Inspirational Woman: Alesia Braga | Chief Technology Officer, SmartRecruiters

Meet Alesia Braga, Chief Technology Officer, SmartRecruiters

Alesia Braga

Alesia Braga is CTO (Chief Technology Officer) at SmartRecruiters, leading Engineering and Product teams. Braga is an accomplished results-oriented technical leader with over 15 years of experience and a proven record of accomplishment for building and leading world-class software development, maximising profitability through the delivery of exceptional product quality and service, prudent management of people, technology, and processes.

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

Throughout my tech career, I’ve worked in a variety of roles in software, programme management, and engineering. My first job in IT was in sales with my roles and responsibilities lying largely in cold calling. After a couple of months, I realised this job wasn’t for me and once the team realised that I was an experienced coder, I was moved into software engineering. I’ve spent a lot of time in my career working in software engineering before then moving on to strategic technology roles leading me to the role that I now have at SmartRecruiters.

In terms of my career goals, I’d like to someday move into a CEO role. I am really keen to be responsible for leading and running an entire organisation. Being in such a position of influence and change, I would love to implement programmes and paths to help bring more women into the tech industry.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Like every child, I went through phases of what I wanted to do when I grew up. I went from wanting to be a doctor to a lawyer and then to an astronaut. However, through all of these changing aspirations, I’ve always been passionate about computers. I first started learning how to code when I was 6 so it has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.

When I was 12, I decided I wanted to go to Belarusian State University to study math and computer science. So, I suppose you could say that at 12 years old I planned on having a career in IT.  However, I’m not the type of person to have a 5-year or 10-year plan as such. I’ve always set goals, completed them, and then moved on to the next one. I’ve always had the mindset of constantly improving, growing, and learning to become more well-rounded.

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

I would say that one of the challenges I have faced throughout my career has been suffering from imposter syndrome. Because of this, I often didn’t let myself take risks for fear of what others might think. I am one of those people that I often let other people’s advice get into my head and it makes me doubt my abilities. Imposter syndrome is one of those things that can be really hard to shake and is probably something I will feel occasionally in the future too.

Overcoming it meant pushing all those thoughts to one side. I have learnt to take more risks by not thinking about all the negative ‘what ifs’ and ignoring the people who tell me I can’t do something. I am constantly learning in my career, and I treat any ‘failures’ as a learning experience to help with my development. Focusing on what I want out of my career rather than the opinions of others has really helped me overcome these feelings.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Any career in retrospect is a set of achievements, and every one of them is big enough on the stage where you are. While I had multiple moments in my journey where I could say: “wow, I pulled that off”, long-lasting impact for me is always around building diverse successful teams, seeing your leaders grow and reach new stages in their own careers, and overcoming hurdles like the global pandemic for example. Leading through tough times is hard to quantify, and independently, no matter how many books you read on it, you are only ready when you’ve done it.

Reflecting a bit more, when joining SmartRecruiters, I took on a challenge to expand my role from Technology Leader to Technology and Product leader. Chief Product and Technology Officer as a role is quite novel on the market and I think it’s safe to say now “I’ve done it” and “know-how” to balance technology, product, business, and customer needs while being part of a successful market leading business.

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

I’ve received a lot of bad advice surrounding accelerating my career. Managers have told me I can only move on to the next stage of my career if I had perfected a certain skill or achieved a specific goal first. More often than not, the next step up required completely different skills than what my managers were telling me. Fortunately, I didn’t follow that advice and instead, I developed confidence in my own abilities which has got me to where I am today.

Level Up Summit 2022

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

My biggest tip would be to never think you know everything – the tech space is constantly evolving, and the pandemic has accelerated change even faster. To keep up with this innovative sector, you’ve got to have a creative mindset and a willingness to constantly learn new things. The technology industry is very focused on ‘what’s next’. Having the ability to understand how the new technologies fit in with existing technologies is key to a long-lasting career.

When you reach C-level, truly understanding the ‘why’ behind the solutions, how they relate to your business’ objectives and which team will help you achieve those goals all become your responsibility. Being able to manage your colleagues in a way that ensures you represent them all is also extremely important. Are they working in the best role for them? Are they driven and committed to the company’s vision? Are you managing them with respect and authenticity? A good leader is one that is constantly connecting themselves back to their people and empowering them.

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

The tech industry is very much male-dominated but that isn’t to say there aren’t many incredible women working in the sector. Whilst conversations surrounding D&I are becoming more prominent, we have still got a long way to go in terms of diversity and inclusion in the industry. Education is such a big part of helping overcome barriers to success. Businesses must be proactive in educating all their employees on fairness and equality and the importance of having a diverse workforce. Education is what changes attitudes; unmasking any misconceptions and prejudices is what will slowly but surely start to change attitudes to women working in tech.

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

I think one of the most important things organisations can do to support women is simply not underestimating their abilities. I’ve struggled a lot with imposter syndrome throughout my career, letting other people’s comments get into my head. This is a challenge women often struggle with more than men – KPMG discovered that 85% believe imposter syndrome is commonly experienced by women. Ensuring that female employees know what support networks are out there for them to access is key. Hosting conferences or networking events that will inspire women to take leaps in their careers by showcasing other successful women in tech will also support the progression of female employees.

There are currently only 21 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 think I would love to change the mindset that people have towards women in tech. There are so many great people who are trying so hard to get more women into STEM subjects but, it’s important that women don’t ever feel like they are there purely because they are a woman. Both men and women should be in tech because they have genuine talent and can bring new and fresh ideas to their company.

Changing the mindset of those who work in tech starts early on in education. We need to make sure that boys and girls are educated equally in STEM subjects and that there are no unconscious biases towards men through the style of teaching or the topics that are covered. It would be great to see tech companies reaching out to their local education systems and showcasing the world of tech to really inspire young girls to pursue STEM subjects. I really hope that we will see an increase in women in tech with each coming generation.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

We are so fortunate that we live in a world where we have such a wide range of information and content for women to use in aiding their tech careers. Personally, being on the go so much and not always having that much downtime, podcasts are a great way to listen to other women in the field and their experiences.

I really enjoy listening to the Women in Tech Republic podcast. Listening to the guests about their journey in the tech sector from a variety of different areas is really interesting. Some experiences I relate to and others I don’t so for those working in tech, there will always be takeaways and lessons to be learnt listening to the interviews.

I also enjoy “TED Tech”. Inspiration and innovation are not gender specific. I find it a great way to stay inspired, connected to the industry and ideas-buzzing.

I also think any networking events that women working in tech have at their disposal should be taken advantage of. One example is “Women CTO Dinner”. It is a great community of female tech leaders, very inclusive and a safe space to learn from each other and get a confidence boost.  It’s one of the best ways to interact and make connections with other women in the tech field and find common ground in career experiences.


Inspirational Woman: Christine Bejerasco | Chief Technology Officer, WithSecure

Meet Christine Bejerasco, Chief Technology Officer at WithSecure

Christine Bejerasco

Christine Bejerasco has been in the cybersecurity industry for 19 years. Christine has worked in various capacities during these times, from analysing threats, to building protection capabilities, to leading teams to effectively deliver these capabilities. Today, as the Chief Technology Officer of WithSecure, she looks at the intersection of threats, technologies and user-behaviour to build future-proof cyber security solutions.

