Q2Q IT - tech support - SME adviceThe world of tech offers a colourful and varied career path. For some, it might mean building life-changing software or apps, while for others it could mean leading development on revolutionary AI applications.

However, with an ever-increasing list of potential tech roles now available, it’s clear no two routes into a career in tech are the same.

Here, Sam Pickrell, head of development for the education and financial management divisions of The Access Group, discusses her less-than-usual route into tech while sharing her thoughts on why it’s never too late to change career paths and take your first steps into the world of tech. 

The tech world has experienced some of its most exciting developments to date in recent years, yet there is still a vast disparity between the numbers of men and women working within tech. And, while it’s encouraging to see that the number of women doing STEM subjects is increasing gradually, the number working in the tech sector has stayed fairly stagnant for years.

There are, no doubt, a whole wealth of reasons for this imbalance, from a lack of guidance at school to the often quoted Hewlett Packard report which referenced that men apply for a role when they meet 60 per cent of the requirements, and women when they meet 100 per cent. However, I believe another factor lies in the language and clarity of job adverts which is so important for attracting diversity.

As a sector which is typically quite heavily male-dominated, you find that biased language can often sneak into job descriptions. And, though often not deliberate, it can have a damaging effect on the sector’s ability to attract talented women.

For example, words such as ‘bold’, ‘ambitious’ and ‘driven’ are often perceived to have a masculine bias whereas words such as ‘partnership’, ‘support’ and ‘committed’ are perceived to have a female bias. Instead, switching to more gender neutral words such as ‘head-up’, ‘inspire’, ‘motivate’ will be far more inclusive.

It’s a topic that has been widely discussed by many in the tech world for a number of years now, so much so that the Institute of Apprenticeships & Technical Education recently announced the trial of the use of software to check for gender biased terminology in apprenticeship standards.

However, in addition to this, ensuring the provision of regular insights into the different roles within certain careers such as software development, as well as the key skills and attributes needed for a subsequent role is also vital for helping to overcome misconceptions.

There are a huge variety of roles within just single areas of tech like software development but essentially, without walking in the shoes of someone doing a role, it’s not always clear what it actually entails, what is valued, and why that could be a good fit.

Indeed, before I began my career in tech, I didn’t know too much about the software development world. I fell into it relatively late in life. I studied international relations and politics looking at foreign policy at university and after that, I did a few stints in political academic research before working for a charity. I moved on to work for two pensions administrators and it was while working within the sales and marketing department that I first got seconded to help with user acceptance testing (UAT).

I remember being really fed up because I wanted to focus on my day-to-day role but in the end, I really enjoyed it and ended up taking a quality assurance role within the delivery team. I loved the challenge, the pace and the ownership I was afforded. From quality assurance, I worked my way through a variety of roles before becoming the head of quality assurance and then my current role as head of development.

I absolutely love working in software development and can honestly recommend it as a career. It’s innovative, exciting and gives the opportunity to make real differences to how people work and play.

For those thinking of beginning a career in tech, I’d recommend starting with some self-reflection followed by some research. What skills do you have? What is it you specifically enjoy doing? How do you like to work? What gives you a real buzz?

Once you understand what you’re going to enjoy and fit well with, I’d recommend doing some research into the types of roles available that you’d like, whether it’s front end development, mobile apps, automated testing, product management, user interface design or user experience design, for example. I’d also recommend researching a company. Its culture and the way its people operate will have a huge impact on your enjoyment of your career and your confidence.

Finally, don’t be put off by a job advert if you don’t feel you meet every single one of the criteria. Understand which are the real ‘must-haves’ and be confident in the value you could bring to that role.

At Access, for example, we put significant emphasis not just on the technical skills of an individual but also on how they show up for work, how they engage with others and how they work in a team.

It’s a fast moving industry and you have to love to learn and develop. I started by doing formal certifications to give me a good foundation, but learning is an ongoing thing. Every week I make sure I learn something new whether it be reading a book on leadership, watching a podcast or reading a technical article. It helps keep me passionate and interested, and makes sure I’m consistently improving. I’ve found during my time in software development that identifying mentors or coaches who suit where I am in my career have helped me grow and develop. Having that support and advice in place – and someone to give honest feedback – has been invaluable.

I love all the challenges and moving parts that go into producing awesome software. It’s really satisfying leading engaged teams to produce something our users are going to value.

I’ve been in my current role within the Access Group FMS division for a year and I’m really enjoying it. I’m currently working with the divisional leadership team looking at the plans for the next few years and there’s a lot of great work to do, so I’m really excited about getting stuck into this.

It’s such an exciting time in the world of tech and I would hope that the efforts we’re seeing to raise awareness of the importance of diversity in the workplace helps women feel there could be a role in tech for them.

It really is never too late to begin that journey into tech. If you’re passionate, willing to learn and have the right support in place I think there’s opportunity regardless of where you are in your working life.