Cheryl Stevens MBE - Speaker Spotlight

One Tech World Conference Speaker Spotlight: Cheryl Stevens MBE, DWP Digital

Speaker Spotlight - Cheryl Stevens MBE

WeAreTechWomen speaks to Cheryl Stevens MBE, Digital Director of Shared Channels Experience, DWP Digital, about her career.

Cheryl is also one of our speakers at our upcoming One Tech World conference on 01 April 2022. Cheryl will be discussing enabling an improved customer and colleague experience through better use of technology.

As a career civil servant Cheryl has held a variety of leadership posts; gaining operational insight, spearheading transformational change and developing an in depth knowledge of customers. Cheryl holds the vision of simplified experiences for colleagues and customers driven by life events and other user needs, regardless of channel or service line. Enabling safe, efficient, inclusive and consistent journeys across DWP. Enabling those services to operate securely with proportionate, tailored Identity and Trust solutions that meet both customer and service needs, whilst ensuring that the person, the data and the transaction are protected. Cheryl is passionate about lifting other Women in Digital & Identity.

This year, we are going to be bringing you the very best global virtual learning experience on a state-of-the-art conferencing platform. Our conference will provide ample opportunities to learn about emerging technologies and what is innovating and disrupting the industry. We are blessed to be given time from some of the world’s finest speakers who will be joining us to share their wisdom and knowledge. We will deliver innovative sessions on a variety of different areas of tech, with a side order of career development, fireside chats and ample networking opportunities, both on the day and through our global virtual networking world.

One Tech World Virtual Conference 2022

01 APRIL 2022

Book your place now to what is becoming the largest virtual conference for women in technology in 2022

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Can you tell us a little about your background? Where you’ve come from, where you’ve worked, how you got to where you are today?

I grew up in a small village near Preston in Lancashire to working class parents. As a result we had to make difficult choices and one of those choices was that I couldn’t go to uni. That set me on a path of roles in hospitality before I joined the Civil Service at 19.  I worked my way through the grades and undertaken a variety of roles but with the same theme – improving customer experience.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I genuinely didn’t until about 10 years ago when I realised only 3 things were really important to me 1) I was bought into and felt an attachment to the purpose of the organisation and team that I would work with. 2) That it was a leader of people role, having large teams really motivates me; I like making a difference if I can. 3) That I can use my specialism in Identity & Trust.  That has led me to where I am, and I can honestly say my current role as Director of Shared Channels Experience in DWP fits those 3 things perfectly.

What inspired you to get involved with motivational speaking?

I think I have an interesting take on things as I have had a varied career and background and often people really relate to my upbringing and hurdles along the way but can see that positive outcomes are possible.

Do you have a favourite experience from your career?

I was awarded an MBE when I was just 30 years old for the part I played in a large transformation that really did change customer experience for the better.

What do you think WeAreTechWomen guests will gain from your talk?

Hopefully some tips or even confidence that despite a seemingly different path that I have taken, I got there.

Find out more:

What are your top 3 tips for success?

  • Understand what is important to you in terms of role satisfaction and don’t compromise on that
  • Get a good mentor who can help you navigate the day to day and a sponsor who is your cheerleader and always looking for opportunities for you
  • Authenticity – be true to who you are and be your authentic self, always

What has been your biggest challenge during your career?

I came back to work after a long time off with a serious illness and I felt lost. I wasn’t sure where I fit in or what I wanted to do or even if I could do the role anymore.  My vast network and my mentor were critical at that time and really helped me find my feet again.

Which female role models are you most inspired by?

There are so many as I’m lucky to work with truly inspirational women every day in DWP Digital and those outside that are making a true difference to lives of millions of people.  I am most inspired by people I can relate to.

In your opinion, what is the biggest obstacle for women at work and how can it be overcome?

Confidence.  I know that it has held me back in the past and it is still something I’m better at but still working on.  Having the right people around me that have nurtured and coached has definitely made a massive difference and I try to be that person back.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?

I would have to say pay and flexible working

What piece of advice would you give to your younger self?

Have confidence, stay true to yourself and it will all be ok in the end.

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Jacqui Bury

How I’m gaining confidence at work after sharing my disability story 

Jacqui BuryFor International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Jacqui Bury from the Digital Recruitment team at DWP Digital shares her experience and highlights the importance of the day.

Being dyslexic is challenging and I have to work in different ways and find it that little bit harder to achieve what I need to achieve.

I didn’t tell my family, friends or employer about my dyslexia for a long time as I was so embarrassed and at first I didn’t know or understand what it was. Sad, I know, and it really is not my fault. I did not want people to treat me differently or to think that I wasn’t able.

Dyslexia is a common learning difficulty that can cause problems with reading, writing and spelling. The condition stems from differences in parts of the brain that process language. Dyslexics have excellent thinking skills in the areas of conceptualization, reason, imagination, and abstraction. Dyslexia comes in many different forms and I know that I am lucky as my dyslexia is not as bad as some peoples who have a lot more difficulty than me.

