Climbing the ladder in tech

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

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

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

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

Develop your passions

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

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

Secure your base knowledge

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

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

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Take the right leaps

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

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

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

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

Key advice

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

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

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