Meet the co-founding sisters of Talent Toute, changing the way to recruit in tech

Meet Sharon Byatt & Mandy Colledge

Sharon and Mandy are the Birmingham-based co-founding sisters of Talent Toute, the talent resourcing platform that claims to be changing the way to recruit IT candidates.

Mandy, Co-founder and Company Director, has over 20 years experience in HR and Recruitment. She is on a mission to create a more equitable playing field for all in recruitment. Mandy is extremely passionate and determined to bring about the long awaited change required in the recruitment industry. Mandy is also a mum of twins.

Sharon, Co-Founder and Company Director, is an entrepreneur having managed several businesses with over 20 years experience. She also has previous sales and client development experience within IBM and JBA Software.

Sharon is passionate about enabling a smarter recruitment process for people to be matched with their skills; and is dedicated to digitalise and change recruitment practices for the better.

Sharon is a mom of 2 grown-up children and a grandson and loves to spend time walking with her cockerpoo, Reggie.

Mandy & Sharon, Talent Toute

We asked them to tell us a bit about themselves, their background and current roles

Sharon explains that “Mandy is the primary founder withs more than 20  years of  experience in recruitment and HR. Some seven years ago, she identified the opportunity for the business whilst working in HR in a Tech SME.”

Then drawing on sister Sharon’s expertise they combined forces with a clear mission to mitigate bias in the talent selection process, particularly at a time when firms clearly want to reach a diverse talent pool of IT professionals.

“Sharon has a diverse business background”, explains Mandy. “She started her career in account management roles at the renowned technology and engineering firms IBM and JBA Consulting, she then went on to set up  two small businesses in Assessments and Healthcare and has also worked in the field of Corporate Development Training.”

Going into business together wasn’t a decision either sister took lightly.  Mandy explains, “but we recognised that we had the same motivation and passion.  There has to be a change.

The same-old, same-old IT recruitment models just won’t cut it. How can firms find the best talent, when age old biases are knowingly – or unknowingly – still being applied?

And yet, every firm will tell you that they are under pressure to hire diverse talent.  It may be because the managers and leaders are wise to the potential to out-perform their peers, or it may be because they are told to do it by their bosses or the Board.  When we realised we were both frustrated and could see a better way, we couldn’t NOT work together!”

They may be sisters but as Sharon points out, “we are very different. We bring different work experiences and we’re very different personalities.”  Mandy is the visionary and strategic thinker and takes the lead from a product development perspective.  Sharon would say I’m the networker.  I create business partnerships and manage the sales and financial aspects and we are both highly driven and passionate about what we are doing.  This combination of skills and contributions explains why they are often referred to as “the dynamic duo 😊”

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

“Not really, we have both always been driven to work in customer-facing roles” explains Mandy. “As independent thinkers, people tell us we each have keen commercial mindsets.  Plus, we have both always felt compelled to work for ourselves.” Combine this with each of their educational journeys in  Business and Finance and you can see how they make a compelling double act.

Sharon picks up the thread to trace this back to their childhood, “ I think I can speak for us both in saying that we both had dreams at a young age whether it be to be a dancer or hockey player, but neither of us really thought it was possible or achievable.  We felt the odds were stacked against us and bias clearly had an impact.  However our ambitions and plans have changed based on our circumstances and how these have evolved over time.  This undoubtedly has played into our Talent Toute vision and driven our passion to succeed both as entrepreneurs and as business women.”

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Mandy is keen to jump in at this point. “ Oh yes, for sure!, In the world of  HR I have been exposed to a huge variety of workplace disputes and seen biases at a play.  The most prominent one in my experience has been gender, which I have absolutely experienced first-hand. Even that initially created some degree of trepidation when launching our business in what is known to be a male dominated tech industry.  But we soon got over that.

“It is very apparent that the recruitment industry is steeped in traditional practices, many of which are highly subjective. It’s this subjectivity that wrongfully applies biased personal  judgement and this has a huge impact.  So many candidates are unnecessarily eliminated from the  recruitment process. And how can we possibly afford to do that? We’re operating in a time when we need to reach further and fill our digital and tech skills gaps, and anyone who applies these traditional practices immediately shrinks the potential talent pool for their vacancies.”

You co-founded Talent Toute – tell us a bit more about this

Talent Toute is a digital talent marketplace platform designed to showcase a truly diverse range of talent and enables firms to connect with this talent directly.