You can learn more about dyslexia here: What is dyslexia? – Kelli Sandman-Hurley – YouTube

Knowing your strengths and weaknesses

Being Dyslexic I benefit from understanding my own individual learning style and pattern of strengths and weaknesses. That way, I can study and work in a way which is most likely to be successful. I have strategies appropriate to my learning style.

I have always been a very confident person and hate to let people think, just because my brain processes things differently, that I am not able to do what people without the disability can do.

How my dyslexia affect’s me

When I’m reading I’m great with the first few words, but after than all the letters and words start to move. This can be very challenging. However, on a positive, I do get to read a few words before it goes this way, I see this as a positive as at least it’s not like it with every word.

Another way dyslexia affects me is when information is read out, it takes a little longer for me, compared to others to digest and understand. This is because information is slower to get to the other side of my brain which means I can miss some information.

When things are verbally explained and shown to me at the same time this really makes a massive difference as I can pick things up so much easier.

One of the other things I struggle with is spelling. I can spell, however again the dyslexia can confuse me and sometimes I even struggle with basic words. This can be frustrating, again I have to just try and see the positive side.

My day-to-day challenges

One of my biggest challenges is not being fast enough, and others noticing this, this makes me self-conscious. Also, not understanding what is being asked, this frustrates me as I know I am able, however the dyslexia stop me, so I can take a little longer to understand something that other people will take.

I currently use Read Write Gold (RWG) which is a fantastic tool and this really helps me to do my job daily. There are so many tools I can use with the RWG, the main ones I use include the reading tools, it can read when I am typing, this is fantastic as I hear each word as I type so I know if I’ve typed an incorrect word. I can also use it to read all my messages in everything I use, for example: emails, internet, excel, words docs.

Throughout my life I have struggled with my perceptions of people thinking I am thick and not able, and this affected my confidence. I had counselling to support me on how to share my difficulty in telling people I am dyslexic. I found this difficult as I was embarrassed, and I did not want people to think I could not do my job. Or when I was with my friends, for them to think she is thick, tough I know, however this is how it makes me feel.

I used to cover up my condition and use excuses by saying things, such as I haven’t got my glasses with me, or I’d just hide away in the back in case someone said can you read this to me.

The counsellor was fantastic and gave me coping strategies to help me deal with sharing my difficulty with people. One of the first tasks she gave me was how to share that I’m dyslexic with my colleagues at work. Again, this was hard as I’m aware of people judging me on it. I did share my condition with my colleagues in a team meeting and all of them were great and very supportive apart from one person. Not bad for a team of 12.

I’m proud to say that now I have addressed the issue of telling people my life is definitely so much better.

DWP Digital really does let me be me and I’m proud to work here, I feel supported as an individual with a disability and my colleagues really try to be inclusive to each other, which again does make me proud.

Once I know what I am doing, I strive on giving my best, I feel this is a massive strength of mine. I’m gaining more confidence, for example I recently spoke at a management team meeting. There was over 100 people on the call, which was scary however it was great to share my story and a big step for me – I even put my camera on. The support messages I received were amazing and made me feel good.

I can honestly say now, I am no longer embarrassed and it’s a great place to be. Just being my lovely self.

If you’re interested in working in a team where everyone is valued, have a look at the current career opportunities on the DWP Digital Careers site.


Proud to be me: self-reflection as Black History Month comes to a close

Black History Month, Kafui Mbrou

Kafui Mbrou, IT Security Risk manager at DWP Digital shares what she’s ‘Proud To Be’ for Black History Month.

I’ve recently been involved in two events that led to a period of self-reflection, and I want to share my thoughts here. First of all, Black History Month, which comes to an end on 31 October. The theme for Black History Month this year is ‘Proud To Be’. The idea is that it aims to encourage people to share what makes them proud to be who they are.

Secondly, as part of the Digital Voices support network, I recently attended a session titled ‘I am Remarkable’. This talk aimed to help empower and encourage those that attend – particularly those in underrepresented groups – to develop their confidence and competence to engage in self-promotion.

During the session we were encouraged to challenge perceptions around self-promotion by writing down a few reasons why we felt that we were remarkable. This was a very difficult task for me as I was unsure of what to write.

What is it about self-promotion that is so difficult? According to Forbes.com, “It’s the ‘self’ part; the egocentric nature and seemingly aggressive pushiness that makes us cringe not only when we attempt it for ourselves, but when we observe others bragging in a self-centred manner”.

I was raised in a culture where from childhood we were taught that bragging was an unattractive quality, as it makes others feel insecure about themselves. Where self-promotion isn’t traditionally and culturally right, to the extent that custodians of culture and our traditions, in their wisdom, brought in a third party for the exercise of self-promoting. A classic case would be the appointment of a chief linguist (a chief’s public voice, as one must speak through him to communicate with the chief) who will do all the self-promotion of the chief and his achievements. At no point will the chief be seen promoting himself or the many achievements and development projects he’s done because culturally it would be wrong for him to do that. Therefore, if the custodians of our traditions say it’s not ethical to brag about who they are, then in my cultural setting it becomes a big challenge to promote myself.