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

I’ve been working in cyber security for 19 years, and 14 years of that has been at WithSecure™. I started out as an antivirus engineer, analysing threats and building detection and clean-up tools during the time when file infectors were still prevalent. I eventually shifted to focus on web security upon realizing that more threats have been using the web as an infection vector. All throughout my career, I have built protection capabilities, designed systems to operationalize protection, led and trained teams to continuously improve protection capabilities and racked up wins in defeating cyber threats.

Last year was one of the most significant in my career, when I was appointed Chief Technology Officer at WithSecure™. Now I’m at the forefront of driving the technological innovation that has made WithSecure™ a global leader in cyber security.

Today, I lead a team of experts that also have decades of experience under their belt, and we are providing space for the exploration of technologies related to the convergence of hardware and software, continuous cybersecurity education and security of AI. We are looking into how technology, threats and user behaviour is evolving to see what cybersecurity capabilities would make sense in the future.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Back in 2003 when I graduated in Computer Science from the University of the Philippines, I spent some time considering my options. There were a lot of entry-level coding and tech support positions that would have been steady work, but these roles didn’t light the fire for me. Then a friend tipped me off about an opening for an antivirus engineer. The idea of protecting networks and overcoming challenges really struck a chord and cybersecurity has been my path ever since.

My journey has been largely shaped by the changes in the IT world, and my own skills and experience have increased. For example, I shifted from combatting risks like drive-by-downloads to developing automated tools for identifying compromised websites as web 2.0 picked up steam.

In general, I like the combination of technical, inspirational, and bringing people together. As such, technical leadership slowly became a natural path for me, as well as educating various audiences related to cybersecurity.

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

Earlier in my career, I certainly faced some negative bias as a woman in technology. There was one notable experience where I was hired with a lower salary than my male counterpart, despite working in the same role and having similar backgrounds and experience levels.

At the time I chalked it up to my experience level and didn’t act on it, but today I’d definitely raise it as an issue. Happily, in this case, my salary was adjusted to match my male counterpart once my managers saw my skills in action. However, it’s not always the same case for every woman in the security industry. I feel like there are still a lot of challenges for women in tech. Although we’ve come a long way and the industry’s work culture is becoming more inclusive, there’s still a lot of progress to be made in terms of greater representation in leadership roles and support for women joining the industry.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I am most proud of what we have done in the Tactical Defence Unit (TacDef) when I was leading the unit in 2019-2021. In an organisation that built many different products that relied on common services, there was much firefighting and things falling between the cracks when I started. As TacDef serves four different business units within the organisation, the stakeholders were unhappy about the performance and employee morale (as measured by NPS) was low. Upon getting the head position of the unit, I knew that I had to make changes. Turning firefighting into continuous operations that include a high level of automation using tools that the organisation already had, has been a delight. Harvesting data from operations and making that visible to stakeholders also made it easy for them to understand what they are paying for.

One of the best parts is also seeing people’s potential manifest. Raising new leaders who started out not knowing what stakeholders mean, to those who have strong ownership of their areas and live and breathe continuous improvement has been a highlight. We rose above the firefighting and after a year we had products winning awards, employee morale is higher, and the naysayers who thought the organisation became too structured have seen very clear data on what we have been doing and where the progress lies. The unit got back the trust of the stakeholders.

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

The drive to continuously learn and to be outside of my comfort zone. In the areas that I get into, I may not be the smartest, but I am one of the most open to learning new things. I don’t believe I have all the answers, but I can absorb concepts quite quickly and relate them with each other and with previous knowledge. I also try to put myself in situations when I am uncomfortable and would need to stretch myself, which means that I may not always be in my element at the beginning, but once I learn the ropes, I have a wider range of experience to draw from that I can use in my work.

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

I think it’s important to seize any opportunities that come your way. For example, if a job opening comes up and you think you meet only half the listed job requirements, throw your hat in the ring anyway. A lot of technical jobs require exams to test capabilities, so you might find you impress the employer and come out on top.

I also believe it’s important to do something you feel passionate about – it can make a real difference in how you approach your job and the results you achieve. It was the idea of defeating bad guys that drew me to cyber security, and that’s still a big motivator for me today.

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

Tech is still a very male-dominated field, especially when it comes to particular niche areas like cyber security. There is still a tendency for women to have to prove their worth before being accepted at the same level as a man. In my experience at least, it’s often unconscious bias – the men are usually well-meaning and don’t intentionally set out to discriminate and keep women out of the field.

Overall, I think the experience of women in tech has become more positive, and this trend should continue.

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

Many companies inadvertently retain prejudices toward hiring and promoting women, just because that’s the structure they’ve always had. I think it’s important to take a step back and try to identify any areas that might lead to bias against women.

Women like myself in leadership roles also have a big part to play. The presence of a supportive mentor can make a huge difference in helping women feel more comfortable in a male-dominated environment and enable them to develop and demonstrate their skills.

There are currently only 21 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?

It’s slowly becoming easier for women to gain acceptance and keep pace with men, but we still need more ‘grass roots’ activity to encourage young women to enter the tech fields. I think educating girls at school age would make a big difference, especially when they are at that crucial point in deciding their career paths. We need to show them that tech can be an exciting and rewarding field they can excel in.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

  • BrightTALK – for online talks and updates.
  • Feedly – for cybersecurity news and updates. This will lead you to different websites with technical writeups that you can use for learning.
  • Wired Magazine – for comprehensive writeups on up-and-coming technologies.


Inspirational Woman: Sophie Davies-Patrick | Chief Technology Officer, MPB

Sophie Davies-PatrickSophie Davies-Patrick is the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) for MPB, the world’s largest online platform to buy, sell and trade used photo and video kit.

A transformational leader, Sophie brings over 25 years of experience across several key engineering, project management, and director roles in tech. She is an active careers ambassador for STEM Learning UK where, for over 14 years, she has regularly delivered talks to young people and attended careers fairs in the hope of empowering them to take a career in STEM.

Sophie has a real passion for driving change and, over the last two decades, has leveraged technology to produce results for businesses that range from high-growth start-ups to Fortune 500 companies.

Since joining MPB, Sophie has driven better customer value through the innovative use of technology, which is one of the key reasons she won “CTO of the year” in the 2021 Women In Tech Awards – just 10 months into her first CTO role.

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

Prior to joining MPB, I spent five years on the leadership team of American Express, overseeing engineering teams and delivering agile transformation within two major company platforms. Before American Express I held engineering, project management, and director roles at Clearleft, Yahoo! and the British Airports Authority.

Now as the CTO for MPB, I define the technology strategy and lead product development for the world’s largest online platform specialising in used photo and video kit. Recently we have overhauled MPB’s Product & Engineering team by increasing the pace and predictability of work and reducing the risk associated with updates and deployments, to help deliver better value to the company.

Day to day I work on initiatives that enhance the service the platform provides to its customers, helping MPB to achieve its growth ambitions.  We are currently working on the launch of our new platform where we have completely transformed the user experience and added a wealth of new features to the MPB site.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I started to teach myself how to code at seven and loved it from the outset, so a tech career was never a hard sell for me. It wasn’t a straight path from there as IT and computer science courses were rare at the time. When choosing my A-levels, I decided to follow my interests and studied further maths, art and physics, then completed a degree in Anthropology.

This all changed towards the end of my degree when I went to visit the university’s career advisor. They gave me a questionnaire that looks at your qualifications and personal interests to determine a career you’d be well suited to. Surprisingly, the results came back and said I would be a great fit for software engineering.

