolute clarity every step of the way, but God’s help, following passion, and picking up skills along the way have all contributed to where I am today.

On being a Woman in Tech

It is common knowledge that being a woman in tech comes with its unique challenges, even more so being a BAME woman. And while I believe progress has been made regarding embracing women in tech on a similar level as men, there is still a long way to go. There have been times I have felt compelled to push more or do more than my male colleagues to be heard, but I am pleased to acknowledge that those moments are becoming few and far between.

One thing I am certain of is that everyone celebrates results, and being a results-oriented person has made this journey very rewarding. This is perhaps one of the greatest  beauties of tech, that one can create and innovate with tangible results to show for it. I particularly appreciate my current workplace, Edinburgh Napier University, for their effort in easing the barriers that women encounter at work. I believe that regardless of the barriers that might still exist in the tech industry, an innovative tech woman is one that will thrive and be celebrated.

What advice would you offer?

Firstly, I would like to demystify the myth that suggests that women can’t thrive in tech, as several women, myself included, have proven that to be untrue. You can be the tech woman that you desire to be, through commitment to doing all that it takes, which includes acquiring and sharpening the necessary  skills. I have had to learn a multitude of things from scratch to upskill and thankfully, there are now many resources at one’s disposal.

I have female colleagues who have transitioned from a non-tech industry into the tech industry by registering for courses, tutorials, and self-study. The learning curve might be steep at times, but I am certain that it will be worth it. Don’t be afraid to push yourself, make mistakes, try something new on this journey, as the result is a world of endless possibilities!