As Sharon describes the platform model, “Our vision is to achieve an equal world of recruitment that’s simple and without barriers.

Talent Toute has simplicity and innovation at the heart of all of the decisions we make.

We have a direct business model with a public marketplace platform for businesses to sign up to and search for talent.  We’ve embedded functionality that enables hiring managers to connect and chat with candidates directly, taking the rest of the hiring process from there.”

Mandy is keen to expand. “Think of us as a digital recruitment matchmaker, much like a dating website but for hiring. We believe that CV’s are too subjective and largely out of date, so our product focuses on the core skills and qualifications of the candidates. These are most relevant in the early stage of the selection process, and by focusing in on the skills and qualifications, this in turn mitigates  bias, and from the very start.”

“And that’s not all. We feel strongly that prescriptive career paths hinder a company’s ability to see the potential in candidates because all too often they are pigeonholed into specific roles and categories. There are so many candidates out there with great skills and personal attributes that can bring a great deal of value to a business if only the hiring decision makers could be more open to exploring candidates from different career paths.”

In explaining the platform deployment model further, Mandy adds that whilst they set out to service corporates, the business has attracted great interest in public and private sector training academies.  “These academies are adopting the platform as a SaaS model to turn the table and showcase their talent directly to employers.”

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

“Absolutely!” they both cry! Sharon expands saying, “starting a business certainly brings many challenges. You can’t underestimate the challenges of building our MVP (minimal viable product).  We really wanted to build one that is really focused on the needs of our clients, but also one that is scalable, and that takes time, and capital.

We’re delighted to say that our patience paid off and we have just launched our MVP with the help of SuperTech West Midlands and Million Labs which we are extremely excited about.”

Describing themselves as disruptors  in recruitment, Sharon and Mandy have found that gaining trust and changing mindsets has also presented some challenges.  “We have recognised that while there is an appetite to change among some hiring managers, for others there can be an entrenched reluctance to move away from the practices they are familiar with”, says Sharon.

“For many they need to recognise that they have become dependent on traditional practices.  They may believe they work, but  they may not be the most effective way to achieve their aims.”

Not easily deterred, “ for us, it’s all about tenacity and education”, adds Mandy. “We went into this venture with our eyes wide open.

Ask any entrepreneur and they’ll tell you that there are always setbacks and humps in the road, and we’re very driven and tenacious.

We continue to persevere and always manage to keep each other motivated, even when times get tough.”

Do you think the COVID-19 pandemic has revolutionised the recruitment industry (video interviews, flexible working allowing for a greater talent pool etc.)?

“For sure”, confirms Mandy. “ It’s really great to see the amount of flexible working options that are now available to candidates. This is something that has taken a long time to change and the working practices in place during the pandemic have demonstrated that a huge majority of employees are accountable and can work independently.”

Sharon clearly agrees, “The pandemic has shown that if you trust people they will do a great job.

Having said that, I feel that there is still a need for face-to-face time in an office environment and we are seeing more of these blended options take into account personal circumstances and individual preferences.

And Mandy believes this only adds to their argument, “And that’s why understanding and counting in those key attitudes, experiences and competencies really matters. Today more than ever before, these skills  are all so important for organisations, yet so often overlooked in the traditional recruitment process.”

Currently, there is a lot of talk around The Great Resignation – how do you think companies can help to retain their staff? 

“Right now it is very much a candidate-led market and this is reinforcing the concept of a war in talent.”, says Sharon. “It seems that a global crisis such as the pandemic has offered a moment of reflection for many employees who have realised that there is a better balance to be had between work and personal lives.”

Mandy agrees, adding, ”Also we have to consider mental health.  When we consider the impact of our individual and combined experiences, this has also led us to conclude that a shift in priorities is key to improved health and wellbeing.  It is good to see that companies are keeping  in close contact with their staff to check in.  You can’t underestimate how important this is from a health and well being perspective and also from an engagement pulse check point of view.  But that said, managers must be equipped to ask the right questions and seek feedback.  And where they see trends in needs and requirements from their teams, they have to respond.”

Sharon concludes that there is also room for better, more focussed talent management practices. “Firms have  to recognise and nurture talent and this changes all the time.  Firms have to be able equally to respond to the differing learning and development needs of each team member.”