Looking back, this was such a defining moment for me. Since I had no qualifications or experience, I didn’t consider software engineering to be an option at the time. However, my career advisor pointed out that having a mix of maths, science and art is perfect for a role like this as you need to have the ability to solve complex problems creatively.

Back then, relevant degrees weren’t necessary to get your foot in the door as companies trained you on the job, so I took on my first job in tech as an Analyst Programmer and haven’t looked back since! It feels so surreal that a small moment in time can completely change the trajectory of your career.

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

I think of myself as a very ambitious and passionate person, and that itself creates a very demanding environment; I constantly react to challenges around me or challenge myself. I’m a firm believer that pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is a fantastic way to excel in your career but that inevitably leads to some moments where, by its nature, you’re uncomfortable.

Reflecting on more of the systemic challenges I faced in my role, when I began my career in technology a senior manager told me that women’s brains didn’t work the right way for them to succeed as programmers. Sexism was a lot more prevalent back then and it was tough to prove your value to colleagues that constantly underestimate your potential. Being the minority in most meetings did take some getting used to as well but it meant that you were much more likely to be remembered.

The silver lining in all of this is that I had a good opportunity to make an impact and it left me more resilient and tenacious; traits hiring managers love. It’s a shame that extra mental toughness can be the price of admission.

Overall, I believe that the tech landscape for women has changed drastically in the last 30 years for the better but of course, there is still progress to be made.

What are some of your biggest career achievements to date?

Landing my first role as a CTO and winning CTO of the year the following year was huge for me. I’ve taken on many senior positions across a range of global companies, but this is by far the most challenging. It’s so easy to get tied up in imposter syndrome no matter how long you’ve been in the game but moments like that really help you to reflect and celebrate your achievements.

Another achievement I would highlight is being able to secure a senior role in tech following my maternity leave. After having my son, I chose to be  out of full-time work for almost 5 years so my technical skills did atrophy a little which can knock your confidence, but being able to come back and land a senior role was something I took great pride in.

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

Getting that hands-on experience at the beginning of my career, the ability to learn and train on the job is invaluable. I believe the industry could do more to engage young people that maybe didn’t choose the university path or took an unrelated course but want to learn.

Tenacity and hard work also go a long way. Computer science, just like any other science, is a trial-and-error process, and you need to trial a lot of ideas before you get to the final solution. Being able to keep a positive mindset when problems get tough and being to push through is hugely important.

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

Tech is always changing, and it changes quickly. One key piece of advice I would give is to invest time in keeping your skills current so you don’t get left behind.

It’s also a far-reaching industry, you may get to travel, work across sectors and meet all kinds of brilliant people; it’s one of the many reasons I love tech. Being open minded to working across different companies of all sizes and sectors can give you invaluable experience. I did this throughout my career and was exposed to different ways of working and this gave me many professional opportunities. Having this diverse experience helped shape my career and get me to where I am today; so be curious and take these opportunities with both hands!

Do you believe there are still barriers for women to get into the tech industry? If so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Getting your foot in the door can still be challenging and many of these barriers lie within the recruitment process. There are steps that HR and hiring teams can take to help improve gender diversity. In terms of personal experience, there are a couple of things that I’ve found work well. Firstly, using gender-neutral language when advertising roles can encourage a more diverse pool of applicants. Secondly, and probably most important, using diverse interview panels. This helps candidates realise they won’t be a tick in a diversity checkbox and gives them the ability to imagine themselves working at the company.

Finally, once women are hired, companies should focus on team happiness and engagement to maximise retention of their female employees… and because it is the right thing to do for the whole team!

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

Once women are professional, we need to actively choose to give more opportunities to them. Training and continuous professional development are the most important of these in order to stem the low number of female computer graduates.

It is not enough to let women do the legwork themselves, find out what they need to learn, research training opportunities and then make a funding case. Those in leadership roles need to be more proactive in this area by investing in the training resources for everyone and nurturing the career development of young women.

Companies also need to challenge themselves to support those at all stages of their life. Unfortunately, 35% of women leave the industry when they start a family. The engineers everyone wants to hire are the ones who also code in their spare time because they love it. Side projects such as contributing to open-source software, entering hackathons and pursuing personal projects don’t just keep people happy, they also keep them up to date and connected to the wider world. For some women, though, starting a family seriously curtails this coding time. I don’t think employers can just expect people to hit a high technical bar without helping them maintain it.

There are currently only 21 percent 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? 

More exposure to the industry. I’d love more women to move to the tech sector, they genuinely don’t know what they’re missing! However, if you don’t understand the opportunities that are out there for you, you won’t take them.

The reality is the tech gender disparity starts in education. Children as young as 4 start displaying gender bias when thinking about jobs and when asked about what influences their career choices, children state that teachers and their schools have the most impact.

These influences impact higher education choices. Only 14% of A-level computer science students in 2020 are women, and when looking at the most recent university graduates, only 20% of engineering and technology students and 21% of computing students were women. That’s why education is a crucial time to take positive action and break down these stereotypes to show girls the endless career potential in STEM.

I’ve visited schools to talk to students about career opportunities in our industry and take part in coding events. It can be tough to overcome girls’ initial scepticism, but they really shouldn’t worry. Women are changing the world through tech and it’s such an exciting and rewarding sector to be a part of! It’s essential that we celebrate these women and the many others that are making an impact in tech today in order to inspire others.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Mentorship programmes are great, and I would highly recommend joining STEMNet as an ambassador. There are a range of activities you can get involved in, from careers fairs, to hosting school trips, to mock job interviews. Female representation is important and there is an opportunity to make a meaningful impact by encouraging the change we want to see in the industry. As well as this, 45% of the ambassadors are women; it’s a great chance to meet brilliant people across the industry and learn about the incredible work they are doing!

In terms of reading materials, it’s important to diversify where you get your information from and look for inspiration everywhere. But if I had to choose one source, I think Medium is a brilliant platform for thought leadership and sharing ideas.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future? 

On a personal level, I’m keen to do more non-exec work in the community, particularly getting more involved in my role as a board member at WIRED Sussex.

There are a few other things on the horizon. Working in a company that is scaling rapidly means there are a lot of challenges to solve. At the moment I’m focused on building the future of MPB and creating better enterprise value. One of these projects includes the new platform which is due to launch this quarter. It is definitely our most ambitious project to date and I’m so excited to see the launch!


Gary Devenay

HeForShe: Gary Devenay | Chief Technology Officer, Safe & the City

Gary DevenayGary is a software engineer with over 12 years of commercial full stack experience.

His love of programming started at the age of 12, which landed him his first developer role by age 16. Despite his youth, Gary has successfully led development teams through the entire lifecycle of agile projects for some of the world’s largest clients, including PwC, KPMG, EY, Missguided.com, and Royal Bank of Scotland. Gary met Jillian at their shared co-working space while building his own digital agency; We are Decade. Gary also had built a similar product to Safe & the City in a 48-hour hackathon many years earlier, which never left his mind about the importance of this type of technology and improving safety in areas where he grew up in Scotland. Gary joined Safe & the City as CTO in February 2019.

