Julie GoddardJulie Goddard MBCI, has over 15 years’ experience in Business Continuity and resilience spanning multiple industries.

She began her career in IT Service Delivery in Food & Drink before expanding into Business Continuity. Julie held roles at Experian, Leicestershire County Council and most recently, was the Group Business Continuity Manager at the Solicitors Regulation Authority. A well-known contributor to the industry, she served as a judge for the 2018 & 2019 CIR Business Continuity Awards and participated in the review of the BCI Best Practice Guidelines.

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

I left school with no idea of what I wanted to do. My first job was at Sainsbury’s, and one day I was given the task of shop floor ordering using a Plessey computer, which at the time was the height of IT sophistication. I had never come across a computer before – the most technical thing in our house was the alarm clock. But I was mesmerised by this machine on which you could bash some keys and a lorry load of cornflakes turned up the next day. It was like witchcraft to me! I thought no more about it, but one day when I was idling round the public library, a book called Computing Made Simple caught my eye. I took the book out, read it cover to cover, and I found it fascinating. The ‘cornflakes machine’ suddenly made sense – it wasn’t witchcraft after all, but a load of ‘0s and 1s’.

I subsequently enrolled on a Computer Science course at my local college and gained an A level in the subject. That was the start of my rather accidental career in IT, and after my A levels I found myself working in a male-dominated industry of brewing, in the male-dominated discipline of IT. Due to another twist of fate (too long to explain here), I later used my IT experience to diversify into Business Continuity and Resilience which is where I am today. As well as my own consultancy, I currently work for Databarracks as a Business Continuity Specialist.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not initially, as you can see from my encounter with the ‘cornflakes machine’. However, once the path I wanted to follow became clear, I set myself goals and timelines, and identified ways and means of getting there. It included a lot of hard work as I never went to university, which gave me challenges in my career.

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

Not having a degree used to be a barrier to career progression, so I had to work my way up from the bottom. But I was determined to achieve my goals and, as well as gaining my A level in computer science, I spent many hours self-tutoring – including learning programming languages and even machine code. These days it’s recognised that you don’t always need a degree to get on. People learn in different ways, and I’m someone who learns by ‘watching’ and ‘doing’.

Being a woman, and one who was quite shy, didn’t help either. But by nature I’m a determined problem solver, which means I don’t give up, and if barriers are put in the way it becomes my mission to get over them. If there was ever a whiff of doubt about my ability because I was female it would irritate me, but rather than making a fuss about it, I concentrated my energy on producing quality results – often going over and above the original remit, just to prove a point. This usually silenced the doubters.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I’ve been involved in many major IT incidents, including the failure of a centralised global data centre and a satellite lost in space, but my biggest achievement came about as a result of the collapse of a storage area network (SAN) at a local council. For a number of reasons, the Head of IT requested I pick up the baton from him as Incident Gold Commander. My initial feeling was one of terror – in the UK, a local council runs critical social care and public services, and the loss of the SAN meant lives were at risk due to inability to access critical records.

To use a cliché, failure was not an option. Thankfully, adrenalin kicked in and I led the team through an IT incident which was the most serious and complex of my career. It lasted a couple of weeks and there were many ups and downs, but we recovered the situation with minimal impact on service users, thanks to a combination of ingenuity, IT tech skills, and business continuity planning. I received special personal recognition for leading the team, but really it was a massive team effort. It reminds me that no-one achieves anything on their own. Don’t forget others who have played their part.

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

Without doubt having a manager/mentor who believed in me. When I worked in the IT team of a global blue-chip brewery (as macho an environment as you will find), the Global Head of IT recognised my ambition and went out of his way to give me opportunities, including being the first female to speak at the IT annual conference. He was also responsible for one of my most memorable career moments. At my very first IT project meeting, I was sitting in a room with my all-male IT colleagues. Ever the girlie girl, I was in my smart but floral print dress, and being quite young and inexperienced, felt very self-conscious. Quite out of the blue, he began the meeting by saying – “see Julie over there – don’t be fooled by appearances. Watch what she achieves”.

My colleagues (who didn’t yet know me well) looked surprised at this unexpected start to the meeting, but not as surprised as me – my chin hit the floor. In that moment, the bar was set high, and I knew I mustn’t let him down. It spurred me on to work my socks off, and there was always mutual respect between myself and my male colleagues in the team. I’m not ashamed to say I cried when I left due to moving to another part of the country.

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

When I started my career in IT, if a computer malfunctioned there were no helpful error messages to help you figure out what’s wrong. Instead, they made noises and smells, and you didn’t know whether to run towards them or away from them! The pace of technological change I’ve experienced is breathtaking; my advice is to be a visionary and keep abreast of the latest developments, including ‘bleeding edge’ technology.

Today’s risky experimental tech may become tomorrow’s norm, and you need to be ready for it so that you can be part of the evolution. Amazing to think that email was once considered bleeding edge.

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

I do still think there are barriers, and we need to encourage girls in schools and colleges to consider a career in tech. We need today’s successful tech women to voluntarily go out to education establishments and promote our discipline, including explaining the many types of role available. In particular, we need to spotlight digital security as an option; we should be ‘future-proofing’ IT skills so we are equipped to fight this persistent and ever-growing threat.

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

Give them great opportunities and the right training, and they will fly. At an early stage of my IT career, I was given a role in a major IT transformation project at the brewery, part of which involved installing comms equipment at our UK production sites. I received excellent training which gave me confidence.

At the first site I attended, the site manager greeted me but it was clear he was puzzled. “Errr…are you here to install the IT kit?”, he asked, sounding quite nervous. “Yes”, I replied, and then I pulled a screwdriver out of my bag. I will never forget the look on his face – I thought he might have a heart attack. I don’t think he’d ever seen a woman holding a screwdriver before. I wanted to laugh, but instead I got on with successfully completing the job, pleased to have been given this opportunity for a comedy moment. I visited the site many times after that, and they were a great bunch of people.

There is currently only 17 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?

I’d rather not refer to magic wands, as you shouldn’t expect anyone to hand you anything on a plate without earning it. To quote Samuel Goldwyn “the harder I work, the luckier I get”.

Thinking about tech innovators (living or deceased), who would you most like to interview and what would you ask him/her?

Without doubt Tim Berners-Lee, accredited with inventing the world wide web. I would ask him, having seen how the internet is used today (positive and negative aspects), if he could wind back the clock, would he do anything differently when developing his invention? I would also ask him question 7 of this interview!

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

For those working in IT/DR and associated disciplines, I can highly recommend The BCI’s Women in Resilience group.  For podcasts, I can recommend The Business Continuity Podcast. I have been a guest and it features an excellent episode on How to tackle diversity in Business Continuity.

WeAreTechWomen has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Professor Sue Black OBE, Debbie Forster MBE, Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here