I grew to belittle the things that I had achieved thinking they were not worth sharing in comparisons to greater things that were achieved by others. Humility was encouraged with the hope that others might recognise our achievements.

However, I have come to realise that accomplishments don’t speak for themselves! So with this in mind, how do we talk about our achievements with the aim of encouraging others without being perceived as a braggart?

It’s not bragging if it’s based on facts

During the session I was encouraged to see the positive aspect of self-promotion, and in doing so I was able to recognise some of the reasons why I feel am remarkable.

I am remarkable because I’m a Security Risk Manager

As a Security Risk Manager I assist diverse digital projects by providing advice and guidance on information security. This involves identifying and recording risk and mitigating them to the lowest possible level.

I joined DWP Digital 2016 as an FDM consultant with the aim of furthering my career in project management. On my first day of work I was placed in the Security team within a Product Delivery Unit. As a Business and Marketing Graduate, I wasn’t familiar with the Digital world and found myself asking a lot of questions: what is security? what does it mean?

I remember telling my manager that I struggle to explain my role to friends and family and he encouraged me to do a presentation on my understanding of the role. Although I was not from a Digital background I have since learnt on the job and love it due to the continuous development the role provides. Earlier this year I achieved a certification in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC) with the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA), together with successfully completing the BCS Foundation Certificate in Information Security Management Principles (CISMP).

The world of Digital is dynamic, no day is ever the same and it’s great to be a part of a team that contributes to making the department’s systems safe and secure for the citizen.

I am remarkable because I give back to the community

I have a passion for serving others and giving back to the community, particularly through youth volunteering. I believe it’s important to invest in our young people, by giving them visible role models, as that helps to develop them as the future generation. I am the project coordinator for a Christian youth charity which aims to provide an open forum for the young people to discuss issues that affect them on a day to day basis. I have also volunteered on the International Citizen Service, which is a development programme that brings young people from the UK and developing countries to volunteer in some of the poorest communities in Africa and Asia.

A few months ago (on my birthday) I took part in the 48in48 social justice non-profit build which is a 48-hour hackathon-style event. The aim is to connect local non-profits organisations with skilled marketing and technology professionals. At the end of these 48 hours, 48 local non-profits organisations have new, professional, websites. I had the honour of working with other professionals to build a website for a youth charity, and the whole event was a really rewarding experience.

I am remarkable because I am a Digital Voice

I am proud to be part of the DWP Digital Voices programme, which supports and encourages women to build their skills and confidence. I started my career in the civil service in 2016, when I successfully secured a placement in DWP Digital. Although I finally secured a job, several years of  being rejected from job applications after graduating from university had a considerable effect on my confidence. Also because of the under representation of women in this sector and coming from a BAME background, I had always held the perception that I would never be good enough when compared to my competitors.

Amid these challenges and setbacks, it has taken me a great deal of courage to build my confidence to an acceptable level. Embracing a new challenge like the Digital Voices programme has given me the opportunity to build my confidence in a safe, welcoming environment.

Since joining the programme I have seen a visible change in myself which has also been recognised by colleagues. I believe I am finding my voice and I’m becoming a visible role model to help bring other people up alongside me.

You are Remarkable

This period of self-reflection has been very important for me, especially during Black History Month as I am reminded that I am remarkable regardless of my colour, gender or any other stereotypes others may identify me with. Although I found it difficult initially, just like any new skill it’s important to invest time in learning, developing, and practicing in order to improve the art and skill of self-promoting.

You are remarkable, just try it!

If you’re interested in growing your digital career within an organisation with lots of opportunities, take a look at the DWP Digital careers site or you can also subscribe to the newsletter to be kept up to date with the latest roles.


Smiling man and woman standing on weighing dishes of balance scale. Concept of gender equality at work or in business, equal rights for both sexes. Colorful vector illustration in flat cartoon style.

DWP Digital’s pledge to redress the gender balance

The goal of the Tech Talent Charter (TTC) is for the UK tech sector to become a diverse and inclusive community where people from all backgrounds are welcomed, listened to and valued for their contributions.

Rowena Maccallum
Rowena Maccallum, DWP Gender Lead

This mirrors our aim in DWP Digital to be as diverse as the customers we represent.

Rowena Maccallum, Gender Lead for DWP Digital is delighted that they’ve signed up to the Tech Talent Charter for the third year running.

Rowena said “Although, the number of women holding digital roles in DWP Digital has increased, there’s still lots of work to be done to attract women to technical and leadership roles as we continue delivering our department-wide commitment to gender parity.

Making a pledge of inclusion through initiatives like the tech charter is definitely a positive step forward.

Reflecting on the last year

Taking on the DWP Gender Lead role in May 2021, supporting our Chief Digital Information Officer, Simon McKinnon, in his role as Gender Champion for DWP, presented a great opportunity and exciting challenge for me.

It’s been a busy time for us, as we aspire to increase female representation in digital roles and achieve a more gender balanced workforce across the department.

