Mary HughesMary Hughes is an award-winning software developer and digital designer, who has worked with an array of leading brands – from Mercedes and Pernod Ricard to Homebase and the Telegraph.

Mary is the winner of Software Developer of the Year in the 2021 Freelancer Awards by YunoJuno.

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

I’m Mary Hughes, a freelance digital designer and developer specialising in HTML email design and development. I have been working in the tech industry for 15 years, following my graduation from Brighton University with a degree in Digital Media Development in 2007. I turned freelance nine years ago, and it’s the best career choice I ever made. My current contract is with M&C Saatchi as a HTML email developer, I am working with their clients O2 and Costa on several marketing campaigns and loyalty scheme emails.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

There have only been two times that I remember planning and really thinking about my career. The first time was at 18 years old, when I was thinking about going to university. I chose to study Digital Media Development – the decision was made based on the the wide variety of job opportunities it would lead to and the potential earnings post-graduation.

The other time I really sat down and planned my career was when I made the decision to become a freelancer. This was a big discission to make – and it was one that many people discouraged me from taking because of the lack of job security. There are three main reasons why I took the leap into the freelancing world: the variety of project and clients I could work with; a better work-life balance; and the flexibility to be able to work from anywhere.

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

Three years ago, I relocated to Spain due to my fiancés work. Once we settled into our new life there, I found myself struggling to secure contracts either Spain and remote UK opportunities were also scarce.

To overcome this challenge, I decided to widen my skill set and take on a project for my uncle who needed a website for his handyman business in Australia.  For this project I designed and built a custom website which included integrating WordPress as the CMS. I taught myself how to convert the HTML website I had built into a custom template to use on WordPress. As a result, I was able to showcase this work on my portfolio website which led to more contracts involving website design and development.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Wining my first national award as a freelancer is certainly my biggest achievement so far. I was honoured to be voted Developer of the Year in the Freelancer Awards by YunoJuno – the biggest initiative in the UK recognising the contributions of top freelancers across the tech and creative industries.

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

Having a strong and relevant degree is one factor that has led to my success, but I feel that the major factor of my success is my self-belief. You cannot perform at your best if all you have is self-doubt. When your heart and mind are fully convinced that you can do it, nothing can stop you. It is incredibly important to remind yourself that you are smart and confident – while always believing in your technical ability, even in the challenging moments.

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

Follow your passion and do what you enjoy! If you are passionate about your work, you will always have the drive to keep pushing forward regardless of the challenges and obstacles that you come up against.

Be open minded and willing to learn new things! The tech industry moves very fast, so you need to be flexible and adaptable to stay ahead.

Finally, always stand your ground and believe in your own ability, but don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know and keep on learning!

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

Despite the increase of women in tech, the biggest barrier that women still face in the tech industry is workplace inequality. The tech industry remains male dominated, and I feel that this needs to be tackled from a younger age to encourage more women to work within tech. Not enough girls continue with STEM subjects beyond GCSE-level, which needs to change to keep excitement about tech going through the late teenage years.

On a broader level, achieving workplace equality will only come when society has eliminated the bias – both conscious and unconscious – against women’s abilities in tech.

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

More companies should work closely with higher education and other institutions, to enable women to better understand the wide variety of roles on offer within tech. More tech companies need to set up grass root campaigns, and apprenticeship schemes purely for women who are interested in tech.

Whilst encouraging younger women is important, so is attracting women who are returning to work after a career break. They should be able to return to work with assurance that they will be supported and be able to continue advancing their career. Also, there should be more coaching available to develop the careers of women already working in tech, with a view to progressing these women towards more senior or managerial roles. We need to help increase the number of female role models in tech, while also retaining female tech talent and attracting more women to follow in their footsteps.

There is currently only 15% 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?

If I had a magic wand, I would create an entirely level playing field and remove all the barriers women face. This would mean that all women with a passion for tech and relevant skills would have full access to the best opportunities. A level playing field would open many doors for women to not only to showcase their skills, but also help them realise their own potential. It would also clearly show the value that having a broad spectrum of women involved tech organisations – and cross the sector as a whole.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I would advise getting involved in the sector and networking as much as possible! Join online communities, go to industry events, and attend webinars that interest you.

Plus, make sure you are always looking for ways to improve your skills or learn new ones, whether that is attending courses or simply listening to podcasts.