Sarah EnnettSarah joined Digital Isle of Man in September 2020 to manage the Isle of Man Government Accelerator​ Programme for IoT (Internet of Things), the initial aims of which are to promote the use of IoT for the social and economic development of the Island. 

She has worked in telecommunications for nearly 25 years in several key business areas; Product Management, Business Development, Head of Retail Operations, ISP Operations and HR.  Specialising in Manx Telecom for the last 9 years on developing global M2M (Machine to Machine) and IoT solutions, she was initially business development manager then gained her product management certification with responsibility for IoT product development strategy.

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

My name is Sarah, I am 45 years old and from the Isle of Man.  I’ve loved technology from a young age thanks to my Mum introducing me to Science Fiction books/TV and computer programming on our Vic 20.  I felt privileged to join a telecommunications company at an exciting time in 1996, when mobile phones and then internet services were first being sold to the mass market.  Technology advances came at such a fast pace each year that I got used to continuous learning and I feel blessed to have never been bored at work.  I now work for the Department for Enterprise, part of the Isle of Man Government, as Internet of Things manager.  It is a dream job for me, still being involved with assessing and deploying tech, but looking to see how we can grow our local economy at the same time as solving societal problems, with a big emphasis on education and collaboration.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I really didn’t, I had a bit of a turbulent time in my private life when studying for GCSEs then A Levels, so didn’t meet my potential at that time.  If we did get any careers advice then I don’t remember it, and there was also an assumption that if you got enough GCSEs then A Levels and university were your only option, in hindsight I think a more vocational approach would have suited me much better.  I managed to scrape together enough points to get a place on a HND course through university clearing, but it wasn’t a course I liked so after completing the first year I decided that I’d be better off entering the world of work.  As I was staying in Bristol during term time and coming back to the Island for summers and Christmas for a few years, I signed on at a temping agency.  It was the making of me really, I hadn’t felt very confident in myself but I had a strong work ethic and a curious mind and found that I was able to learn quickly and make myself useful in turning paper based processes into databases, which in turn built up my confidence and showed me that I did have options.

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

We all face challenges and the worst ones that spring to mind are when you’ve messed up something, being able to admit mistakes and take responsibility for them, no matter how hard, is usually the quickest path to getting support from those around you and allowing others to help you get back on track.  My favourite piece of advice in how to overcome adversity is to always remember there are three ways to look at an issue; you can either fix it, change how you are thinking about it, or move on from it.  It applies to many things, and I’ve often been guilty of spending too long on the first aspect of this, but when you aren’t able to change the issue itself then you can choose to downgrade how you perceive it or if that isn’t possible then you can take the initiative and find a way to move on.  Life is too short to be unhappy, ask for help and take responsibility – we all need support from time to time, and most people who have received it are more than happy to reciprocate to others, it’s a virtuous circle.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I’ve had so many highlights but as a product manager I was proudest of the period when we launched a new IoT focussed product set and saw our revenues double year on year and for the four years it was my key focus.  There is something really special about working with a small team of passionate people who are all striving to beat targets and make your product and support processes the best they can be, but who have your back when things aren’t going as well.

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

It is hard to choose just one, I’m a fast reader and a fast learner which is probably one of the biggest reasons I have been successful, the fact that I can and do digest a lot of information on many different topics to challenge myself and continually learn from others.

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

Always be learning, and realise that doesn’t always mean a specific training course, though I’ve always grabbed those with open arms when they are offered!  A really good way to keep fresh is to follow as many thought leaders as you can think of on Linked In, and read the articles they write and the thoughts they post, and push yourself to get involved in a conversation about them too.  If you look at the comments you often see people disagree, and sometimes that is the best way to learn that for a particular topic there isn’t just one ‘correct’ way to do things.  Aside from keeping an eye on future technology trends I also love to read up about the future world of work and best practice management and organisation design, they are fascinating topics and very useful if you are looking to grow as a leader.

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

I like to be optimistic, and I certainly don’t want to put anyone off getting into tech, it is such an exciting and rewarding career.  There has been a huge change in attitudes over my career to date and I’d like to think there are very few, if any remaining barriers for success now, once you are in a tech career.  The main thing that springs to mind is recruiting people into a tech career in the first place.  We need more representation, the fact my Mum liked computers made it normal in my mind, but even so I didn’t know what that could mean career wise for me.  We need to talk more about the types of careers that exist, and how creative they can be, we need to showcase women who are thriving and inspire the next generation to join us in even greater numbers.

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

If companies are really serious about equality, then I think they should invest in initiatives like training about unconscious bias. We are starting to attract more women into tech which is great, but when you look at the more senior levels and especially the boardroom, then the gender balance can still be pretty poor in a lot of companies.  I think as a society we need to understand and respect the differences in style that being raised in a very gendered way, which I don’t think has changed very much (hello pink themed girls toys), can mean to you as an adult, and which are really hard to change the older you get.  I know I tend to be very honest, to a fault, and the style of language that is my natural style is very different to the majority of men at a similar point in their career.  I’m not saying that women should be given any advantage, but I am saying that our default view of what is a strong and effective leader, needs to be challenged and changed.  Sometimes a little more honesty or humility or humble language is needed in a boardroom conversation, it doesn’t mean the person with that style is any less talented or hungry for success, just they have a different way of achieving it, and we need a diverse group of opinions and different ways of looking at problem solving to be really successful.

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 do think careers advice is key to this, and it isn’t just a responsibility of schools to do this in a more exciting and structured way, it can be all of us as employers and parents and mentors.  Help make a careers hub in your local spaces, bring together lots of case studies and examples of the types of jobs that are exciting and well paid and in demand for your particular area and demonstrate real example pathways for people to gain the skills they need.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

If there isn’t a local networking group for professional women, then I recommend you start one, because having the ability to talk to your peers, to seek mentors and to offer to mentor others, is one of the most empowering and supportive things you can do.  Hopefully in another generation or so it won’t need to be a gendered thing!

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