Sarah BottSarah Bott is Head of Business Development at UK public transport app and website provider, Passenger. Passenger delivers scalable technology to public transport operators of all sizes, including mobile app ticketing, travel information apps, and websites.

Sarah has had a diverse career to date, having worked in Europe, Asia and the US and across various industries including sales, marketing and advertising. She was inspired to join Passenger after developing an interest in public transport when working for a company which managed the advertising on all UK buses and the London Underground. Sarah’s role has been instrumental in helping Passenger launch its latest product, myTrip – an app designed for the smaller operator market, offering live bus tracking and mobile ticketing. On a broader level, Sarah is also passionate about mental health, having helped her friend launch her life coaching business, and she’s also due to publish a children’s book on mindfulness in the coming months

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

I started at Passenger in January 2020 and am Head of Business Development. My role involves overseeing customer acquisition and business growth.

One of my very first jobs after leaving university was in marketing for a company which managed the advertising on UK buses, as well as the London Underground. Although my career has largely focused on media and advertising, my work with public transport operators and learning about traveller mentality sparked my interest in the wider industry.

Having lived in San Francisco for a few years, which is leading the way with its efforts to improve air quality and carbon emissions, I’d also become very aware of how much work the UK has to do to become more sustainable. I learned that for people to move away from their cars and reduce congestion on the roads, public transport information needs to be accessible, intuitive, and easy to use. Transport technology seemed the perfect solution, so I decided to choose a career in this field.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I have always been attracted to work for companies that deliver high quality products or services and care deeply about their employees wellbeing as well as customer satisfaction. Being in sales and marketing, I’ve always felt the importance of developing a passion in what I do in order to do the best I can. After I left university, I knew I wanted to work in media and entertainment and I purposefully sought out companies that I admired. In more recent years, I have developed a strong interest in working in the technology sector as my husband also works in this space and technology is such an intrinsic part of all our lives now. I researched Passenger extensively before I applied for the role and I was incredibly impressed by their reputation in the industry, quality of the software produced and the company mission around sustainability. My 15 year old daughter is already keen to develop her career in STEM and I love that she has developed this interest at such a young age.

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

My biggest challenge was having a young family and juggling work. My two daughters were born very close together – 14 months apart – and I was desperate to spend time with them both as well as keep my job. I was leading a regional sales team for a global media company in Asia and I absolutely loved it. However, they wanted me back full time in the office and couldn’t offer any flexibility, so I made the decision to quit and be a full-time mum for a while. The baby years are precious and I didn’t want to miss out on their early years. When I was ready to return to work, I found a great tech start up that allowed me to work flexibly and from home in San Francisco.

That was 12 years ago and I’m so pleased that now many companies have evolved to offer more flexible working in recent years. In many ways, I think the pandemic has helped employees gain company trust that working from home is a feasible option, and productivity has not suffered as a consequence.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

On a personal note, I’ve been very fortunate to have worked in Europe, Asia and the US during my career and I’m proud that I’ve been able to adapt and learn about different industries while also bringing up a family.

Mental health is a topic I’m particularly interested in as my degree was in Psychology, and I’m proud to have developed my skills in this area as it can be applied to any industry. As well as helping a friend launch her life coaching business, I’m also due to publish a children’s book on mindfulness in the coming months.

From a public transport perspective, I’m proud that as a team at Passenger, we have been able to listen to what bus operators and bus passengers need during this pandemic and have been agile enough to adapt and change to support the industry – whether it’s been launching new features or new products such as myTrip. myTrip now has over 20,000 users and we’ve signed up 46 operators in the space of six months, which is a great achievement.

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

I like to think of myself as optimistic and open minded and as a consequence I’m not afraid to try new things.  I was offered a job in Hong Kong on my wedding day and luckily my ‘soon to be’ husband had a similar mindset as me. We both thought ‘why not, let’s give it a go!’. We had our children in Hong Kong and by the time they were 5 and 6, we’d moved several times for work including to the United States. I think having a flexible, open approach to life has helped us all learn new skills, be adaptable to change and focus on the positives in everything we do.

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

As a mother of two teenage daughters, I strongly believe that being a woman should never hold you back from any career that you want to pursue. You should always follow your dreams, and do your best not to limit yourself with self-doubt. Imposter syndrome affects us all at times, but developing a strong sense of self belief and confidence in your abilities is key.

For anyone looking to change careers, it’s important to remember that skills are transferable, so don’t ever feel stuck to one particular industry if you feel you need a change. You may lack experience, but you can learn anything you put your mind to. I’ve worked in sales and marketing in a real mix of areas including entertainment, media, mental health and technology – and these have all brought skills which I’ve been able to apply to my role at Passenger.

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

I believe a big barrier is a lack of confidence stopping women from applying for certain jobs if they don’t feel 100% qualified or experienced. I also think there’s still a lack of interest in tech subjects at school for girls, so many choose not to pursue it as a career. To inspire children early on in life, I think more needs to be done to relate such subjects to real-world people and problems, helping them empathise and understand the industry.

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

One of the most important things for me is flexibility. COVID-19 has accelerated remote working policies, but as we emerge from the pandemic, there will still be companies returning to predominantly office-based environments. This can pose problems for women who want to start a family and cannot commit to traditional office hours. I think more companies need to adopt a flexible working environment to show women (and men) the possibilities of career progression while raising a family.

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?

Technology covers such a wide range of areas and as an industry needs people from a diverse range of backgrounds. Tech can change our lives for the better in so many ways and  it’s important to remember that to develop a career in tech, you don’t always have to be into STEM subjects. That said, I’d like to see more investment in schools to encourage and inspire girls to take up tech related subjects such as engineering or coding. This is starting to happen now and I do think it will help to accelerate the pace of growth.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I attended the WeAreTechWomen conference last year for the first time and I was incredibly impressed by the speakers and the way it was hosted online due to the pandemic. It was also great to be able to listen to the speakers in my own time as everything was recorded. I am also part of STEMConnext which is a fantastic network of women in tech, which is run by my friend Gill Cooke. They provide events and webinars on a range of topics including Diversity and Inclusion, mental health and host regular networking events and book clubs.

What are the most interesting elements of your job, and/or elements you feel most passionate about?

I love being able to show how anyone, no matter their level of technical experience, can use Passenger’s system. There is a huge amount of complexity behind the scenes, but our team of engineers bring everything together seamlessly and as a team we constantly look to improve the product by listening to feedback.

I’ve also really enjoyed developing myTrip, our multi-operator app, to support the smaller operator market. Its development means we can now offer cutting edge mobile ticketing capabilities to all operators within the UK now, no matter how big or small their operation. It definitely helps to make my role more interesting and diverse.

What are you currently working on that you’re excited about and why?

It’s still early days for myTrip as we launched last October, but we now have nearly 50 UK operators signed up from all over the country. It’s been fun working on the product development, marketing strategy and bringing new operators onboard.

myTrip is designed currently for the smaller operator market offering live bus tracking and mobile ticketing and we are getting a very positive response from both operators and their passengers. We are now starting to launch myTrip websites which bring even more functionality such as journey planning and interactive timetables. We’re continuing to make bus travel more convenient and accessible for all.

Why do you think it’s important for more women to work in the transport and tech industries?

Workplace diversity is an important part of any business success and this includes the transport and tech industries. Becoming more diverse and inclusive means you introduce many more different opinions and perspectives, leading to improved engagement and creativity within teams.

There are some incredibly inspiring women leading major bus companies now, breathing fresh life and ideas into what has been a traditionally older, male dominated industry.

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.