Some of the initiatives we’ve implemented include:

  • In DWP Digital we recently launched our new cohort of Digital Voices, this award-winning programme is now in its fourth year and helps support women in tech careers build confidence.
  • Our Women in Digital network is going from strength to strength and has been recognised through a shortlisting in the Computing Women in Tech Excellence Awards 2021 in the Diversity Employer of the Year category.
  • Across the department, our series of Women into Leadership conferences: 352 women across DWP have now participated, exploring how they can enhance their skills to become the leader they aspire to be. We continued these despite lockdown restrictions, running two virtual events.
  • The Springboard Leadership Programme: 62 women participated in a developmental programme, which aims to empower women to think with a new perspective about their development. This led to them gaining an Associate Institute of Leadership and management qualification.
  • The Crossing Threshold Programme: we sponsored 18 women in Senior Executive Officer roles to take part in this year-long development programme aimed at women looking for progression within the Civil Service.
  • Using the Applied digital platform in DWP Digital recruitment campaigns to remove unconscious bias from initial job applications.
  • With so much great activity taking place, it was amazing for our achievements to be recognised by winning the Best Public Sector Employer category at the Women in Tech Employer Awards in December 2020. DWP has also been listed in the Times top 50 Employers for Women for the third year running, which is a fantastic achievement. And over the last five years, representation of women at Senior Civil Servant level has increased from 39% to 50%.

Looking forward

Our diverse workforce consists of people with various and multiple characteristics and backgrounds, which enable us to create a workplace where people can be part of networks, where they can thrive and feel supported, regardless of their gender.

We’re currently refining our gender strategy plan, our priorities, vision and our intersectional approach for the year ahead. We’re looking to use technology, information and feedback from our colleagues to enable us to make informed decisions around our future initiatives accordingly.

I’m proud to be involved and contribute to the vital work that looks at everything through an inclusive lens. Working alongside members of our DWP communities and networks such as Women in Digital, our Diversity and Inclusivity Champions and cross-government, it’s great to see the passion and enthusiasm that our colleagues have.

Come join us

If you like the sound of working in an organisation where people feel valued, heard and supported, check out some of the roles we have available on DWP Digital careers website.”


Diane Redall featured

In Her Shoes: Diane Redall | Associate QA Tester, DWP Digital

Diane Redall

I am an associate QA tester and a disabled person working within DWP Digital. I have a master level qualification in Sociology and have Advanced ISTQB in Software testing qualifications too.

I secured my first digital role as a system tester through a university placement, testing changes to the old payroll system at DWP.  My experience of working in a digital role hasn’t been a linear path, due to working in the temporary sector for a few years but it did give me a lot of sector knowledge in both the public and private sectors.

I’ve had several roles within DWP Digital such as software developer, live support, end-to-end delivery, project support and interim team leader of the Atos Origin Test Factory.  Some of the projects I’ve worked on for DWP Digital include Winter Fuel Tools and Debt Manager 11.  In 2018, I was awarded a place on the Northern Power Women Future Leader List for gender and disability inclusion activities, and I am a disability advocate outside of work. I also write blog posts on disability access of the events and venues I have attended.

On a typical workday, how do you start your day and how does it end?

My typical workday starts and ends with doing household tasks and managing carers as I am an unpaid carer for two disabled adults.  Once that has been arranged, I check my Outlook calendar for meetings I have that day and catch up with any unread emails. I carry out my testing activities and learning development around these agile team meetings. In the evening after work and all the household tasks have finished, to chill out I go onto Twitch, YouTube, Spotify or BBC Sounds to listen to music and to do chair exercises.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I am always looking to develop myself and add value to DWP Digital. I have one-to-one reviews with my manager and my mentor to help me prepare for new opportunities and I’m a member of several diversity groups which help develop my leadership and soft skills.

What do you love about working for DWP Digital?

What I love about working for DWP Digital is helping to put in place IT systems that can really help make a difference to the department’s customers.  I also like that there’s a wide range of job opportunities and available training to help me develop and that there are always people who are kind and helpful to assist me to go forward with my career development.

Another big plus is flexitime which helps me balance work, my disability, and my caring responsibilities.

Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you overcome these challenges?

Being a mild mannered disabled shy person, I was subjected to workplace bullying on several occasions. I had to learn how to stand up for myself in an assertive way and define my boundaries. I applied for development opportunities and new roles to get out of the toxic environments.

Have you benefited from coaching, mentoring or the sponsorship of others?

In terms of coaching, mentoring or sponsorship by others, I have benefitted in two ways. As a mentee, I’ve had a mentor to help me develop my soft skills and my technical expertise.  I have also been a mentor, advising mentees on how to get into a digital career.

Do you believe in the power of networking? If so, where do you network?

Yes, I believe in the power of networking, I am an ambivert and networking at times can take me out of my comfort zone. I am ok talking in groups or in 1-2-1 settings, but I find it difficult to approach strangers. I often network at conferences and diversity events.