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

I was born and raised on the west coast of Scotland. At the age of 12, I started teaching myself how to code and fell in love with computers. At the age of 16, I landed my first job as a professional Software Engineer. Over the next 12 years, I went on to lead teams and write software for some of the world’s biggest brands before pursuing my start-up dream and joining Safe & the City as the Chief Technology Officer in 2019. My role at Safe & the City is to oversee and implement our technology roadmap for both our Safe & the City app and our i3 Intelligence business platform with the goal of reducing the risk of unsafe experiences to people travelling through public spaces.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I didn’t plan my career too far into the future, but I was always consciously aware of how I wanted to progress. I tried hard to get involved in meaningful projects that would present valuable learning experiences that I could evidence for future roles when I felt it was time to progress in my career.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Starting a professional career at age 16 was a challenge. There is a steep learning curve to go from a high school environment to a professional workplace and gain the professional respect of peers. I would say my age remained a professional challenge until my mid-twenties, but I was determined to keep my focus on my abilities and outputs knowing that I would ultimately be judged based on them.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I am most proud of my continuous investment in my own knowledge. I was never a particularly standout student at school and didn’t take well to those methods of learning. To discover my true passion for learning and ability to dive into a diverse range of topics from software engineering to rocket science and macroeconomics, I really believe I have become a student of life.

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

Without a doubt, the defining factor of my success so far has been my appetite for learning. In a profession that moves as fast as software engineering, I never let a day go by without learning something new. If you’re not learning something meaningful and new each day, you’re missing a great opportunity.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

Mentoring is great, I’ve never had an official mentor but the Technical Director at my first position instilled the lessons of learning and quality of work that set me on the path I’ve continued for the last 14 years. I’ve yet to take on an official mentee, but it’s something I’m looking forward to in the future.

What can businesses/government/allies do to help diversity and inclusion?

So much of our societal structure is inherited from our employment and our ability to earn. I am a big believer in the “incentive theory of motivation”. If we want to reap the rewards of a diverse team of colleagues and peers, then we have to present truly equal opportunity and remuneration. In my opinion, this should be the first criteria of any push towards diversity and inclusion.

Why do you think it’s important for men to support gender equality in the workplace?

Increased gender equality is better for everyone and touches every part of our lives. In our workplace, we can see that increased gender equality increases the quality of decision making, the effectiveness of product and service design, better and more effective innovation— the list goes on. From a purely economic standpoint, increased gender equality alone would equate to a GDP increase of €1.2 trillion in Europe, further improving the quality of life and living for everyone.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Don’t compare yourself to other people, compare yourself today to yourself a month ago, or a year ago. Other colleagues and friends are on a different journey than you, with different goals and circumstances. As long as you are closer to your goals today than you were a year ago, you’re doing great!

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

At the moment my challenge is in delivering the roadmap for Safe & the City’s i3 Intelligence platform, the Safe & the City mobile app and scaling our team. We have some really exciting and cutting-edge technology which I believe will make a real difference to how we experience and improve safety in public spaces. Looking towards the future, I am working on advancements to how we can stabilise and incentivise our renewable energy grid as we move further into a sustainable energy future.


Inspirational Woman: Robyn Joliat | Chief Technology Officer, Reside

Robyn JoliatI’m Robyn Joliat and I’m the Chief Technology Officer for Reside, a leading provider of professionally operated and managed global alternative accommodations.

Our PropTech platform Reside 3Sixty leverages machine learning and human expertise to curate housing options from a network of over a million rooms and properties in over 60 countries around the world,  used by Fortune 100 like Amazon or Microsoft, to help move or relocate their employees safely.

My journey into technology started a little unconventionally. I have over 26 years of experience in the corporate housing industry and have held a variety of positions within sales and account management, growing our global supply chain while establishing partnerships to deepen our alternative accommodations offering. Being a truly self serve organization, responsibility for our Furniture and Cleaning Divisions has also fell in my purview.

My passion for technology really ignited when I trained our team for new system deployment in 2004, using my experience in front end operations to help inform and enhance the back end tech platform. I learnt as much as I could about how to translate our stakeholders needs into Reside 3Sixty through technology. Swiftly this was followed by me taking over the IT department and the development and strategy of our company’s tech as CTO, making housing a fully-digitized and customizable experience for our customers and guests. Now I’m working on my biggest project yet: launching a Reside 3Sixty marketplace (like a live booking platform but for corporate housing) while continuing to cement Reside’s reputation in the industry as a PropTech leader.

How is technology powering the corporate housing industry?

Corporate housing has traditionally lagged a bit behind the leisure industry and has been slower to innovate itself. Part of the reason for this is the complexities of corporate travel, as companies have strict policies each traveler or employee needs to comply with (think budget, location, amenities) while having a responsibility for duty of care to keep employees safe. In short, there’s much more to get right than just your average trip booked through Airbnb or a hotel chain.

Now, technology is helping improve the experience at each stage of the guest journey. Tech platforms, like Reside 3Sixty, can instantly aggregate hundreds of housing options that comply with requirements for numerous employees. They can also provide connection to problem resolution on the ground and act as a digital store for all paperwork during each stay. Contactless tech and virtual concierges are helping smooth check-in processes and new wellbeing tech, like air purification monitoring, can enhance the in-room stay. It’s an exciting time to be part of the hospitality industry working on the technology side.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No! I attended Ohio State University where I studied Hospitality Management, but was never keen on working for hotels or restaurants and wasn’t sure where to go from there. I was fortunate enough to find a small company in Dublin, Ohio, that did corporate housing while attending College. This opened the door for me to see an exciting sector that had its foundation in hospitality but incorporated components of real estate, multi-family rentals, hotels and tourism.

As I learned more and did more, I truly became passionate about operations and creating positive and memorable experiences for guests. Technology is now a part of our everyday lives and so it’s been a natural evolution for this to become a foundation of the corporate housing industry – and part of my career too.

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

Some of the most challenging times in my career have been driven by external events. 9/11, the 2008 housing market crash and most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic, have all had a huge impact on travel and accommodation. Each of these drove a new business crisis and presented obstacles to overcome. I think what helped me was my ability to adapt quickly, keep our teams agile and challenge the status quo. For me, challenges create a thrill and I thrive on the high after determining the problem, implementing a solution and successfully solving a problem.

During the pandemic though normal business travel ground to a halt, there were still many essential workers needing to be safely moved around the world. By investing in and scaling up our Reside 3Sixty platform, we were able to meet this demand, while guaranteeing a vetted supply chain that met each customer’s individual needs and created a peace of mind in very complicated and unsure times. We couldn’t have grown during 2021 without robust technology to support our operations.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Having begun my career in the industry as a housekeeper, I would say that my biggest achievement to date is simply having worked upward to become the CTO of such an industry-renowned company.

From the start, I drove myself to learn everything about the business, each position it takes to create a successful organization, the inner workings of each department and functionality and efficiencies within operations you can create with the use of technology. Now, as I oversee our IT team the development of our PropTech platform, I’m excited by the endless possibilities that can happen when you creatively drive innovation. From the humble start to where I am now is something I am deeply proud of.

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

Always saying yes! There is no way I would be where I am today, if I hadn’t said yes to what came my way. Whether it was doing a difficult task, leading a project, relocating for a role, building something new, or just stepping in when there was a gap, each new opportunity afforded me the ability to learn, grow, and show my worth to my team and organizational leaders.

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

  • Think of your career as a journey. It’s rarely a straight-line trajectory for anyone, so embrace the twists and turns along the way.
  • Build both business and technical skills. Especially for us in technology, having a sound understanding of the purpose behind your work and how it influences your business can go a long way.
  • Build your corner of champions and experts. This can be a network that you can trust, rely on, go to to assist with those challenging problems or just bounce new ideas to. Find those people that make you think differently as the best ideas and concepts or problem solving comes when you work with others.
  • Don’t get comfortable. Tech is forever changing and what you do today evolves as quickly as you complete it. You have to continuously stay ahead. Keep an agile mindset that allows you to continuously grow and not get too comfortable and keeps you sharp and invaluable. 