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

As Mandy explains, “We are strong advocates for mentoring having both been mentored, most recently in our entrepreneurial journey but also in our corporate in-house roles as well. We are talking to talent all the time, and for us it’s not just about bringing candidates onto the platform, it’s about helping them to showcase their best attributes and that’s where mentoring really makes an immediate impact.”

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

“Recruitment practices,” says Sharon.  “Practical steps that companies can adopt to demonstrate their commitment to change.

Action goes a lot further than words.

Recruitment is only one stage of the employment lifecycle, but it is a great and important start and goes further to ensuring that a diverse talent pool is considered.”

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

“Don’t procrastinate,” stresses Mandy. “When you see an opportunity, go for it, and with fortitude.”

Sharon agrees, adding, “Have the confidence and self-belief to realise your dreams and make change happen.  Don’t be just a bystander.“

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

“We are looking forward to re-launching our MVP with a refreshed marketing campaign, and to go at scale to make a real impact on the recruitment industry”, explains Sharon

“We are really focused on influencing the ways things are done.” adds Mandy. “ We are very  focused on  gaining trust and belief in a new wave of recruitment practices, one that leverages the power of digital technology and broadens talent pools. We continue to build our pool of incredibly talented candidates, bringing them to the fore.”

“We are really turning recruitment practices on their head, making everything simpler and more effective for companies and job seekers. To be the ‘Bumble or AirBnB of recruitment.“

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.

Happy business people clapping in the conference room, IT Pro Day

IT Pro Day 2021: A chance to thank our unsung heroes

Happy business people clapping in the conference room

On the third Tuesday of September, IT Pro Day is celebrated across all different sectors as an opportunity to pay homage to the IT professionals who keep our businesses up and running.

Although the work IT pros do for their companies is indispensable, it can be easy to overlook as the majority of hard work happens behind the scenes. Therefore, it is enormously important that we take opportunities, such as IT Pro Day, to show our admiration for the backbone of our organisations and celebrate the great work they do.

This IT Pro Day, WeAreTechWomen spoke to nine industry experts to discover more about the roles of IT professionals, and what we can do to support them.

Keeping operations up and running

Samantha-Humphries Exabeam“IT professionals are commonly expected to wear multiple hats and also be the first point of contact when things go wrong, yet all too often are the unsung heroes of the organisation”, explains Samantha Humphries, Head of Security Strategy EMEA at Exabeam. “The go-to for all things technical and analytical, they are responsible for so many aspects of a company’s IT systems, including designing and building technical controls which provide visibility and security of sensitive data, maintaining an array of technology systems which govern the handling of data, and compliance with GDPR, CCPA, HIPAA, and other privacy legislation. And that’s just for starters.“

Sascha Giese, SolarWinds“Let’s face it—IT no longer just supports an organisation. IT is basically running it”, adds Sascha Giese, Head Geek at SolarWinds. “The past 18 months have been challenging for everyone, our public sector organisations in particular, and it’s put a spotlight on IT that wasn’t there before. Teams received recognition for their work in supporting the next normal—before, these pros may have remained in more of a supporting role behind the scenes. Keeping a country’s vital public services running despite all the obstacles created by the pandemic was no mean feat, and the IT professionals in public organisations have played a huge role in making this possible.”

Digital Transformation

Of course, it has not just been COVID that IT professionals have had to contend with in these past 18 months. As we continue further into the 21st century, organisations are continuing to undergo more advanced and complex digital transformation – none of which would be possible without the support of our IT pros.

Roger Walton, Resistant AIRoger Walton, Chief Revenue Officer, Resistant.AI points out that, “the roles and responsibilities of our IT professionals have changed dramatically, especially so in the past few years as the digital-first approach has taken hold. As organisations undertake their digital transformation journeys, responsibility for the design, implementation, security and upkeep of the underpinning tech stack falls to our IT pros. If you then throw into the mix the ongoing IT skills shortage and selectivity of projects to be involved with, budget constraints, and the 18-month pandemic, it is fair to say that this group of professionals have their work cut out for them.

“The automation of IT itself, is without doubt, a critical development, enabling IT Pros to not only keep their heads above water, but to innovate and digitally transform the way they are doing their jobs. Take fraud prevention, for example. Incidents of fraud have sky-rocketed. A recent report from the University of Portsmouth estimated it’s costing the UK £137 billion a year. That’s an eye-watering amount of money.”

