Climbing the ladder in tech

Woman climbing the ladder. Сareer growth, achievement of success in business or study.

Article by Fiona Hobbs, Chief Technology Officer, Opencast Software, the independent enterprise technology consultancy

With over 15 years in the tech industry, Fiona Hobbs discusses her experience so far, tips for anyone developing their career in tech and the lessons she has learnt on her journey to Chief Technology Officer.

Fiona is currently the CTO at Opencast, the independent enterprise technology consultancy headquartered in the North-East, where she works with clients across the financial services, government and health sectors.

Develop your passions

A lot of success in the tech stems from passion. Most people who work in the industry do so because they want to and because it’s a career they enjoy. Some technical roles don’t require you to have a degree, you just need to be able to demonstrate your knowledge and experience in different ways. For example, many developers have begun their careers because they were interested in gaming, and writing code for games allowed them to develop their knowledge to a point where they were qualified for jobs within the software delivery industry. Being passionate about what you do is vital in the tech industry.

For me, I enjoyed IT when I was at college and found I had a flair for coding, and that’s where my career stemmed from. I realised I liked having a job – and still do – where I can see a tangible difference has been made. For example, I get the opportunity to see millions of people using an app I have played a part in developing, or more recently, work that I did for a biotech company years ago – writing code for analysing genetic data – has been used to create the COVID vaccines. For me, that gives my career a real purpose and that pushes me to keep improving.

Secure your base knowledge

If you have the passion, the next step is to secure your base knowledge. In my case, it started by being the first female in my school to take IT at GCSE level, which allowed me to confirm I was good at it. Then, following a couple of unrelated jobs that I didn’t enjoy, I went back to college to do computing for A-Level, and then onto Durham University to complete a BSC in Software Engineering.

However, education is not everything – it gave me an understanding of which elements I enjoyed and didn’t enjoy, but the next most important thing is getting experience. Apply to the jobs you feel will add something to your repertoire, whether this be sector knowledge, or different types of coding and tech. I worked within biotech, pharma, financial services and education before narrowing down what I actually wanted to do. All experience counts if you’re learning along the way.

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Take the right leaps

As you move through different jobs, it becomes clear that sometimes you have to make leaps if you are going to end up where you want. The best thing about tech and IT is the amount of opportunities in the space. It has certainly made it easier in times of difficulty to feel confident that you will be able to secure another job using your skills.

I decided to take a leap when I realised I’d like to work as part of a larger team and practice all the lessons I had learnt around agile delivery. At this point in my career I moved to Sage, the enterprise software company, to work as a Senior Developer, delivering on projects. This eventually allowed me to move to Sage Spain, based in Barcelona, where I ran a global team developing Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) for their platform.

This experience eventually led me to Opencast, where I have now been for seven years. I have seen the team grow hugely, and it has given me the chance to create the culture I would like to work in, alongside building the right products for our customers. I have worked on clients ranging from the NHS to DWP and Morgan Stanley, looking at their tech landscapes and guiding them down the right path. Working in a consultancy has also allowed me to take on two or three leading edge projects a year, which has given me double the amount of experience you would get as an inhouse CTO.

It’s key to think about what experience you have, what experience you want, and what kind of company you want to be based in. Make sure you’re aligning your values with your work, and you should be on the right path.

Key advice

My advice is: if you have a passion for tech or IT, go for it. Often, the syllabus at school can put people off, but in reality, IT is so much more than that. If you can’t build your knowledge alone, there are now key programmes such as Women Who Code that are encouraging women to get into this space if they have the desire to do so. If you enjoy writing code and being technical, then certainly don’t allow yourself to be pushed into a business focused or project management role. There is huge progression in tech, so stick with it.

Additionally, consider the best environments for learning and developing your skills. Nowadays everyone wants to have Government on their CV because they are working on leading projects and they are accessible. They are focused on making their culture diverse and collaborative, where other sectors may not be as forward thinking. It’s always important to look for the right work environment for you.

Finally, it’s been well acknowledged that women still have to struggle balancing a career and family life and not compromise on either. So it’s key for me to mention that technology is actually a great sector for being able to work remotely or work part time. It may only be a part of the puzzle, but it’s a crucial one for women trying to climb the ladder.

Business inequality, gender gap vector concept with man at advantage. Symbol of discrimination, different opportunity, unequal treatment. salary. Eps10 illustration.

Climbing the Project Management career ladder 

Business inequality, gender gap vector concept with man at advantage. Symbol of discrimination, different opportunity, unequal treatment. salary. Eps10 illustration.

Article by Debbie Lewis, Chair of the Board of Association for Project Management (APM)

Debbie LewisDebbie has had a 34-year career in telecommunications with circa 24 years in project and programme management.

She holds degrees in physics, telecommunications and major programme management. In BT plc, she became Director Strategic Programmes managing a portfolio of major programmes that delivered transformational change in networks including launch of ultrafast broadband in the UK and 5G mobile, as well as internal business change. Debbie is currently Chair of the APM Board and Chair of the APM Professional Standards and Knowledge Committee. Here, she shares her views on career progression, with a focus on her experience of being a project professional in a technology industry.

The ladder

“Climbing the career ladder” starts with a clear understanding of what that means in your own personal context. Your career goal should have some clarity (at least to the next stage) and a clarity that is authentic to you. Gaining that clarity requires personal reflection, a strong dose of self-awareness and the emotional intelligence to be true to your values and needs. Like any journey, the preparation can make for the best experience; so, my first piece of advice would be to give yourself the gift of knowing your values and choosing an ambition that aligns to those values. Therein you’ll enjoy the journey (even the really tough parts) and, through the truth of your goal, have a much greater probability of success.

