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.


Career change, Building a career featured

5 ways to approach careers talks

On returning to my old secondary school for a careers event several years ago, I was asked to describe a typical day before inviting the children to guess what I did.

Here’s the jobs they came up with: secretary; nurse; veterinary assistant; shop assistant; primary school teacher. At the time, I was a Partner Account Manager at Microsoft so you’d forgive them for not guessing a job that only those in tech would know, however their responses highlighted to me how big the disconnect is between the jobs students imagine are available vs jobs that actually exist.

Given that I grew up on a council estate with a lot of pupils on free school meals (myself included) it made sense for the pupils to think I did one of the jobs they listed. My mum had been a cleaner and a childminder. Lots of my friends’ mums worked in shops, care homes and nurseries. It was rare among my peers to have two parents with ‘white collar’ jobs. Entering the world of office work and technology was an absolute revelation as I discovered the potential I had to transform my life – discussing my salary and benefits package with the pupils generated a sudden wave of interest in technology careers – so it’s with this lens that I’d like to offer five different ways to approach careers talks.

1.    Industry first

Whether it’s legal, finance, technology or professional services, all industries have job titles that mean nothing outside of their context and all industries suffer from being viewed from just one angle. Pupils think you “have to be techy” to work in tech or that the only career in legal that of a lawyer. A five minute overview of your sector provides pupils with all-important perspective and allows you to surface any misconceptions.

2.    The foot in the door

If you’re delivering a careers talk, it’s likely that you’re fairly well established. And while your achievements may serve as an inspiration, it’s hard for pupils to draw a line between where they are now and where you are today. Starting right at the beginning helps to illustrate that careers paths are not all pre-planned and linear.

3.    Business in the round

It was only on joining an organisation that I began to understand how businesses are structured. In a graduate environment you might get sent on secondment around the organisation to learn how it works so why not provide a little of that? Illustrating your organisational structure offers a great way to explain roles, relationships, dependencies and outline potential career paths.

4.    The game of life

The things that underpin the career we might want to pursue include money, fulfilment, achievement, service to others and recognition. For many of us that first point is the initial motivator – I couldn’t afford not to work after leaving college and so missed the chance of going to university. It was only after spending 10 years at a corporate and achieving a level of financial security that I had the luxury to pursue work that I ‘love’. Sharing the drivers behind your decisions could offer greater opportunities for connection than focusing purely on the job.

5.    Warts and all

Alongside enjoying some tremendous career highs, I’ve made some phenomenal mistakes and I think it’s important for us to talk about these. We need to reassure students these slip-ups are par for the course and illustrate what we’ve learned as a result. For those of us in the second phase of our careers it’s healthy to remember that we too were the 20-year-old who forgot their passport on a work trip (just me?) or the first-time manager who learned about stakeholder management the hard way.

Leading the way

If you’ve not delivered a careers talk, I would encourage you to approach your local secondary school to do so – especially if you live in an area that has been identified as a ‘cold-spot’ for pupils not in education, employment or training. For women in particular, it’s important to be visible in the context of our work, to demonstrate what’s possible and share our career stories – I believe doing so is an important form of leadership for the next generation.

About the author

Toni KentToni Kent is an experienced writer and performer who is trusted by large corporate IT organisations to represent their business leaders and brands through a mixture of ghost writing, coaching and motivational speaking.

With twenty years of experience in technology and as an advocate for women supporting women, Toni is frequently booked by Women in Business networks and organisations that want to promote gender parity. With lived experience of how work transforms the life prospects of women from disadvantaged backgrounds, she is proud to be the official event compere for Smart Works Reading – an organisation that helps women return to the workplace via free interview coaching and work-appropriate clothing.

Toni is also a columnist for Berkshire Life and has written three books of humorous reflections on what it means to be a woman: Reasons to be Cheerful Parts One and Two and I Need a Wife. Her books are all available via Amazon.

You can follow Toni on Twitter and LinkedIn at @tonijkent


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Career Path

Go your own way | Amy De-Balsi

Career Path

By Amy De-Balsi, Head of Partnership and Innovation at Bruntwood SciTech

Successful digital tech entrepreneur, Amy De-Balsi has experienced many twists and turns on her journey to become Head of Innovation and Partnerships for Bruntwood SciTech in Leeds, where she’s helping tech start-ups to grow and championing female tech talent in the city.

Here she talks about her own career path, how she founded the Leeds Digital Job Fair and how there are more routes available than ever for women wanting to get into tech.