Dwain Stuart, Content GuruOf course, IT professionals aren’t just transforming the world of fraud prevention. In the contact centre industry, “IT professionals have worked behind the scenes to ensure that physical equipment, from servers to laptops, is suited to this new working environment, and have supported agents by migrating equipment from physical contact centres to home offices,” highlights Dwain Stuart, Production Engineer at Content Guru. “The challenge moving forwards will be bringing agents back to a hybrid environment, with some remaining at home while others return to physical sites. Like many industries, the contact centre has changed irrevocably over the last 18 months and IT pros have their work cut out to ensure this transition goes smoothly.”

Nicola Kinsella, Fluent CommerceE-commerce has also been another sector that has seen rapid growth and digital transformation in the past few years. Nicola Kinsella, VP of Global Marketing at Fluent Commerce explains, “IT Professionals are the cornerstone of every company. And with the ecommerce industry expected to exceed $563 billion by 2025 in the United States alone, we need them more than ever. Without the cloud infrastructure team our platform couldn’t run smoothly and scale dynamically. If it weren’t for our product engineers we couldn’t deliver the functionality retailers and brands need to meet the expectations of today’s digitally savvy consumers. They are the tireless, often ‘behind the scenes’ backbone of our company. So today, and everyday, we say thank you to our IT Pros who do the hard work so that we can achieve the greatest results.”

Safeguarding from threats

Chris Rogers, ZertoIn addition to keeping up with the ever-changing challenge of digital transformation, one of the greatest tasks IT professionals face today is protecting businesses from cybersecurity threats, be that malicious or accidental. Chris Rogers, Technology Evangelist at Zerto, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company notes, “for IT professionals, the working world is no longer the same place it was 18 months ago. From the rush to get employees operational for remote working almost overnight in early 2020, to today’s gradual slide into a hybrid working model, the IT pro has had to adapt quickly. These changes have presented clear cybersecurity risks. IDC reported that, in the past 12 months, 95% of organisations have experienced a ransomware or malware attack. Today, all organisations – big or small – are prioritising both protection and availability – 24/7, 365 days a year. The pressure on IT pros to deliver this is enormous. The weight of ensuring their organisation remains resilient in the wake of any disruption sits firmly on their shoulders. It’s a huge task made even more challenging by having to achieve this in a hybrid work environment.”

Diane Albano, Globalization PartnersDiane Albano, Chief Revenue Officer at Globalization Partners, adds, “IT teams have had to work quickly and efficiently to ensure valuable company and customer data stays private and secured. Multiple new access points being utilised by remote and hybrid workers, including phone apps and at-home Wi-Fi networks have added to the challenge.

“Security or personal data breaches take a massive toll on a company both financially and reputationally. Any downtime that prevents employees or customers from accessing a company’s services or database, even for a minimum amount of time, can have long-term financial repercussions.”

Neil Jones, EgnyteNeil Jones, Cybersecurity Evangelist at Egnyte, continues, “IT Pros are the experts that organisational leadership calls upon when companies face complex threats such as ransomware attacks, insider threat activity and compromised credentials. All of the content and communication tools they manage are vulnerable without proper data governance, so IT Pros are leaders in protecting sensitive data. Companies that really want their IT Pros to be successful will provide them with career development opportunities and resources they need to be successful on an ongoing basis. Today we recognise them for the tireless work they do to make all of our jobs easier.”

A chance to celebrate

Chris Hornung, TotalmobileThis IT Pro Day, show your appreciation for the employees who make everything possible. “The best IT pros will often go without recognition, because when your IT is running smoothly, you don’t even know they’re working hard behind the scenes,” summarises Chris Hornung, COO at Totalmobile. “Without IT pros, remote workers would be more susceptible to problems – such as server failures, overloaded systems and downtime – preventing them from maintaining high customer service levels. In particular, platforms such as scheduling software and mobile workforce management tools have been vital for helping frontline workers keep up with customer demands and stay safe. By stepping up, IT pros have enabled workers to carry out their day to day operations largely uninterrupted by the effects of COVID.”

woman working from home in bed, IT professional

IT professionals are scared of making mistakes, (still) uncomfortable with seeing themselves on Zoom and hate making calls

woman working from home in bed, IT professional

A study has found that 31 per cent of IT and information research professionals are working in fear, scared of making a mistake at work. 