What advice would you give to those who aspire to a career in tech?

My advice to anyone wanting to pursue a digital role would be to research the roles to find a role that interests you and will challenge you in equal measures, find out what learning you need and apply for training opportunities. Be brave and be confident in your abilities to learn. Everybody is always learning.

What does the future hold for you?

I would love to complete a PhD and hopefully secure a senior leader role within the Civil Service. I would like to assist the Civil Service in exceeding customer expectations and to help normalise access for disabled people to physical and virtual venues.


Emma Murray featured

Emma's problem-solving career: from IT to product design

At DWP Digital, our people are encouraged to grow and thrive in their profession. Emma Murray, Product Owner is no different.

She takes us through her career journey and shares how she first joined the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in 1992, when she started working in her local jobcentre – around the time the field of IT was growing.

“As DWP started to embrace new technology, I took a keen interest in IT. I decided to complete an NVQ in IT, followed by a degree in the Science of Computing sponsored by the Benefits Agency,” she says. “I liked it, and was good at it, so I applied for a job in Blackpool as a Business Analyst (BA) to work on one of our benefit systems.” 

Building a career in digital

The next few years were busy for Emma. She had children, taught on a programming language and problem solving course, and provided training to DWP Digital colleagues on how to use and test systems and get qualified in business analysis.

“Once my children had reached a certain age, I was back to being me, and I applied for more technical roles. I became a first line technical support specialist, then moved in to a technical BA role.

“I’ve worked on many projects over the years that have provided direct benefit to our citizens or improved the IT hardware and software that our DWP colleagues use, including a key enterprise tool that services over 90,000 users,” says Emma.

“Over the last year I’ve been really proud to work on a major project that designed and implemented a new service portal that impacted every DWP colleague, as well as service providers,” says Emma.

“The new interface was urgently needed as the existing one was reaching end of life and needed to move from Jelly to Angular. This provides a more enriched user experience with mobile compatible features and advanced chat capability.”

Driving impact and overcoming challenges

Emma and her team develop new technologies for DWP, and they’re working on automation to make services more efficient. She finds it rewarding to work on such large scale, impactful projects, but she also enjoys facing new challenges each day.

“As a BA, I work closely with a wide range of stakeholders across the business,” she says, “for example infrastructure engineers, software engineers and external service providers.

“I have to manage conflicting requirements, which requires a great deal of diplomacy to ensure the team follows the product roadmap.

“You can achieve a great sense of satisfaction, from managing to get a people to agree on the way forward, to prioritising high demands of workload. Both ensure the most important things are dealt with and done at the right time.”

Embracing a diverse mix of perspectives

Ultimately, Emma sees her role in digital as about helping her colleagues across the organisation to spend more time working with citizens.

Emma enjoys her job, particularly when she’s facilitating groups of stakeholders to develop an agreed, tangible outcome. Agile methodology helps her team make sure they focus on those outcomes, and deliver them in a way that works for everyone.

“It’s challenging when people have a difference of opinions. It requires a great deal of drive and influence to keep them on track and get the outcome you need,” she says.

“I like retrospectives, where as a team we reflect on what we’ve achieved. It’s rewarding to know how your work has helped to make someone’s life easier, increased efficiencies for colleagues, or reduced costs for the taxpayer.”

Flexibility and balance in a digital environment

Emma is a working mum, and technology has enabled her to balance her work and home life, reducing the need for her to travel away from home.

“I utilise MS Teams a lot to interact with colleagues, using the video and voice call to connect with others, and other features to manage tasks and collaborate with my team” she says. “I also use Jira to organise the activities, workloads and resources of my engineers, where I’ve set up all my projects to track progress and underpin delivery”

“I’ve also been supported by my line manager to work part-year, which means I take four unpaid weeks every year during the school holidays to enable me to have quality time with my kids.”

“My passion out of work is my Kindle – I read all the time, and being able to read anywhere, anytime with a small device is great. Kindle also has audible now, which means I can listen to my books.”

“In DWP, everyone plays an important role, and there are a number of opportunities available to develop skills and knowledge, or gain experience,” says Emma.

“I’ve been involved in the Women in Digital network for a number of years. This personal and professional development network has helped me to meet, collaborate with and learn from colleagues across DWP Digital.

“I’ve also been involved with the award-winning Digital Voices programme, which helps to build confidence for public speaking and encourage women into digital roles.

“Through this programme I’ve gained a wide range of contacts, and it’s helped me with both my work and personal life. It’s given me the confidence to take part in big events, such as Civil Service Live and Civil Service Local, and become a role model for women in digital roles.

In DWP Digital everyone is aligned to a practice, which encourages career progression, targeted learning and community involvement. Emma benefits from being involved with two professional communities at DWP Digital.

“Being a member of both the Infrastructure Engineering and Business Analyst communities, I have been fortunate to be exposed to a wealth of development and collaboration opportunities such as technical knowledge, roadshows and lightening talks to name a few,” says Emma.