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

Yes, I do believe there are still barriers for women working in tech and that these barriers are often created during early education. Girls are still widely underrepresented in STEM and we need to address this inequality during school. Showing them that opportunities do exist, promoting that girls and women in STEM are not an exception, and giving them access to role models to emulate in the workplace can all help. Seeing other women in tech can inspire hope and drive in others, so we must continue to strive for this to be commonplace in the industry. Above all, I think women need to continually advocate for ourselves and for one another.

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

Companies can support their employees by offering continuous training. This is particularly important as technology advances at such a rapid pace and we all need to skill up to keep up. Providing exposure to women working in their organization so they can be seen, celebrated and learnt from is also key and will help further diversify the sector. When we see other women working technology roles, it makes others realize they can follow the same path. I also think getting involved in local or national initiatives to support girls interested in STEM is a valuable exercise for women working in technology to support their career and job satisfaction.

There are currently only 21 percent 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 wish I could show the young women of tomorrow just how dominant they can be in this profession, and how their ideas for the future can be driven and supported by technology.


Inspirational Woman: Tendü Yoğurtçu | Chief Technology Officer, Precisely

Tendü YoğurtçuTendü Yoğurtçu is the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at Precisely, a leader in data integrity.

In her role, Tendü drives technology vision, innovation, and expansion strategies for Precisely’s future growth. Tendü combines her previous extensive experience in data management with a deep understanding of customer challenges and market trends to drive the delivery of enterprise software solutions, serving 97 of the Fortune 100.

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

Prior to becoming Chief Technology Officer, I served as General Manager of Big Data for Syncsort, the precursor to Precisely, leading the global software business for Data Integration, Hadoop, and Cloud. I previously held several engineering leadership roles at the company, directing the development of the data integration family of products.

In addition to 25+ years of software industry experience, with a focus on Big Data and Cloud technologies, I have also spent time in academics, working as a Computer Science Adjunct Faculty Member at Stevens Institute of Technology. I have a PhD in computer science.

Pushing the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) agenda further is very important to me. Throughout my time at Precisely, I have been committed to building, integrating and inspiring high-performing teams through collaboration, empathy, and focusing on strengths. I pride myself on being a dedicated advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion, both in the workplace and for women in STEM fields around the world. I have co-founded the Precisely Women in Technology programme, with a vision of promoting diversity and women in the workforce as a business imperative.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Being open to non-linear career moves has worked well for me. For major career milestones, I stepped back and thought about my next move, however I didn’t plan it all from day one. For example, taking on the role of General Manager of the Big Data business to lead a global team of R&D, sales and marketing, business development, product management, customer support, and services teams was a major change from just leading R&D. I focused more on my purpose and impact rather than the position I would like to end up in. I kept an open mind for my career path and my plan evolved more around being a major contributor to Precisely’s 10x growth in 10 years as well as driving a culture of innovation and transformation. Building trusted executive-level relationships with customers and partners helped me discover new opportunities for Precisely’s growth as well as for my own career.

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

Early in my career, there were times that I hesitated to share my proposal or opinion thinking it was not perfect or well thought-out enough. Then I realised I was missing out on opportunities because many less thought-out versions were being shared by the men in the room. So, I learned to separate feelings from fact and started thinking it doesn’t matter if it turns out to be a bad idea or I don’t get the project. Henry Ford once said, “Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.”

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

My leadership philosophy is built on creating a culture of innovation by leading with empathy, transparency, and openness to achieve organisational success. I encourage my teams to understand their impact and the meaning of their work, how their innovation and delivery of trusted data help in solving real-world problems, while supporting their continuous development and transformation. I have helped develop many leaders in technology including many women leaders. Prior to a recent transformative acquisition, 35% of R&D and 45% of my leadership team were women – a truly great achievement. My commitment to creating a diverse, fair, and inclusive environment stays the same to advance gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow.

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

I am a curious and analytical person by nature, and I am a fast learner. Early in my career, taking on stretch assignments and delivering beyond my job responsibilities helped me step into leadership roles. Understanding finance and economics has also been a major contributor to my career growth. As I moved up in leadership, I benefitted most from my master’s degree where I studied aspects of business such as operations research and portfolio management. For example, when I led the technical integration of over 20 acquisitions over the last six years, I had to learn new products quickly, and more importantly I had to make meaningful connections with new talent, while delivering strategic innovation for business growth. Being curious, leading with empathy, understanding other perspectives, and making data-driven decisions helped me grow in my career.

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

Do your job well, be a team player, and stay open minded about your career. With the current rate of digital transformation, technology is driving every major industry, continuous learning and staying up to date with a rapidly changing technology landscape is very important. Having said that, for exceling in any career, impact and collaboration are key. In today’s world, every business problem requires cross-functional teamwork, hence working in a collaborative way, and applying technology to solve real world problems are critical to success. I also think understanding finance helps advancing in any career as one needs to make cost-benefit decisions on an ongoing basis.

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

I’ve worked in the technology industry for more than 25 years, and over this time, I have seen the challenges that women face first-hand. We have been talking about these challenges and low rates of women representation in the technology industry for decades now. It’s an uphill battle to not be seen as a “woman in technology” but to be seen as a “person in technology” that excels at her job. As I moved up in leadership, I realised that I needed to start using my platform to be more proactive and create more awareness around issues such as the gender and equity gaps.

I think these barriers do still exist, partly down to company cultures that still aren’t inclusive enough and partly down to education systems that can be responsible for inadvertently putting girls off STEM careers. It’s important to encourage girls to pursue STEM subjects from an early age. Organisations like Girls Who Code play an important role introducing coding and computer skills to girls at an early age. Precisely is a proud corporate sponsor for the Girls Who Code initiative. I’m also one of the circle leaders for the Bridge to Turkiye Fund, where we focus on providing STEM education opportunities for the underprivileged children in Turkey. I also serve as an Advisory Board member for the School of Engineering and Science at Stevens Institute of Technology, where there is a lot of focus on STEM education for girls.

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

Companies need to focus on creating an open and fair environment – providing opportunities for people from different backgrounds, setting examples with leaders, developing recruiting strategies, and embedding diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the culture. To do this, they must align their company values more fully with their DEI goals. Setting this tone can only be achieved if the C-suite and other senior executives are on board: diversity and inclusion must be part of a company’s DNA.

But it isn’t up to just one or two prominent role models or influencers to lead change. Research shows that having a diverse team helps innovation and increases productivity, a diverse workforce signifies an attractive work environment for talent and signals competent management for investors. There is growing interest for socially responsible investors and renewed emphasis on DEI as a component of the social pillar of environment, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives.

I strongly believe that everyone plays a critical role in advancing women in the workplace and promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion as a business priority. At Precisely, when we noticed the representation of women dropped after a period of transformative M&A activity, I partnered with our female leaders and co-founded the Precisely Women in Technology (PWIT) network. We now have over 200 members including all genders. PWIT connects female employees across the business, providing access to key development initiatives – including executive job shadowing, mentoring schemes, access to exclusive fireside chat events with leading industry experts, and even a book club! It has already helped female employees to feel more empowered in the workplace – providing more opportunities for career advancement. PWIT is part of Precisely’s Diversity & Inclusion Council and ESG initiatives.

