Mary SansomMary looks after all things brand and candidate attraction. She’s made it her mission to raise our profile so more people know about all of the great work QA do.

Mary has tonnes of experience in marketing and communications. Her background is in PR – and she’s helped to get QA featured on Sky News, ITV, BBC local news, London Live, Radio1, and in the national papers.

Mary’s been part of the QA team for over 6 years – starting as marketing manager for the QA technical portfolio and progressing to lead marketing and product development for QA’s apprenticeship programmes. Before then, she worked in senior marketing roles at Capita.

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

I’m Mary Sansom, Tech Talent Acquisition Director at the UK’s leading technical skills and talent provider, QA. I love my job – I get to play a key part in kick-starting the tech careers of around 5,000 young people every year. I’m responsible for attracting and recruiting technical talent onto the graduate and apprenticeship programmes QA delivers. To date, we’ve delivered these programmes to over 25,000 young people all across the UK.

I grew up in an education system where the IT curriculum comprised mostly of how to use Excel and Word applications. It was neither very engaging nor positioned as an exciting career choice. I’d enjoyed humanities subjects at school and decided to study History at university because I thought it would be a good way to develop some useful all-round skills: critical thinking, writing, analytical skills, for example.

My interest in tech was first sparked post-university. I’d started my first job as a graduate Intern for a software development company. It was a six-month stint in the development team, where I was the only woman in a group of 16. That experience really opened my eyes to what a career in tech involved. I was taught basic coding skills by my colleagues, and it couldn’t have been further from those uninspiring IT lessons at school. It was so interesting – just like learning a new language. On top of that, it was my first taste in the work environment, and it made me realise how much I wanted to move up the career ladder, learn new skills and earn more money.

A lot of the developers I was working with were contractors on a very high day-rate of pay and I was struck by how lucrative a career in tech could have been for me. I was annoyed that this career route, even while I was still relatively young, felt completely closed off to me – like I had missed the boat by not studying it at an earlier age. I felt too far behind my colleagues when it came to my coding skills and felt odd being the only female in the group. I was ultimately steered onto a technical business analysis placement. I did this for a year but, again, felt like the odd one out, so ended up pursuing a placement in the marketing department.

This grounding in marketing and tech has stood me in great stead for what I do today. It’s made me hugely passionate about encouraging people into IT both at an early age, but also showing them that there’s still a chance to reskill or retrain and pivot into a new career later in life. It also made me a strong advocate for diversifying the industry – and getting more women into tech careers.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not at all.

I’m still not 100% sure I know what I want to do, even now! I love what I am doing, but who knows what jobs might be created in the future. Maybe I’ll try my hand at something completely different.

I think we’ll start to see a real shift in the coming years, with more people reskilling into tech-focused careers. If the world is becoming more tech-led, we need it. UK businesses are facing a real tech skills crisis and I think more businesses will be looking into how they can support employees to reskill. QA is already working with a number of organisations both to upskill existing employees, but also to retrain people from completely different departments who want to try something new.

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

Deciding what career path to take was a big challenge. I’m not convinced I really knew the different career options available to me when I left school.

Not only was career advice woefully lacking, but I was very influenced by the paths my parents had taken (both worked in PR and marketing). I can see young people still have this issue today. They are hugely influenced and steered by their parents when it comes to deciding next steps after secondary school. But this is a real issue, given how much the world has changed since their parents – and their parents’ parents were making that decision.

The jobs market is shifting and technology skills that were deemed specialist and niche a few years ago are now critical to business success. Technology is not just a viable career, but it can be one of the most lucrative ones, yet tech courses are often dismissed in favour of more traditional ones. This is especially the case for young women, who tend to be regarded as unusual for choosing a tech career at that age. And yet, we need more women in the industry. The job opportunities on offer in this space are varied, plentiful and well-paid but still only 17% of the tech workforce are female.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

One key achievement for me has been being able to use my position to bring young women closer to careers in tech. Whether that’s through apprenticeships, our Consulting Academy, courses, degrees or even teaming up with amazing organisations and people like STEMettes or Dr. Anne-Marie Imafidon.

I’m particularly proud of the work we are doing with STEMettes. We recently started an academy for young women, equipping them with free technical skills and certifications. These are the same courses that adults would go on, taught by industry experts, but it’s completely free. The idea is that together we give girls who would not normally have the chance to see what a career in technology could be like, furthering their technical skills on the way.

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

Surrounding myself with people who share that same drive for success has been so important– at QA it’s a case of standing on the shoulders of giants. We have hundreds of technical experts, operations staff and delivery teams as well as many others all working together to create an exceptional learning experience for people. When you’re in such a driven team, you can’t help but drive for success yourself.

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

As the rate of change in technology surges so do the opportunities for personal growth and development. My advice? Try new things, experiment, stay curious. Have a plan but be reactive to change.

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

It’s getting better and there are stats to back that up, but there are still barriers which exist. There is no quick fix, society on the whole needs to keep up the conversation, do more outreach and work to crush stereotypes by providing the next generation with relatable role models. We can all name a lot of successful men in the tech industry, but it’s hard to name more than a handful of women – and that’s not because women aren’t doing great things in the space!

It’s worth noting that the job is only half-done when we attract women in, the key to success is the long-term sustainability. We need to create environments, communities and culture that retains women, and sets them up for success in tech roles.

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

Continue to listen, evolve and shout about the women successfully carving out tech roles at their companies. We partner with thousands of organisations across the UK and I spend time with many of our customers each month. In my recent interactions, I’ve found that generally the issue of gender parity in tech is being discussed far more openly now, but it’s about long-term sustained growth, embedding culture and encouraging reskilling.

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?

Aside from removing all stereotypes and fears? You’ll probably think this is a cliché but I would put the focus on technical education. I see first-hand the change that learning makes on people’s lives and it’s actually a practical solution to the skills gaps we have in the UK. Women are going to play an incredibly important part in the UK’s sustained economic growth in the next 20 years.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I’m being biased, but QA has just released episode three of our #Get2020Vision podcast – and it focuses on Women In Tech, so make sure you check that out. It features Anne-Marie from STEMettes (Who also hosts an amazing podcast called ‘Women Tech Charge’) and Lucy, a developer who came through our Consulting Academy.

Elsewhere, podcast-wise I thoroughly recommend The High Low (not strictly about tech careers, but I love it!). I dip in and out of TED Talks and ‘Note to Self’ is also really great.

I’m a bit of a book worm, but I tend to read books that take my mind off work. If there was one book I would recommend, it would be Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez.

There are a host of meet-ups for women in tech now, so make sure you seek those out!  Also, just speak to other women in the industry – make use of social media, I’m seeing more and more groups for technical females on LinkedIn, for example.