Patricia KeatingPatricia Keating heads up Tech Manchester, a non-profit organisation funded by British hosting firm UKFast, which supports early-stage technology companies and is the internal lead on Diversity and Inclusion within UKFast.

Tech Manchester provides tech-focussed businesses with a host of support initiatives including intensive educational workshops, a structured mentor programme, PR and comm’s support and soon a media centre and workspace incubator space through UKFast.

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

I am currently the director of Tech Manchester, an incubator for early stage tech startups in the North West. We deliver a full programme to support new businesses. This includes a mentoring programme and a full programme of workshops and events. I host FastForward, a weekly podcast which offers tips and advice to early-stage tech founders and focuses on telling the real stories of what it’s like to start and grow a business. Tech Manchester also delivers social mobility career programmes for women through Tech Equity.

Although my current role is all about helping the North West tech scene to thrive, I am a relative newcomer to the tech industry. I didn’t do any digital qualifications at school and left university with a degree in sport science. In 2017, I was offered the opportunity to head up the Tech Manchester programme. The timing was perfect; I had just made the decision to close the concierge business I was running. I packed my bags in Belfast, made the move to Manchester and hit the ground running.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Despite leaving university with a degree in sport science, I realised that I had no intention of using it vocationally. Instead I started working in a sales role and fell in love with it. At that time in my life there was no grand career plan. Until my mid-thirties I only ever looked three to five years ahead. For me, it was about acquiring the skills and learning best practice for what I was doing, whether that was searching out the best sales training course, which I found by flicking through the Yellow Pages, or investing in my leadership and management skills. As long was learning and developing it didn’t really matter what industry I was working in.

Now I have I have a longer-term vision for the future, but the principles remain the same. My 18-year plan is to achieve a non-executive portfolio by the time I am 60 years old to allow me to leave full-time employment and blend a mix of paid and pro bono part-time roles. I am currently working on gaining the appropriate skills and financially planning to allow me to achieve my goals.

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

Facing redundancy three times the first five years in the corporate team at Regus brought challenges. The destabilisation of my financial security was extremely difficult. If you have been through redundancy you know that feeling. On the third redundancy round I lost my position and to make matters even worse, on the very same day my then husband was also made redundant.

These events pushed me sideways. I applied for an immediate role within Regus to manage the business centres in Northern Ireland. I secured the role, however, it came with new challenges of managing under-performing teams and assets. I had no experience of how to positively manage or coach a team that wasn’t meeting its job requirements and I was given no support or training. I was left to figure it out on my own and what resulted taught me a valuable lesson.

My vast lack of knowledge in this area saw me accused of bullying and as a result I lost team members. I quickly realised if I wanted to be a good manager, I would need to improve my leadership abilities. I embarked on my leadership journey with the Chartered Management Institute and the Institute of Directors. I went on to I build a new and happy team and 18 months later the business centres were turning over a profit.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Without doubt it has to be the Tech Manchester programme.  The opportunity to have such a value-driven role and the resources made available to me by UKFast allow us to do some incredible things. In three years, we have supported 500 companies through almost 100 events and workshops. We have trained 200 mentors and created 190 mentor partnerships. Tech Manchester now has the largest mentoring programme for tech businesses in the North West. It’s also incredible to see the reins of all our programmes and initiatives now firmly in the hands of my colleague Nicola Ellis. I recruited her in May 2018 and it’s wonderful to see how she has grown and developed both professionally and personally.

Handing over much of the day-to-day responsibility of running Tech Manchester has allowed me to invest time into helping women to qualify as Linux administrators. 18 women have been given a £9000 training opportunity with guaranteed job interviews with UKFast on completion of the course. These women are from some of the most under privileged wards in Greater Manchester, three quarters of them are from an ethnic minority background for some English is their second language. The part-time course is wrapped with holistic professional and personal skills development and pastoral care to prepare the participants  enter the digital workforce for the first time. You can read about their progress in my blog. Seeing their growth in the face of the challenges life has thrown their way is so inspirational.

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

People often ask what barriers I have experienced being a woman in business/technology. I have never seen things that way, a view that I believe has comes from my parents.