My own background is proof that there’s no one set way to build a successful career in the tech sector. I’m a University of Leeds geography graduate and my core skill is project management – which I’ve applied in a range of different roles in different sectors but always around tech. I worked for Yorkshire Forward, the regional development agency managing a project portfolio worth £20m before joining Sky Betting & Gaming to deliver technology solutions.

In the seven years I was with Sky Betting & Gaming I moved around the organisation a lot. I was Head of Social Responsibility and Compliance for a while, working with regulators, before a stint as Head of Communications for Leeds. It was only when I left the company that I started to forge my future as a digital tech entrepreneur. When I left, I wasn’t sure where to go - I didn’t have a ‘traditional’ career path to continue along, so I created my own opportunity.

The Leeds Digital Job Fair was borne out of having some time after being made redundant. I was aware employers were struggling to fill digital jobs in Leeds, so I mapped the city’s digital and tech sector, the vacancies in those companies and realised that filling them could boost the regional economy.

From there I worked with Leeds City Council around how to address the issue, and the first job fair was launched. It was a huge experiment, but the risk paid off. The Leeds Digital Job Fair has since become an annual event, covering the whole range of roles in the tech sector, at all levels; from apprenticeships to director appointments. It has over 50 exhibitors each year and approximately 2,000 people through the door. It’s a great way of showcasing the breadth of the digital sector in the North and the different routes into it.

There’s an enduring myth that you must be someone who’s studied computer science to work in the digital sector but that’s simply not the case. Anybody can - people will train you. And you don’t have to start off as a graduate either. Often, employers want bedroom coders or those who have an interest in coding and want to take it further; and you can be trained through degree apprenticeships or graduate programmes. That’s not to say that digital tech is just about coding, of course, there are all sorts of different roles available in the sector and the exciting thing is that new ones are cropping up all the time.

Employers will be looking for people with a positive and passionate attitude, and an ability to work well as part of a team. People who’ve studied music or languages can be attractive to them because of the way they apply logic – you should never count yourself out.

My mum was a coder and when she started there weren’t computer science or computer gaming courses available. Candidates were recruited based on how they approached logical problems.  I think it’s starting to go full circle now, it’s not just about what you study it’s about finding people with multiple disciplinary approaches and backgrounds.

Thankfully, in Leeds, there’s lots going on to tackle misconceptions around entry into the digital tech industry and to boost awareness of opportunities. It’s something we need to see replicated across the UK. Leeds has a Digital Skills Action Plan in place, to create and promote entry points to the sector, like degree apprenticeships or coding bootcamps. We’re very proud to say that the Northcoders coding bootcamp, the first of its kind in the city, is based at Platform, which is also home to a thriving tech community.

Platform, is playing a vital role in providing all the elements that tech start-ups and entrepreneurs in Leeds need to grow their businesses, helping to create new jobs in the city and keeping tech talent in the region. Part of my role as Head of Innovations and Partnerships for Bruntwood SciTech is to work with tech businesses in Platform to develop links with each other and the rest of the city, including universities, professional service firms and corporate tech teams. I also work with investors to broker relationships with businesses that need investment and help start-ups access mentors and business angels.

I understand from my own experience how important it is to surround yourself with the right core network of contacts and advisers and one of my biggest pieces of advice to female entrepreneurs looking to gain a stronghold in this industry would be to network, network, network!

The tech industry is thriving in Leeds and the next generation of talent is being proactively nurtured but we could be doing more to open the door to the sector at an earlier age for women. My daughter goes to a primary school in Leeds and she’s been learning coding since reception. She even has coding homework, which is

amazing. There is a big aspiration in the city to have somebody teaching coding in every school. Let’s hope this ambition is realised. In the meantime, the industry should do all it can to encourage females into tech, whatever route they prefer to take.

About the author

Amy De-Balsi is the founder of the Leeds Digital Jobs Fair, an annual event which now attracts over 50 exhibitors each year and approximately 2,000 people. Prior to this, Amy spent five years at Yorkshire Forward running a £20m portfolio of projects to develop the region digital sector, then spent a further 7 years at Sky Betting and Gaming delivering new technology projects.

Amy recently joined Bruntwood SciTech as Head of Innovation and Partnerships in Leeds. In her new role is focused on bolstering Leeds’ tech cluster, working in partnership with universities, professional services providers, investors and corporate tech teams in the city region to create opportunities.