We all have a duty to create awareness, keep our teams accountable, and commit to improving women’s representation further.

There are 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?

We need to build a bigger pipeline of candidates, the percentage of bachelor’s in computer science degrees held by women in 2021 was 18%. The percentage of women in computer and information technology majors dropped significantly over the last couple of decades. We need to introduce coding and computer science at an early age by making computer science part of the high school curriculum. According to a report published by Accenture and Girls Who Code, 50% of women who take a tech role drop it by the age of 35. One of the contributors to this is the difficulty in advancing to management and leadership roles. We need to invest in early-in-career programmes to help develop women into leadership roles, create a flexible and supportive environment for mothers returning from parental leave, drive an inclusive culture where diversity and individuality are encouraged, and build a diverse leadership team that provides role models. I’m proud to say I am working for a company where 31% of the overall workforce is currently female and 27% of executives, senior-level and management positions are women – and it doesn’t stop there! We are committed to improving female representation even further, with the India leadership team recently raising the bar by achieving 62% women hires through their campus hiring programme.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Firstly, you must excel in what you are doing and immerse yourself in resources that help with learning and development. I highly recommend that any woman working in tech stays up to date with the latest developments in the industry. Data-driven decision making, and data analytics are both becoming critical skills across every industry, but they are also the skillsets where we are most commonly seeing a shortage. I strongly recommend the CareerFoundry blog, which has a good reference of free online courses – including for data analytics. For networking, the events organised by AniteB.org local chapters and Women in IT Summit Series are great and are hosted all around the globe. For books, I recommend “Just Listen” by Mark Goulston which provides techniques for getting through to others, “Never Split the Difference” by Chris Voss which is a great book on negotiation techniques, “The One Thing” by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan on how to create focus on what matters most, and “The 4 Disciplines of Execution” by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey, and Jim Huling on a proven set of practices for executing your most strategic priorities.


Inspirational Woman: Danielle Merfeld | Vice President, Chief Technology Officer, GE Renewable Energy

Danielle MerfeldHere we speak with Danielle Merfeld, Vice President, Chief Technology Officer at GE Renewable Energy.

Danielle tells us about her career in engineering, shares her top tips for success and addresses the importance of encouraging women into the industry.

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

I am the Vice President, Chief Technology Officer of GE Renewable Energy. In this role, I lead technical efforts to develop differentiated products and services across the broadest renewable energy portfolio in the industry, covering onshore wind, offshore wind, grid solutions, solar PV, batteries and hydro. Some of the cool innovations we are working on are how to manufacture wind turbine blades and towers in a completely different way that makes them more efficient and lower cost, and how to connect more renewable energy to the grid while keeping it stable and resilient.

I champion sustainability efforts across the business, leading a team focused on achieving carbon neutrality, which is very fulfilling.  I have also spent several years as the co-leader of the GE Women’s Network, a global organisation focused on the recruitment, retention, development, and promotion of talented women across GE.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I didn’t really spend time thinking or planning my future career steps except for deciding early in my career to stay engaged in technology.  Otherwise, I was intensely focused on whatever role I was in, until I was approached about the next exciting opportunity and asked to consider a new role.  Each step was an adventure and part of a journey that I could never have planned out in advance.  With each successful step forward, I grew more confident in allowing my skills and interests to develop together as a core strategy in building my career.

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

My biggest career challenge was stepping into a role that was significantly broader in scope than anything I had experienced before.  This was challenging mostly due to my own insecurities about whether I was going to be successful. Luckily, I got great coaching from a senior leader who stated in a matter-of-fact way that no one in the company had experience across this breadth, so the job requirements included a good deal of learning.  If I could learn then I could do the job.  That made me see the role in a new light and I got better at asking questions to deepen my understanding without worrying about how that might be perceived by others.  This also taught me one of the magic ingredients to being a successful leader.  Ask questions!  It makes experts on the team feel valued, helps expand personal knowledge, and promotes a culture of continuous learning and teamwork.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

My biggest career achievement to date has been to seed and foster truly disruptive approaches that have made it into our products.  I was only a part of the team that delivered these successes, but my support and advocacy made a difference.  I feel honoured to be in a position to elevate and support the work of smart people who deliver outcomes that truly make the world better for all.

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

I believe that being an effective team player has been a major contributor to my success.  Knowing the elements that I bring to the team – such as curiosity, technical insight, and inspiration – and being able to highlight others for what they bring, has enabled us to do more as a collective than we could do on our own.  From my first team to my current team, this has been the common thread.

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

Especially for young engineers, I think it is important to stay curious and remain open to where the best opportunities to contribute may be for you.  The job opportunities will be plentiful and span across many engineering disciplines. I have noticed working with many engineering teams across multiple disciplines that systems engineering is becoming more critical. Because the systems that we’re designing and using are becoming more complex and interconnected, it’s important to understand how vital teamwork is in designing the solutions of tomorrow. Therefore, I think it’s important for young engineers to develop expertise in an area they’re passionate about while also learning how to be effective in collaborating and delivering across a highly diverse team.

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

There are always challenges for those in the minority, due to the way human nature causes people to favour others most like themselves.  This is why organisations need to continue to focus on fostering diversity in order to enable all employees – including women – to succeed.  This isn’t just because it’s “the right thing to do”, but because studies show that more diverse companies are also more successful.  Barriers for women in technology will be fully overcome when they are properly represented in the technical ranks and found in the same proportion as in their communities.  In the meantime, we as leaders need to actively cultivate an environment where women are engaged in setting the culture to attract and retain more women. Fostering affinity groups that support women in tech, provide an outlet to challenge the status quo and find ways to improve is a great example of how to do that.

On an individual level, I would encourage young female engineers to continue to challenge themselves. Too often I’ve seen young women pass on promising opportunities because they are assessing them against some potential future scenario in their life. I encourage them to take the next step that truly excites them and feels right at the time – with the reminder that they can always make changes to their trajectory when their life changes. Putting yourself in a position to do something exciting and challenging is the best way to grow your career, and more importantly, enjoy yourself at work.

Do you think there are better ways to talk about pioneering women who have played a key role in tech?

I think there is an opportunity to be more nuanced. Often profiles of women in tech – especially famous women in tech who are often presented as sources of inspiration – fall into some clichéd categories.  First are those that highlight women who sacrificed to push scientific understanding forward, such as Marie Curie, whose work in radioactivity led to her untimely death. Also noted are the women who toiled in obscurity, such as Dr. Rosalind Franklin, due to historical and cultural bias regarding women in STEM. (Dr. Franklin played a key role in the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA but was famously not credited or recognized with her male colleagues.)  Lastly, there are those that highlight glamorous women who have shocked the world by driving significant progress in technology – the ‘beauty + brains’ formula.  My favourite one here is Hedy Lamarr, the bombshell movie star of the silver screen, who developed a new communication system that was used in World War II to defeat the Nazis, and led to today’s Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth,

As we drive for equality and see more women in STEM fields in visible roles across industries and around the world, I think that we can become more nuanced about who we highlight and why. We can identify with the biggest challenges facing the world today and look for those who have given us tools and resources to rise to the challenge of facing them together. One of the best examples of an inspirational STEM figure is Rachel Carson, who is often credited with starting the grassroots environmental movement.  Her work in marine biology – and later agro-industrial chemicals – led her to writing books that spoke to the hearts and minds of a population. She awakened a new perspective in many by making complex scientific analysis approachable and understandable.