Life was tough when I was young. My dad, a mechanic, was diagnosed with debilitating back injuries and was unable to work. At the time there were eight children between the ages of five and sixteen years old. As a family of ten we all lived in a three-bedroom cottage, but with eight women in the household you could say it was a matriarchy!

There were extreme challenges: living on the poverty line, on benefits, using food banks, and multiple borderline house repossessions. But I had resourceful parents, who created what we would now call ‘clean eating’. We had a cottage garden with all the vegetables and fruits you could imagine and a ready-made mini workforce to cultivate it. Valuable lessons learnt; if you wanted something you went and got it for yourself! I think that’s still how I approach things now.

That’s what each of us did. From an early age I was a gifted runner, but I needed money just to get to the start line. So that I could run I did whatever part-time jobs I could; picking potatoes, selling balloons on the street, ice-cream seller, fast-food joints, housekeeper, lifeguard, you name it I did it!

I remember my childhood as crazy, growing up in a house full of friends; always finding ways to create new imaginative games and have fun! I don’t know how my parents did it! We grew up in the countryside, so we had plenty of space to roam about. ‘Tollymore Madhouse’ my dad calls it. We may not have had much money, but we were rich in other ways.

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

The first thing would be is to ask yourself about your appetite for learning. Technology moves at such a pace that no matter where you enter the career chain you are immediately on a life-long learning path. Once you are in technology then think about the other skills you need to be successful, ultimately, at the end of every technology is people. You get the best technology outputs if you get the best out of people, so actively seek out ways to improve your leadership skills. You can do that through qualifications, like the CMI or ILP, Institute of Directors or others as well as simply joining leadership groups on social channels, there are tons of free resources you can use.

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

Yes unfortunately, although I believe, as women, some of this stems from our own self-doubt, our compulsion to play down our skills and abilities or a lack of confidence to go for it for fear of failure. Most of us will experience these feelings at some point in our careers. I had it badly when I first moved to Manchester. Lost in a new city, in a new industry, within a laissez-faire management style- business, which you can read about in a blog I wrote:

Although the concept of imposter syndrome is often reported negatively, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. These feelings mean you are pushing yourself outside your comfort zone which ultimately mean you are growing. As long as you can keep a rational grasp on it, you should have a little of it in your life, otherwise you are just treading water.

Sadly though, some barriers are man-made. There are still incidents of sexism in the workplace, in different guises, intentional and otherwise. I believe we need more balance in business, especially in the boardroom. Having diversity throughout a business from top to bottom, inevitably leads to better decision making and mitigates unconscious bias.

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

Women approach things in different ways. We make decisions differently. Leadership teams need to be aware of this and be open to seeking solutions. This may involve bringing in external expertise to help understand how to best aid the progression of women in a business.

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?

Tech has a brand issue. For many it conjures up images of people sitting in dark rooms drinking energy drinks with dark screens or the black humour of the Silicon Valley sitcom. It certainly doesn’t appeal to young women in secondary school. Less than 1 per cent of female students choose technology at A-Level. Of course, it’s more than just a brand issue but I certainly think helping more education professionals and young people understand the myriad of roles that are available in tech and the exciting career opportunities able would be a start.

I read in an article that we needed a coder on Strictly Come Dancing; I would agree! Look what happened when Youtuber Joe Sugg appeared in the cast in 2018!

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

There are so many resources out there it’s hard to know where to begin! I would say start my finding your tribe. I found mine in Lean In, the Sheryl Sandberg inspired professional network where members, both men and women, ‘lean in’ to support each other. There are circles all over the UK, virtual circles and focused on-demand discussion topics.

Women on Boards has also been an excellent recent addition to my new professional development journey, where I have met numerous like-minded women. Most recently, I have started engaging with We are the City, We are Tech Women, who are fantastic!

I recommend joining Career Mum and Ladies Life Lounge on Facebook for ad-hoc advice and guidance. If you’re a reader try ‘Love Invisible Women’ by Caroline Criado Perez. It makes me angry reading it, but that serves as a powerful motivator and reminder.

We are moving into a world of automated intelligence which is fed by historical data that largely excludes women. This amplifies the bias. The only way to change this is for us women and everyone that self identifies as a woman to step up, use our voices and the resources available to us to make a difference.