“I feel more inspired than ever to be a role model for DWP Digital. I’m using my new confidence to strive for the career I want, and to support others in reaching theirs,” she says. “I’m now looking for a new challenge as a Product Owner to develop my technical skills.”

Are you looking for a new challenge? DWP Digital are currently recruiting into various roles, including business analysts, interaction designers and more. Visit the DWP Digital Careers site today or simply subscribe to their newsletter to be kept up to date with the latest vacancies.


DWP Digital Hack2Work event featured

DWP Digital’s Hack2Work - Using tech to help people get back into work

DWP Digital Hack2Work event

DWP Digital delivered its first virtual hackathon earlier this month. Hack2Work brought together more than 150 people from a wide range of backgrounds to develop digital solutions focused on helping people back into employment following the pandemic.

The hackathon was a competitive event, where multidisciplinary teams tackled real-world problems, developing ideas and bringing them to life by creating prototypes.

Staged over three days using an MSTeams platform, the event began with keynote presentations from the events senior stakeholder Jacqui Leggetter, DWP Digital’s head of integration, and senior labour market operational lead, Nick Mellor from the National Employer Partnership Team. Paul Francis, Universal Credit Director and DWP Digital CDIO Simon McKinnon also addressed hackers via video.

Insights into real-life employment issues

The issues were brought to life for participants in a number of ways. Ahead of the hackathon, DWP colleagues worked with a previous jobseeker, who set up his own business in film production after the pandemic left him without secure work in the TV industry. The result was this video about Shay, a young person who was given a job placement through DWP’s Kickstart scheme. The video provided hackers with insights into the problems jobseekers are facing post-pandemic. Kickstart is aimed 16-24 year olds at risk of long term unemployment. It provides funding to employers to support the creation of new jobs.

‘Lightning talks’ from DWP colleagues set the policy and operational context covering a range of topics from jobcentre work coach challenges to DWP Digitals Innovation Lab’s objectives. A number of external speakers were also invited to present, including the employer TalkTalk, who covered the relationship between employers and the jobcentre and the National Careers Service who explained how they partner with DWP.

Once the scene was set, hackers were invited to pitch their ideas around the problem statement and what they’d learned from the presentations. As a result, 11 teams were formed based on the pitch ideas. The teams comprised of DWP colleagues and digital specialists from across the tech sector including: GDS, NHS, CreatorSphere, Solidatus and sponsors MongoDB, ScottLogic, Opencast, Kong, Red Hat and IBM. Hack2Work also had external participants including global attendees with one hacker saying: “I joined from the US. I enjoyed the event very much, waking up at 2:45am here was worth EVERY second.”

Developing solutions

Securing the support and sponsorship of six DWP suppliers, Hack2Work provided an online platform for participants, access to software and engineering sites, technical help as well as entertainment and prizes.

Numerous impressive concepts and prototypes were presented on the final day, including the two winning teams’ ideas: a solution to bring jobseekers’ skills and experience together in real-time and a self-service app to enable jobseekers to match their skills and apply for local jobs in their own time, rather than depending on work coaches.

Karam Agha, a Computer Science student, who was part of one of the winning teams said: “I really enjoyed watching our team’s idea go from words to a full design and prototype with mocked functionality in such a short time.”

The idea was ‘RouteToWork’, a tool that ties together functionality from various government services, such as the National Careers Service and data accessed using the Office for National Statistics APIs, to match jobseekers to the opportunities that are relevant and local to them.

Karam added: “I also learned about MongoDB‘s Atlas and Realm and used Red Hat‘s OpenShift to deploy and host our application. The site we built follows Government Digital Service design and WCAG2.1 accessibility standards, tested with Axe accessibility tools, to ensure its usability and has a user interface that’s familiar to our target demographic.”

‘RouteToWork’ was built using the gov.uk prototyping kit. Nunjucks was used as a template and it was written in JavaScript and HTML, with an Express.js server running the whole thing.

Reflecting on the ideas that were created over the three days, Jacqui Leggetter said: “I was blown away by the quality of the entries. Everyone was working remotely alongside people they’d never met (even virtually) until the first day of the hack, and yet they still came up with incredible ideas and developed them to a really impressive standard. The amount of working code we’ve seen is unprecedented for a hack event. It was difficult to choose a winner but the amount of thought that had gone into both the front and back end made the two joint winning teams stand out.”

CDIO Simon McKinnon said he was “amazed by what had been achieved in such a short time.” He also spoke about how impressed he was that every team had created working code.

DWP Digital is always on the lookout for new talent. To find out more about career opportunities visit DWP Digital Careers site or subscribe to the DWP Digital newsletter keep to update with the latest roles, news and information.


Inspirational Woman: Dr Shruti Kohli | Lead Data Scientist, DWP Digital

Dr Shruti Kohli I am Dr Shruti Kohli, currently working as a Lead Data Scientist in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

I am standing on a strong foundation of my education credentials which include PhD in Computer Science, with over a decade of professional experience in both the private and public sectors encompassing a variety of roles.  My work experience spans across academia and industry, leading digital transformation, data innovation, leadership and culture change projects.    Being from a research background it’s in my DNA to be more curious and understand things from a 360-degree view. Since transitioning from academia to industry,  I’ve been looking for ways to implement my learning to create a tangible difference. My current Civil Service job provides an opportunity to use my data learning for social good.  And that’s the purpose that keeps me motivated to serve the department and people across the UK.