There are 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?

To accelerate the pace of change for women in tech, I would create a massive internship programme to foster a strong pipeline of women who could experience relevant and engaging work in their field while they are getting their technical degrees.  Then I would follow it up with hiring practices that bring women onto diverse teams so they can experience a more balanced and fairer environment as their initial baseline.  A positive experience at the onset of a career can set the stage for more individual confidence, a supportive network of colleagues, and higher expectations for the team or company culture.  This should lead to a positive flywheel effect where expectations drive behaviours to support more diversity.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Resources are great, but I recommend that whenever possible women in tech should be on a podcast, write a book or article, or speak at a conference where they can showcase what makes them great technologists.  More visibility is great for one’s personal brand and it also provides valuable examples of different types of women doing different types of (great) technical work.

What is the thing you wished others understood about women in tech?

I mentioned that studies show that more diverse companies are more successful. Some of this has been traced to having a balance of risk management styles in leadership, or more collaborative and supportive teams fostered by societal norms for how women engage in communities.  I believe that it is also way more than that. 

For example, a balanced approach requires some characteristics that might be considered masculine and others considered feminine.  Compassion and empathy are two characteristics that many would associate with the feminine, but NOT necessarily associate with business success or technical innovation.  As business and technology evolve it is becoming clear that these traits are more important than many realise.  Approaching the complex and inter-related challenges that the world faces through the lens of compassion enables teams to develop more thorough solutions that work on a more fundamental level. Empathy for the user (or beneficiary) of a future technical solution enables the developing team to better ‘see things through their eyes’ and create a more satisfying experience that addresses the challenge at a more holistic level.  In short, women are a necessary part of our technology community because they are different from men, not in spite of it.


Katie Nykanen

Inspirational Woman: Katie Nykanen | Chief Technology Officer, QA

Katie NykanenI‘m currently group Chief Technology Officer at QA, a UK-based tech skills and talent provider.

We specialise in technologies such as agile product development, cybersecurity, cloud, and DevOps to businesses in the private and public sectors. A huge part of our mission is helping businesses across the country put learning at the heart of what they do and enabling people to access much needed technology skills. We have worked with many different types of businesses to achieve this, such as Nationwide on its Technology Development Programme. We helped train up bright candidates and deployed them at Nationwide to help build the organisation’s digital capability. We have also worked specifically to improve diversity and encourage women into Cyber Software Development roles by working with the UK Government. Most recently, QA won a government contract to provide digital skills bootcamps for those who are unemployed, or need to retrain, with the aim of giving them the tech and digital skills required to gain employment in well-paid tech roles.

As CTO, I am responsible for both the systems and platforms QA uses to provide an outstanding learning experience, as well as ensuring excellence across operations, sales and marketing and back-office business systems.

Prior to joining QA in September 2021, I worked at Adstream for a decade, after several years with Nokia Networks and Mobile phones.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

A career in tech was not something that I had carefully sat down and mapped out from an early age. In fact, I find that planning a career does not always work; it is more about being open to new opportunities, realising if what you can learn in a role has stalled and finding new things that excite you. I have always been ambitious and wanted to progress and still now I look to peers and seniors to mentor and advise on options, as well as trying to mentor others by sharing experiences and connections.

Today more than ever, career goals are about much more than quick progression. More people want to align their values with the businesses they work for, maintain a work/life balance, and ensure they are doing work they can be proud of. These goals are what motivated me to join QA, an organisation committed to education and ensuring technological skills are accessible to all.

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

In all honesty, I do not think I have faced any negative experiences in the industry or felt I missed opportunities because of being a woman in a male dominated industry. In general, I have worked hard and have been rewarded accordingly and frequently worked with smart, capable women as well as supportive men who have not treated me any differently.

In fact, one of the biggest challenges, has been moving the thinking at senior levels in organisations from technology being a service function to being a critical enabler of the business. Often businesses pay lip service to rapid digital transformation without fully understanding the amount of business change needed to really achieve the benefits of a technology project. Technology needs a seat at the top table of every business helping bring the whole business along on the journey.

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

Hard work and determination! Specifically, though, my overall approach is to look for places where technology can bring significant business benefits through driving efficiency or growing revenue rather than being seen as a cost centre. This is the best way to build strong relationships with the business and ensure your tech function becomes pivotal in the business.

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

My biggest tip would be to look at where Technology can benefit the business you work in, you will be successful if you focus on driving real world efficiencies, creating new, rewarding experiences, and changing business for the better.

I would encourage people to constantly think about what inspires and drives them and use this as motivation to excel. 

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

The perceptions about what a technology career consists of is a part of what is deterring women away from careers in tech. To attract more women and girls into tech, whether they are young children, graduates, mature learners, we need to break the stigma that careers in tech are quite dull and geeky. For instance, many might assume that roles in tech require many solitary hours in front of a screen when there is far more interaction and connection. It is also important to note that there is a need for tech in every industry today. Hospitality businesses now hugely rely on technology for bookings, staff scheduling and order management. The opportunities to bring change into industries that are not classically tech-led can be very rewarding.

Many also believe that they do not have the right skills for a role in tech. Research we conducted revealed that 77% of young people still mistakenly believe that an aptitude for maths and science is essential for working in tech but this just is not the case. There are so many transferable skills that will kick-start your career in tech, it is about making the jump.

At QA, we recognise the immense value a more diverse workforce brings to a business so are incredibly determined to encourage this within our own business and on the programmes that we recruit learners into.

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

In the same way as driving diversity of social class, ethnicity, and ability in your teams, it will often require focussed effort to grow the number of women in your team. Businesses need to actively adapt their recruitment strategies to reach more women and consider their unique needs. Advertise the exciting parts of the roles and really bring the position to life, focussing on the value applicants can bring to a business. Providing case studies or ‘days-in-the-life’ examples can be a terrific way to illustrate how the job is not just sat at a desk coding all day.

There are 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?

The education system. Children and young people are not exposed to technology enough, regardless of gender. There is no understanding of young people through the education system as to how crucial technology is in every walk of life.

Schools need to be teaching far more from an early age and until this changes, we will still have to convince people from more varied backgrounds to look at careers in Technology later in life.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I like to attend networking events with other CIOs, CTOs and often now CDOs, CPOs and CSOs. I find it reassuring to speak with those who face similar challenges to me and to learn from the different ways others have found of overcoming them. It has been frustrating not being able to do this face to face, and I look forward to being able to meet people in these and in the bigger tech conferences very soon.

I like to go running and walking and while I do that I really enjoy listening to the ‘High Performance podcast’ which invites people from Business, Sport, the Arts and Media to talk about their experiences. It is great to think about how to relate learnings from people in such a wide range of industries to my own life both professionally and personally.


Chief Technology Officer (CTO)

Understanding the role of the Chief Technology Officer

Chief Technology Officer (CTO)

The role of the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) is usually one of the most misunderstood of the C-suite.

However, in simple terms, the CTO is the executive who holds responsibility for the technology within an organisation.

Depending on the type and size of the business, the role of the CTO can vary, however some of their main responsibilities usually include:

  1. Innovation
  2. Architecture
  3. Technology vision and strategy
  4. Infrastructure
  5. Software development

Of all of the C-suite, the CTO is probably the role that has been most affected by the digital age.  CTOs usually focus on external tasks such as technology propositions for customers, which has allowed more room for CIOs to concentrate on internal tasks such as IT applications and services.