The nationwide poll, commissioned by Feel Good Contacts revealed some of the many concerns faced by people working in this industry.

The study of 2,000 UK workers, conducted by OnePoll, highlighted issues related to communications. Despite almost six months of Zoom meetings, a quarter of IT and information research employees are still uncomfortable with being on a video call, seeing and hearing themselves on screen and being in a virtual room full of people staring at their face. A total of 23 per cent don’t want to talk on the phone and would rather send an email.

In a climate of uncertainty, where IT and information research professionals are feeling on edge as we enter a second lockdown, 20 per cent are anxious about working with difficult colleagues. But it’s not just internal relations that are a concern, 19 per cent are nervous about dealing with antagonistic client and customers.

Not surprisingly, 30 per cent of respondents are scared about losing their job as the UK plunges into economic recession for the first time in 11 years. With such worries, it’s understandable that just under one sixth of respondents are too nervous to ask for extra support with a heavy workload and 18 per cent are anxious about seeking help with a difficult task. One fifth said that in the current climate, they would dread facing their boss in a performance review and a further fifth said that they would be too nervous to ask for a pay rise. Finally, 21 per cent are worried about being expected to work out of hours.

Speaking about the study, Acacia Johnson, Human Resources Advisor at Feel Good Contacts said, “With job losses on the increase, even the most productive workers do not feel immune.”

“Understandably, feelings of self-doubt plague employees.”

“‘I’m going to fail. I can’t work this out. I’m not up to the job. Everyone’s going to see me screw up. It’s only a matter of time before…..’ are just some of the thoughts going through the minds of anxious staff.”

“With this attitude, some people are working extra hard to deliver over and above what is expected of them to keep their job safe.”

“Others are keeping their heads under the parapet; they don’t want to be noticed, voice their opinions and get the blame if anything goes wrong.”

Business psychologist Jan P. de Jonge explains, “Neither approach is ideal.”

“By playing it safe, you are stifling creativity and innovation and not producing your best work.”

“You’re more likely to fail by resisting than engaging.”

“Instead try to adopt a growth mindset and see challenges as a way to develop, rather than as a threat.”

“Modern day culture promotes wellbeing.”

“So we really need to focus on what that wellbeing means, which is being accepting of imperfection.”

“If things go wrong, use it to create opportunities to learn and develop.”

“This may be a little bit counterintuitive, especially when we live in society that always tells us to do well.”

Jan added, “Decades ago, people all had to gradually get used to the phone, being available, accessible from afar and at the turn of a few buttons.”

“Now it feels like the working population – and others besides – are suddenly compelled to be visible online, representable, on-cue and on-message.”

“But an ‘always on’ approach won’t help you to perform any better in your job in the long run.”

“If you’re checking your emails 24/7 to stay ahead of the game, you won’t be coming to work feeling fresh and raring to start the day, plus you will always be distracted.”

Jan concluded, “It’s worth remembering that if you always reply to emails immediately, the sender will think you have nothing better to do.”

“So, ask yourself: will anyone care or even notice if you take some time to respond?”

“This approach is better for your health.”

“In fact, studies have found that people who were allowed to check their Inbox only three times a day had lower levels of stress compared to those who were allowed unlimited access to email.”

With these concerns in mind, Feel Good Contacts and business psychologist Jan P. De Jonge at People Business Psychology Ltd. have produced a Work Worries Toolkit to help you to tackle some of the issues you face at work.

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black woman working on computer in the hallway, diversity, SysAdmin Day

SysAdmin Day 2020: Appreciate the invisible heroes of IT

black woman working on computer in the hallway, diversity, SysAdmin Day, SysAdmins

Keeping many businesses moving this year would have been near impossible if not for the technology that enables many employees to work from home.

But more than the technology itself, the system administrators – or SysAdmins – that support it are equally as important. SysAdmins have helped enable thousands of employees across the country to continue working despite the pandemic; without this, many of these businesses would likely have collapsed.

This System Administrator Appreciation Day, we should all take the time to acknowledge and thank these IT heroes for their hard work and dedication. WeAreTechWomen spoke to six IT industry experts to hear their thoughts on how and why we should do this.