I also lead DWP’s Innovation Lab. This includes horizon scanning, and identifying the data and technology in the external ecosystem that can help the department to innovate and improve their services. As we speak I am working on a couple of interesting data-driven projects in the lab, one of these is a programme to understand use the of synthetic data as a data-sharing tool.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I have always taken a proactive approach towards my learning and development which I’ve brought into every workplace.  I create new opportunities for myself and accept every opportunity that comes my way.   Being an academic in the past has given me a good appetite to learn quickly and share. I have always taken the initiative to enrich myself by using Civil Service learning, attending professional training such as the Oxford Leadership Executive program, and doing technical certifications to be a step ahead.   My career developments have come a long way through receiving and giving mentoring, leading data and tech-driven projects, and building relationships.

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

In one of roles during my early days of my career, at a certain time I was making multiple errors in my deliverables, and it took me a while to understand what was going wrong. I consulted my mentor, who helped me to develop practice to say ’no’ more often.  I was in a hurry to take on more projects to grow quickly, but at the same it was hampering my creativity. I had an open discussion with my manager, looked at my bucket list and agreed on priority projects which created a win-win environment for everyone.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

If I had to single out one, it would be my PhD degree.

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

Learn to unlearn.

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

Dream big, grow your network, have a mentor at every step of your career. Humility and strong will is a solid combination. Don’t forget to pull up others to grow.

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

The number of women reaching the boardroom has risen significantly in the last few years. Organisations have also begun to realise the benefit of inclusive growth.  Yes, I agree, there is gender gap in the technology sector, and there’s a big role to play for schools to promote STEM careers more to women. But there’s also the opportunity to use industry touch points to create interest in students at the early stages.

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

Coaching and mentoring sessions always play an important role.

There is currently only 17 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

School have the magic wand, where they can promote STEM subjects to girls at early stages of their career.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Start something even if it’s small, that’s the first step to success. Pick two technologies, and if they complement each other, that’s the cherry on the cake. Listen to webinars, do projects, engage in short courses to open up your horizons. Networking is the key, so join in with meetups and hackathons.


WeAreTechWomen has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Professor Sue Black OBE, Debbie Forster MBE, Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here. 


In Her Shoes: Shivangi Das | Software Developer, DWP Digital

Shivangi DasI am a software developer at DWP Digital. I have a bachelor’s in computer science and achieved a masters in Machine Learning last year.

I started coding for a living in 2014 and have loved it since. Before DWP Digital, I have worked on a Wealth management app (where I developed an interest in investing) and video analytics using artificial intelligence. At my current position, I work on building and supporting applications used in DWP and by millions of people that need them.

On a typical workday, how do you start your day and how does it end?

My workday begins with checking my to-do list while eating breakfast and checking up on messages and mail before the stand-up meeting. I make to-dos at the end of the day to allow me to completely switch off thinking about work when I close my laptop. There’s lots of stretching and moving around involved before and during work, combined with snacks. I usually go for a walk or run right after work.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Yes! I do it quite often, always at the end of a project, towards the end of a year or half-year. I also find it helpful to discuss my development with managers and mentors. As an example, I have recently started thinking about whether I want to stay in a more developer-oriented position or look at managerial roles. When talking about it with my manager, they shared a lot of their personal experience and also directed me to useful resources.

What do you love about working for DWP Digital?

I joined DWP Digital recently and was impressed by the anonymous hiring process. This is evidenced by the diversity of my colleagues I get the opportunity to work with. DWP Digital is also doing a wonderful job of involving everyone in the conversation. I love getting to use the latest technologies, working with amazing and helpful colleagues and of course, the scale of impact is very humbling.

Plus, I get great appreciation for every piece of work.

Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you overcome these challenges?

Being an introvert and sometimes being the only woman at the table has been a challenge in previous jobs. I had to learn to speak louder, learn to say, “I was speaking”, stop apologising for everything and put forth my ideas with conviction. I also had some amazing mentors that were very supportive.

Have you benefited from coaching, mentoring or the sponsorship of others?

Yes! I have so many mentors to thank for encouraging me to try new technologies, take up new opportunities and open gates for more. My masters last year was sponsored by the British Council India. I started my journey into AI because one of my mentors appreciated my side projects in AI. One of my coaches from my time in a month-long Developer Academy encouraged me to become more confident when speaking publicly.

Do you believe in the power of networking? If so, where do you network?

I do believe in the power of networking however as an introvert, casual networking does not work for me. I forge relationships with people I meet and like at tech events like women in tech, women developers academy, tech communities like TechLadies, Women in Digital (DWP) or am introduced to through other people.

What advice would you give to those who aspire to a career in tech?