Although the roles vary between organisations, there are a few core CTO responsibilities:

  1. Innovation and R&D

Technology advances are constantly changing, and so CTOs need to stay up to date with trends, or a business can quickly be left behind. CTOs also need to be able to drive business value, using a combination of competitor analysis, customer intelligence, and judgement.

As the company’s public face of technology, they will also need credibility with stakeholders, potential employees, partners, customers, and investors – something that is vitally important but will take time to build.

A CTO who does this well is Rebecca Parsons, ThoughtWorks CTO, who regularly publishes on the Technology Radar report and manages responsibility for over 7000 software engineers, all using innovation to drive business value for international companies across the globe.

  1. Technology Governance

Governance is important in any C-Suite role, but CTOs will need to be able to handle their large portfolio of projects and manage the needs of multiple stakeholders. In order to generate the most value for the company, a CTO will need to prioritise the right projects with a clear process.

A CTO is first and foremost a business leader, and so they will need strong financial skills to manage large budgets and complicated rules. One CTO who successfully managed this is the former CTO for the UK Government, Liam Maxwell. Throughout his time in office, he advocated simplified but effective governance by reducing the number of governance forums and keeping the remaining forums focused on decision making, to cut through bureaucracy.

  1. Technology Leadership

A CTO needs to be able to use technology to generate Enterprise Value and help a business reach its objectives. They will need to be able to convey complex technical concepts to non-technical employees so that the team understands the possibilities of technology-enabled products and services.

One example of a CTO using technology to drive company values is the CTO of Amazon, Werner Vogels. He gave Amazon a huge head start in the cloud services industry by building Amazon Web Services – one of the most profitable areas of Amazon.

  1. Product Development

A recent development in the CTOs role is taking a lead in product development. CTOs will need to utilise technology within products and services to make them more profitable or appealing, and will therefore require a thorough understanding of user experiences, consumer trends, user research, and digital design.

We have seen recent pairings of the CTO and the Chief Product Owner (CPO) within C-suites to develop new technology-enabled products. If this pairing works well it should mean improved sales opportunities and revenue within businesses.

Gerri Martin-Flickinger, Starbucks CTO, headed the successful development of the brand’s mobile ordering system. She did this by centring her agenda centred around product development and customer experience, using technology to deepen customer connection to Starbucks.

  1. Business IT

Business IT is one of the more traditional aspects of the CTO’s role. Something that has always been at the core of the CTO’s role is the management of critical operational systems like CRM and ERP, which are being increasingly relied on to deliver for customers.

CTO’s need to constantly be looking out for technologies that can improve the way a company operates. Innovation in core business systems is something that is often overlooked but it can add huge value to the functionality of a company.

Summary

Technology is becoming increasingly critical for business success, and the role of the CTO is something that will only gain importance. We are living in a digitally-driven technological age and the future of the Chief Technology Officer looks bright.

Arif HarbottAbout the author

Arif Harbott is a Chief Technology Officer and digital business leader who specialises in working with organizations undergoing large-scale transformation or disruption. He is the co-author of The HERO Transformation Playbook with Cuan Mulligan


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Tamara Lohan featured

Inspirational Woman: Tamara Lohan MBE | Founder & Chief Technology Officer, Mr & Mrs Smith

 

Tamara Lohan

Tamara Lohan is an entrepreneur and technology strategist with a background in marketing.

In 2003 she co-founded Mr & Mrs Smith with her husband James. She has been instrumental in transforming Smith from a traditional offline publishing brand into the dynamic digital business it is today and sits on the boards of several high-profile eCommerce businesses, including Not On The High Street.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and role?

I grew up in Ibiza but my family moved to the UK just before my teens and I ended up studying languages at Oxford University. I started my career in marketing, working for large organisations and then agency side for a WPP company, but I realised throughout that part of my life that a) my heart was in travel and b) I really loved the technical and CRM side of marketing rather than the above the line part. Oh, and c) I didn’t really want to work for other people!

My husband and I started Mr & Mrs Smith in 2003 – born out of frustration trying to find great boutique hotels to go to. We launched as a guidebook but quickly pivoted the company to build a bookable website. As the business evolved digitally I took on the role of CTO (Chief Technical Officer) which I still do today – overseeing the website, our in-house-built rates-and-availability systems and booking engine, the app, the blog – essentially the technical infrastructure that powers the business.

Today Smith has over 1,100 hotels and villas around the world, offices in London, LA, New York and Singapore we hope to do close to £80m in TTV (total transaction value) this year and we’re profitable. Plus, we bought an experiences company, SideStory, this year which means we can offer a curated collection of cultural encounters in some of our most-popular cities, as well as hotel stays.

But what really gets me out of bed every morning is that I still love finding amazing hotels and inspiring our members to discover extraordinary places with the people they love. I know that might sound corny but it’s true – Mr & Mrs Smith was always about finding the very best boutique hotels on the planet. And now we’re planning to do the same with private villas and experiences, too.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Never. When I came out of university, the ‘done’ thing was to go into the city – something I just knew I wasn’t cut out for. In the late Nineties the word ‘entrepreneur’ or ‘start-up’ just wasn’t in our vocabulary. I knew I wanted to travel but the travel companies out there – large, impersonal, mass market – just didn’t inspire me. So all I knew was that I had to keep learning, get working and anything that involved travel would be a bonus!

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

I don’t know an entrepreneur that doesn’t face challenges. For me, some are daily small challenges and some are much much bigger business issues. At the very beginning of the business our biggest challenge was getting the book into the shops. The publishers had turned us down so we ended up self-publishing, but the distribution houses were all owned by those publishers so we were stuck. We eventually found the last remaining independent distribution house in the UK and begged – even they turned us down to start with.

What advice would you give to anyone looking to start their own business?

You can only get by so far on ambition, drive and self-determination. I would urge anyone starting their own business to get guidance; learn, listen to people you trust; talk to people who’ve succeeded and find out how; talk to people who’ve failed and find out why. No one gets anywhere on their own and I wish I’d known that earlier.

A great support network will support and help you through the tough times, and you should continue to build, nurture and give back to that network as you grow.

And the quicker you can understand – and get comfortable with – the fact that nothing is ever easy, the better things will be. Sure, there’ll be compromises you have to make along the way but if you stick to what makes you happy, stay motivated and make time to enjoy the journey, you’ll be well placed to succeed.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I think it’s the curse of the entrepreneur to always feel like there is still so much more achieve. As a company grows, the next challenge always seems bigger than the last so I try and see each one as my next biggest achievement. It’s fair to say right now that juggling motherhood – getting my son off to secondary school, my daughter back to school, making sure our new puppy is fed – with work while we’re launching our crowdfunding raise on Crowdcube is tough. I’ve never felt busier! But as we hope to raise more than £1m from our customers, who then go on to become real advocates of our brand, and accelerate our growth in the US, it will definitely feel like the biggest achievement to date.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

It seems crazy to say it given how quickly it’s gone, but we’re about to reach our 15th anniversary as a business. We’re celebrating the occasion by going back to our roots and publishing a brand new book in November: a proper coffee-table tome called The World’s Sexiest Bedrooms shot by the brilliant art photographer, Polly Brown. It’s had its stresses along the way – and we’ve got a heavy promotional schedule ahead of us – but it will be such a thrill to see us back in the bookshops again. Then it will be on to implementing all the growth plans our crowdfunding will hopefully afford us. After that, well, watch this space…