How 2020 has ramped up the pressure

The impact that the pandemic has had on all IT employees is immense, including for the SysAdmins trying to keep everyone else online. Alan Conboy, Office of the CTO at Scale Computing, encourages businesses to recognise this.

Alan Conboy Scale Computing, SysAdmins“Consistent, reliable and responsive, SysAdmins have been the backbone of our industry during these challenging times. Without them, we would all be more susceptible to all the usual issues – server failures, downtime and problems with upgrades and capacity – but even in the midst of the crisis, SysAdmins have maintained their teams’ momentum to overcome IT challenges, with a plan of attack for the next time.

“They’ve played a vital role in maintaining business resilience, ensuring companies worldwide could quickly and effectively mobilise their workforce to work remotely by keeping platforms like virtual desktop infrastructure running, making it possible to extend the remote capabilities of the workforce in a predictable and easy to manage way, without compromising enterprise security.

“Today, we celebrate all SysAdmins with a special offer that acts as a good reminder for organisations to always provide their SysAdmins with the tools, resources and words of encouragement they deserve to continue supporting our IT infrastructures, particularly through times of crisis.”

Harrison Wigg Content Guru, SysAdminsHarrison Wigg, Production Engineer at Content Guru, agrees that, “this year there have been added pressures. With organisations and schools everywhere undergoing a monumental shift to homeworking, it has been the SysAdmins working behind the scenes to ensure this is done as efficiently and securely as possible. We have had to ensure that physical equipment, from servers to laptops, is suited to this new working environment, and have supported staff by migrating equipment – from monitors to chairs – home for them.

“From a business continuity perspective, I feel that a SysAdmin’s role has been vital in keeping companies afloat throughout these past few months. Although the whole process of migrating everyone home has been challenging, the importance of ensuring it was done as perfectly as possible is unquestionable. And we get to do it all again now that staff are slowly migrating back to the office!”

It’s not only private businesses that have struggled with the sudden need for change but public sector organisations too, as Sascha Giese, Head Geek at SolarWinds, explains:

Sascha Giese SolarWinds, SysAdmin“While doctors and nurses have been saving lives and the central government has determined how to keep the country running, the IT systems on which this sector relies have been mission-critical. From the systems behind the NHS 111 helpline to the data collection and analysis shared by Number 10, technology has underpinned it all. It has also helped ensure many non-frontline employees can work from home safely and securely. SysAdmins are the team members working behind the scenes to uphold IT quality and functionality in all organisations, and to keep systems from suffering downtime—and this can be the difference between life and death, particularly during a pandemic. As the country begins to recover, it’s crucial for IT leaders to recognise the hard work of their SysAdmins and their vital role over the last few months, and they should provide training and tools to help them do their jobs even better.”

With that in mind, how exactly can all organisations improve the role of SysAdmins?

Ways to help ease the load

Brett Cheloff ConnectWiseBrett Cheloff, VP of ConnectWise Automate, ConnectWise, details how finding the right software solutions can increase efficiency:

“With responsibilities such as proactive network monitoring, conducting routine maintenance, and managing ticket flow and security, SysAdmins need expert efficiency to get the job done. But as routine pitfalls produce extra work, even the most experienced technicians struggle to keep up with the demands of a modern IT infrastructure.

“These processes can be made much easier by using the right software. SysAdmins should seek out programs that provide insight into workflows and efficiency as well as facilitate system response monitoring. Doing so will improve overall response time and allow SysAdmins to reallocate their time to other important tasks. With the right product and processes, they can be more proactive-oriented and better prepared to handle reactive situations.”

JG Heithcock, Retrospect_StorCentric, SysAdmin“You can only have a successful remote team deployment with constant communication, which requires reliable, responsive and resourceful team members – three key attributes of SysAdmins,” comments JG Heithcock, GM at Retrospect, a StorCentric company. “As we continue to work remotely and consider hybrid working environments in the future, it’s important for organisations to optimise their businesses and provide SysAdmins with the resources needed to seamlessly transition to this new normal by implementing the latest AI technologies to backup engines where possible and consolidate backup management to a single pane of glass. By securing and maintaining backups, SysAdmins will have the tools necessary to streamline workflows with efficient and reliable data backup solutions to keep businesses running and protected across changing working environments.”