Tips on climbing the project career ladder

Having understood and set your goal, how do you make the journey? My own career experience and success was supported by three things:

  • Visible delivery success enabled by relevant skills and ongoing learning
  • Being a trusted partner
  • Choosing challenge

Visible delivery success enabled by relevant skills and ongoing learning

Nothing will speak louder than the visible evidence of success in your work. A great reputation though, is hard earnt. The keys to success include the skills that come from relevant qualifications and the experience gained from applying those skills. I speak in the context of project management, and as the professional body for project management in the UK, point to APM as an incredibly important enabler.

For project professionals, APM is the only chartered body in the world and, as such, its suite of accreditations  provide a route to best practice and delivery success in projects. Becoming a Chartered Project Professional (ChPP) signposts knowledge and skill but is also a recognition of successful practice. APM also provides a Continued Professional Development (CPD) framework so project professionals can ensure they are proactive in ongoing learning wherever they are in their career and that they have evidence of that learning and its relevance. If you are not a project professional, ask yourself what your equivalent is.

And one last comment on visibility; it should be more than the visibility of your delivery success. It is also important that you are visible in sharing your passion for your work, your organisation and your profession. So be proactive in making that real in the most authentic way possible, whether it’s leadership of activities outside of your immediate job description, support of networks of like-minded people or mentoring of others as just a few examples.

Being a trusted partner

Personal sponsorship is important for career progression. Projects need sponsorship to succeed but people also need career sponsors to help them navigate the peaks and troughs. You may have different sponsors at different times in your career but do actively seek a sponsor and develop that partnership to support your success. The more senior your sponsor, the better. Working in partnership, you can support mutual success, whilst they can provide a platform for your visibility and potential new roles. A strong reputation that decision-makers and influencers agree and a trusted pair of hands that the organisation knows will make things happen, can see career opportunities come to you before you even think about pursuing them yourself.

Challenge and change

Being open to change and willing to accept new challenges is very important for career progression. Imposter syndrome can hold you back, so occasionally it requires a leap of faith and some bravery. Learning is inevitable and is a benefit of the process, both from failure and from success. It matures you as a professional but also as an individual. So, even when it scares you, a new challenge can be the door to opportunity and a new understanding of that clarity of career goal that I spoke about above.

And finally…

Project management is now increasingly recognised as an enabler of business, economic and societal success and the growing demand for project professionals makes it an excellent career choice. With the pace of change in the world of technology, many of the biggest and most important projects of the next decade will be technology driven projects. The bringing together of project skills and technical knowledge makes for an exciting enabler of many of the most significant ambitions society has, including sustainability, equality and inclusion, and economic recovery. As women in technology and the project profession, I truly believe that we can be the ones to make the difference.

Career change, Building a career featured

Choose your ladder

Article by Soumaya Hamzaoui, co-founder and COO and RedCloud Technologies

Career change, Building a career featuredAs women, our adult life is measured by permanent determinant choices; compromises, that are either imposed on us by biology or by society.

I am speaking of every woman in every country, regardless of origin, colour, culture, or religion. As a 37-year-old female entrepreneur, unmarried and with no kids, I want to share how I deal with the doubts and the pressure to make decisions.

Moving forward in life is like going up on a ladder, you have to take each step carefully if you want to go higher. From my point of view the first three steps are the most important, because if we get those right, then the rest is just about experience.

First step: Choose your ladder carefully

As young women we are thrown into life very early with a path that says you’re supposed to race as fast as you can, graduate quickly, get your first job, get married, have kids, and then you are ‘settled’. Most women do not even have the time to think and consider what their options are and what they want to do with their lives. I think taking the first year of our adult life to figure out what it is we really want and why we want it is a fundamental step, as if we fail in this step we will never reach the second.

Second step: Cancel the noise

If you get step one right, step two should be fairly easy, as once you choose your path this step is about making it happen. Regardless of your choice, one thing is sure, you will have to make compromises and sacrifices to achieve it. Every decision you make will be questioned. Whether it is a personal decision or a professional one, there will always be someone telling you ‘this is not how others do it’, or ‘this is something you will regret in five years’ etc. That why it is very important to be sure of where you are going and why you want to get there. The truth is you will make loads of bad decisions, but if you make them for the right reasons, you will always feel more confident in yourself.

Third step: Stay focused on the essential

As you start going up, you will become more comfortable and gain confidence as you are achieving your objectives. At this point it is very easy to lose yourself and get distracted from your end goals. It is also possible that what you had in your plan turns out to make you feel unhappy and unfulfilled. Say you wanted to be a tech entrepreneur and you managed to achieve it! You have 200 people working in your company. But you are not enjoying it. The question you should ask yourself is ‘why did I want to do this in the first place, what exactly was I trying to achieve and what is preventing me from enjoying it?’. Once you get the answers to these questions, you can make the necessary adjustments.

Also please keep in mind that plans are there to be changed. Changing your plan to adapt it to reality is not failure, it is part of the journey. Embrace it!  Live every pain, every failure, every success and every happy day with the same intensity, because that is what will make you who you want to be – an authentic person.

About the author

Soumaya HamzaouiSoumaya is an entrepreneur and technical and product strategist. She has a strong track record of developing internet and mobile products across enterprises focused on the global fintech industry.

She has deep sector expertise built over the last seven years across Africa, Asia and EMEA in mobile money, digital financial services and fintech launches.

She is currently an executive at RedCloud Technologies and has been responsible for directing the release of its next generation open commerce platform built for global markets.