Hayley-McCarthy

After graduating from Cambridge in 2007, Hayley set up and ran a professional coaching and assessment company for 7 years, strategically advising and providing training for organisations like HSBC, Microsoft and Shell.

She has been on the leadership team of two other international EdTech companies and is an author, published by Cambridge University Press.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role (this can include anything you are up to in terms of projects/initiatives – feel free to plug)

I am a co-founder of Skiller Whale, a deep coaching platform for software engineers that aims to be a genuine alternative to hiring. I lead the commercial team, so at this stage, I’m speaking to tech leaders – understanding their needs, and how we can best support them in e transforming capabilities in their team through our form of coaching and learning.

Ultimately, we want to revolutionise how learning happens, and challenge tech leaders to see capability change as part of their tech strategy.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Absolutely not, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Every role and learning experience I had prior, led me to Skiller Whale, and gave me the skill set and desire to help change hearts and minds about what great learning looks like. I’m very lucky to be working with such a talented team to help make this a reality, especially for those who are joining the sector from disadvantaged groups.

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

I ran my own company fresh out of university, and was able to grow this for 7 years, opening offices in Hong Kong, India, and China. It’s a unique position to have been a CEO so young, but when I returned to the UK, it was almost like starting again, and I applied for entry level roles in a wide range of industries. I had a lot of experience, but I got the impression that those hiring me perhaps felt I wouldn’t be manageable because I had already held senior roles. From over 50 applications, I was never even offered an interview, and I landed my next job through my university network.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

My post-university life started during the financial crash, so within that context I’m particularly proud that during this time I sold a million dollar contract to HSBC (age 23), and I also got a deal to co-author a textbook for Cambridge University Press.

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

My education has been a really big factor.

It taught me how to think, and how to critically analyse. When I’ve been hiring people for generalist roles, I’ve looked for those who have humanities degrees, as they are more likely to have learnt evaluation skills, and be able to understand the importance of storytelling.

It’s really helpful to have a computer science degree for theory, but critical and creative thinking is just as important in understanding how code works. In fact, some of the best software engineers I know studied philosophy at university.

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

Soft skills are just as important as hard technical skills. It doesn’t matter how quickly you can code, or how proficient you are at taking on new tech, if you aren’t able to communicate and collaborate with others, you won’t be able to grow in an organisation.

Start considering the variety of roles in tech, and the huge range of possibilities and opportunities there are to get involved. If you’re new to coding, there are adjacent roles such as Dev rel / evangelist positions that you could try as an alternative to a junior dev role if they sound more interesting.

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

Yes, absolutely there are barriers. Some of these happen before we’re even aware (e.g. reinforcement of subject choice stereotypes in early education), and some of them happen during a typical workday. I once reported to a CTO who, after investing in a course for himself that I was keen to also attend, said he hadn’t considered me for it because (I quote) “I care more about my own development than yours”. After this experience, I always advise women moving into tech and into leadership roles in tech companies to be interviewing the company as much as they are interviewing you (if not more!). Take time to understand the culture, the values of the organisation, and the active steps they’re taking to tackle biases for women and other poorly represented groups.

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

One of the ways we can future proof diversity, is to nurture learning, and develop the people who are entering the industry from less-represented groups. Companies who simply share a set of video lectures or give access to offline material for employees to engage with in their own time isn’t good enough.

It’s detrimental to a work-life balance, hinders active learning, and indicates to women, and other less-represented groups in the sector, a lack of commitment to their professional development.

Companies need to invest in personalised tech coaching that is valuable and unique to the needs of their employees, and should be blocking out paid, work time for this learning to take place in.

There are currently only 21 per cent 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?

Business leaders and CEOs have the agency to make change, and need to genuinely invest in and care about developing the talent of the next generation. Without doing so, the sector will grow unattractive to prospective talent.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech, e.g. podcasts, networking events, books, conferences, websites etc?

Skiller Whale of course!

For a more senior developer, I really enjoy the Lead Dev conferences, which are a mix of leadership and technology. They’re a good opportunity for networking, fantastic at promoting diversity, and dedicated to having an inclusive group of speakers at their events.

For women working at all levels, get involved with communities! There are so many out there, and you can find a group that has similar values as you. I’m a fan of She Can Code, but there are many places to get advice and collaborate with other talented women in the tech sector.

Lastly, get a female mentor that you respect and understands the unique position you’re in. Many male mentors are brilliant but a behaviour from a man may get a very different response when displayed by a woman, (e.g. being direct or assertive), so it’s more of a minefield for female mentees to take advice from male mentors on how they should handle situations based on what ‘worked for them’.