Start before you think you’re ready because you’ll never be ready, and you don’t have to be. Learning on the job is a skill we already have and is all that is required in the beginning.

What does the future hold for you?

Currently, I’m enjoying my work a lot and working towards financial freedom in the next ten years. This means being very involved with my money- having a budget, investing, saving for emergencies, making clear goals for every half year. It is a little scary but also extremely satisfying.


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Chloe Williams featured

In Her Shoes: Chloe Williams | Software Engineer, DWP Digital

Chloe WilliamsMy name’s Chloe and I’m a Software Engineer at DWP Digital in Leeds. I joined the department in January of this year. Initially I was nervous about starting a new role remotely but the onboarding process was great and the team use a whole host of collaborative tools to keep us connected.

I’m what you would call a career switcher. My background is in marketing but 18 months ago I decided to make the leap into the world of tech. I’ve always worked closely with teams who have built digital products and when the opportunity arose to give coding a go myself, I jumped at the chance.

Now I’m the one that’s building digital products and services, most recently for the Restart Scheme (launching 28th June). The scheme is one of many government initiatives launched under the Plan for Jobs umbrella, focused on protecting, supporting and creating jobs across the country. It’s exciting to think that features that I have built will be used to help more than 1 million Universal Credit claimants who have been directly impacted by coronavirus.

On a typical workday, how do you start your day and how does it end?

Like most people, the typical workday has looked somewhat different over the last year. For one, my commute to the office is a lot shorter. I generally start my day with a cup of tea, give my cat a cuddle and then jump on MS Teams to dial into my team’s stand-up, a daily meeting to check-in and catch up on what we’re all working on.

At DWP Digital, we manage our own hours with flexi-time. This means that sometimes my day finishes at 4pm and others 6:30pm. Typically at the end of the day, I’ll make sure the coding I’ve done is ‘saved’ and then try and motivate myself to do some form of exercise, whether that’s going outside for a walk or playing netball.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not really. When I was younger I wanted to be a PE teacher, but then when it came to choosing a university course I picked marketing. I’m not much of a planner, and as you get older and gain more life experience your interests and priorities naturally change. I think it’s important to get some form of satisfaction from your job. I’m not saying you have to enjoy every single hour you spend in the office, but if you don’t find your work interesting it’s probably a sign you should move on. That’s not to say everyone needs to switch careers. Even small internal moves or changes in responsibilities can make a big difference.

What do you love about working for DWP Digital?

There are many things I love about working at DWP Digital, but the thing that brings me the most joy is the fact that every day I’m reminded of stories where a feature I’ve helped build has helped someone find work.

I also feel empowered at DWP Digital. I’m involved in conversations with other areas of the business, and I can have my say on how a service should look and behave.

Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you overcome these challenges?

A personal challenge I’m regularly dealing with is imposter syndrome. In each of the roles I’ve had, at some point I’ve suffered from the feeling – “I’m not good enough”. I cope with it because I know I’m not alone, and the more I speak about it, whether that’s with my manager or with friends, the easier it is to manage.  I also find it helpful to look back at my successes, even things I perceive to be small achievements.

Have you benefited from coaching, mentoring or the sponsorship of others?

I’ve worked with Code First Girls a couple of times to deliver their ‘Introduction to Web Development’ course. Even though I was relatively new to software development myself, I found that teaching the material helped cement my own knowledge. It also helped keep my imposter syndrome at bay as I gained more confidence.

If it’s available to you I’d recommend seeking the guidance of a mentor or coach. Even if it’s informal, it generally helps to speak to someone about their experiences, you never know what nuggets of wisdom you might pick up.

Do you believe in the power of networking? If so, where do you network?

Absolutely.  I think it’s important to speak to others and share experiences. In-person networking has been made more difficult because of the pandemic, I really miss speaking to people face-to-face.

That said, there are still plenty of online meetups and because they’re online they’re generally more accessible. Over the last year I’ve attended a couple of interesting ones run by Northern UX and Leeds JS. A quick Google search will return a whole bunch of tech meetups in your local area.

What advice would you give to those who aspire to have a career in tech?

Don’t be scared to dip your toe, there are so many great resources available, a lot of them free. Try out an online coding course like FreeCodeCamp, CodeFirstGirls or CodeAcademy to name a few.

Read blog posts from your favourite tech companies and learn about their ways of working. DWP Digital have a great one – https://dwpdigital.blog.gov.uk/ which I found really useful before I joined the company. And remember, you don’t need a computing degree to work in tech. Don’t let the jargon put you off, once you start to dive into it, you’ll soon see it’s not as scary as it seems.

What does the future hold for you?

Hopefully a holiday in a nice sunny country!

As I said before, I’m not really a planner, so I don’t like to look too far into the future. But what I do know is that I’d love to continue teaching others about software development. If I can help a few people on their path into tech, then I’ll be happy.

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The TechWomen100 awards are the first of their kind to focus solely on the female tech talent pipeline and recognise the impact of champions, companies and networks that are leading the way. Nominations are now open until 10 September 2021.

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