Aurelia Specker

Aurelia studied Modern Languages at the University of Oxford but did a one-year switch course in Engineering to follow her dreams of becoming a Partner Engineer.

Now working at Twitter, no day is the same, a recent project involved using Twitter to create an app that measures how dry the soil is, so your plant will Tweet at you when it needs watering.

Aurelia says the best part of the job is how fun, rewarding and diverse it can be, but most importantly she loves coding because it enables her to continue learning. Aurelia first learnt to code through a not-for-profit organisation Code First, that teaches coding and tech skills to women and girls.

Aurelia is a part of This is Engineering Day, a day created by the Royal Academy of Engineering to celebrate the world-shaping engineering that exists all around us but often go unnoticed, as well as the engineers who make this possible. As part of This is Engineering Day, the Royal Academy of Engineering has announced plans to create a new virtual museum named The Museum of Engineering Innovation, which can be accessed through QR Codes dotted around the country as well as by visiting Google Arts and Culture. To view the first collection of exhibits, which include Jonnie Peacock’s running blade, visit #BeTheDifference

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I currently work as a Partner Engineer on the Developer Relations team at Twitter, but my background is not in engineering or sciences. In fact, I have a degree in modern languages and literature, and my first job was in Market Research. A few years ago, I took a coding course with Code First Girls and I absolutely loved it! This course, and the people I met along the way, inspired me to change careers and move into Tech.

I’ve been a Partner Engineer for over two years now. This role blends the perfect amount of technical work (writing code, troubleshooting technical errors) and working closely with other people, whether that’s internally with a range of different teams, or externally with various partners and developers.

As a Partner Engineer, my role is to enable developers and customers to be successful with the Twitter developer platform. Developers use the Twitter API for a variety of different reasons, from powering academic research and commercial businesses, to learning to code and building apps that enhance Twitter as a platform.

Right now, my team and I are in the process of rebuilding the developer platform from the ground up. The next generation of the Twitter API is going to be built on a more modern foundation, including new features and endpoints, and will allow a wider range of different developers to find value in the platform. We have big plans for the future, which is both challenging and exciting. I feel lucky to be part of an initiative that will make it easier for developers to build solutions with the Twitter API and, in doing so, contribute to making Twitter, and the world, a better place.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Recently, I started thinking more purposefully about my career and what strategic steps I should be taking to get to where I want to be.

For me, this really boils down to exploring a few different options for the next 3-5 years. There’s obviously a level of unpredictability: I don’t need to know exactly where I’ll be in 10, 15, or 20 years, because I can’t foresee everything that will happen, on both a personal and a professional level. And, if anything, maintaining a degree of surprise is exciting!

However, I do think it is important to think about your current position and what it might enable you to do in the coming years. Write down different options and the steps required for each of these; then, have a conversation with your manager. Talking openly to your manager about your career plan ensures that s/he can help you gain relevant experience and support you in achieving your goals.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

As I mentioned, I don’t have a formal technical background. This sometimes leads me to doubt myself and to question my abilities. Not having a strong technical foundation can be really frustrating at times, and I’m sometimes scared that colleagues might not take me as seriously as they otherwise would.

But when I feel like that, it’s important to not listen to the little voice inside of me that tells me I’m not good enough. Instead, I attempt to identify the gaps in my knowledge and fill these. For example, shortly after I joined Twitter, I took part in the #100DaysOfCode challenge, which helped increase my technical skills. I was also lucky to have the opportunity to code pair with some of my colleagues; this gave me a chance to ask questions and learn directly from more experienced engineers.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Landing a job at Twitter, as a Partner Engineer.

I vividly remember finishing the Python coding course I took with Code First Girls (I was still working in Market Research at that time) and wondering how on Earth I would get a job in Tech. I live in London and I didn’t have enough savings to stop working for a few months and take part in a coding bootcamp.

When I found out about the Partner Engineering job, I put all of my energy into applying. At the same time, I genuinely didn’t think I stood a chance of getting the job. The fact that I eventually did really demonstrates the need to believe in yourself, to push yourself outside of your comfort zone, and to put energy into trying, even when you don’t think that you stand a chance of success.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

“Networking” has become a bit of a buzzword, but I think it’s really important to purposefully meet people who are where you want to be. Whether that’s in a specific role within your company or in a different industry altogether; connecting with others will open doors and lead to new opportunities. In my own case, I found my current job thanks to people that I met through Code First Girls. Go to meetups, get involved in various initiatives, and meet people. You’ll be surprised at how much you can learn from simply spending some time with people who are in an area that interests you.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Three things: be open to feedback, don’t be afraid to ask for help, and seek opportunities that push you outside of your comfort zone.

Receiving and asking for feedback can be uncomfortable; but I’m a strong believer that you can’t make meaningful progress without knowing what areas you need to improve in. Make sure to seek feedback regularly and, when you do, ask a specific question that will lead the person to highlight areas for growth. Don’t be offended by “negative” feedback; instead, view it as a powerful tool that will help you progress in your career.

In terms of seeking help, you’ll be surprised at how often people are willing to support you. And that’s especially true if you respect people’s time and are willing to help others in return. Asking questions when you’re stuck or don’t know something will help you move faster. And you’ll gain meaningful advice along the way.

Finally, pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone is scary (and in some cases it might lead to “failure”) but it will also allow you to reach the next level much faster. If you adopt a mindset of “I have nothing to lose”, you’ll end up doing things you never thought were possible!

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Yes, I believe that such barriers still exist in tech, as well as in other industries today.

One barrier that is often mentioned is that workplaces are not set up for working mothers. In most families today, mothers continue to be the ones responsible for childcare duties; workplaces need to understand and address the challenges that come with these duties. To name a few options that could help tackle this issue: companies might want to allow flexible work schedules, they could work to ensure that team socialising activities take place during working hours, and they need to give both men and women equal parental leave, as well as equal opportunities for promotions and growth. For example, Twitter has a business resource group in place to support working parents; in my opinion, this type of initiative is key to making workplaces more attractive for women.

What do you think companies can do to progress the careers of women working in technology?

I think it’s important to acknowledge and openly talk about gender bias in the workplace. Companies can provide safe spaces and channels for women and minority groups to report unfair behaviour, and then actively investigate and act upon complaints, as well as provide tailored resources to help women progress their careers.

In addition, companies can also conduct active outreach and show young women the possibilities of a career in Tech. This includes, for example, going to schools and universities to talk to young people about job options, or hosting events and conferences with a goal of supporting minority groups in Tech.

There is currently only 17% of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

I see hiring quotas as a possible solution to better represent minority groups at all levels and within all departments. Interview panels, as well as the pool of candidates itself, need to be more diverse. And, as a society, we need to rethink how workplaces are set up and how we can make these more welcoming for women and other minority groups.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

The following books helped shape my understanding of gender bias in the workplace and helped me become more confident:

  • “Rise”, by Patty Azzarello
  • “Invisible Women”, by Caroline Criado Perez
  • “Lean In”, by Sheryl Sandberg
  • “The Confidence Code”, by Katty Kay & Claire Shipman

In terms of websites, Elpha is a private community and provides a platform for women in tech to come together and talk candidly about their personal and professional development.

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