Agata NowakowskaAgata Nowakowska, AVP EMEA at Skillsoft, admires the job of SysAdmins not just during the pandemic but prior to this, as she highlights that, “the SysAdmin role was no easy feat pre-COVID. SysAdmins face rising pressures and are expected to have a detailed knowledge of various technical programming languages. They need to be available at a moment's notice, ready to support numerous new technologies as organisations power ahead with digital transformation.”

She continues by adding how training should be an increasing priority: “We should mark SysAdmin day this year by not only showing our appreciation for the role SysAdmins have played during the recent shift to remote working, but by increasing the ongoing support and training we offer people in this essential role. Organisations need to provide the opportunities for their SysAdmins to upskill and learn new certifications so they can continue to provide valuable support, even during periods of great change.”

Though SysAdmins are not always the most visible of employees, most organisations would falter quickly without them. As many workers slowly start to return to offices – or continue to embrace the new normal of working from home – it’s important to recognise the crucial role that SysAdmins play in keeping IT systems up and running, and we should celebrate them not just on July 31st, but every day!

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Why not knowing anything about IT, makes you good at IT...


When it comes to success in business, they say that knowledge is power – but knowledge of what, exactly? Often, that is never truly clarified. Can you really run a successful IT support company without knowing the intricacies of the cyber world and the threats orbiting it?

This notion is one that particularly rings true for the managing director of Lancashire-based IT support provider Q2Q, Lorna Stellakis, who is convinced that her minimal knowledge of the complex IT world is not only contributing to making her business highly successful, but is what sets it aside from the raging wave of competition. Here, Lorna explains why in greater depth…

At this point in the Digital Age, IT has been evolving at a rapid rate.

And with all modern-day businesses relying upon the power of the internet and computer-driven systems to efficiently carry out their day-to-day operations, it’s crucial that the expert teams behind the scenes are able to deliver solutions that keep everything in working order. But the truth is, there’s so much more to the successful IT equation than just the technical industry knowledge. Understanding people and business objectives plays a huge part in solving the puzzle, and this how the management team at Q2Q identified an opportunity to take IT support to the next level.

Looking at the headlines from the past twelve months, we can clearly see a pattern – the focus on IT and GDPR-related news has augmented, and the tempest of data breach stories shows no sign of relenting. With household brands such as British Airways, Google and Marriott International all falling victim to cyber-criminals’ attempts to access and compromise data, for smaller companies it can sometimes feel like they don’t stand a chance, when it comes to implementing effective and impenetrable digital defense measures. But how wrong this mentality is.

For many SME’s, dealing with IT can be daunting – it’s not their area of expertise, and they are often concerned that they could be persuaded to pay for solutions that aren’t needed. We find that a surprising amount of the time, employees who have no IT-related qualification – or indeed any prior dealings with this side of operations – are tasked with championing the internal strategy and expected to know how to fix issues when they arise. But the shocking element is not the fact that these people have no experience in this field, it is that they haven’t been asked the necessary questions from neither their internal IT staff members nor their outsourced support team – and that’s a recipe for digital disaster.

Q2Q was created in 2004 by a small team, armed with years of specialist experience, who had grown increasingly frustrated by the lack of plain-speaking, honest and affordable support services available to small and medium sized organisations. This then acted as a stimulus, as they set out to change the way IT assistance was offered to SMEs – omitting the baffling jargon and making it about what companies need. And that’s where my knowledge deficiency renders an advantage.

Two years ago when I first became involved with Q2Q, it was predominantly to look at some of the internal processes and the people-development side of the business. One could argue that because I didn’t possess the background knowledge of the sector, I wouldn’t be able to deliver on the outcomes, but having started my career working for a clothing retailer – where I was a small cog in the wheel that planned, designed, sourced, manufactured and delivered clothing – I knew this to be different. I was officially responsible for only a small portion of the process, but because I felt compelled to understand how everyone else’s role contributed to the lifecycle of the garments, I could make more informed decisions in my own area, that consequently benefitted the company. This broadening-your-view type of approach is therefore how you can skip the technical knowledge part and get under the skin of the system, or business, at hand.

Businesses tend to focus on weak-points and try to find a quick-win solution.

How we work is to look at the strengths and try to work out how they can be applied to an area of weakness, as this can often render the weakness irrelevant. Of course, our technical experts are there to deal with complex issues as well as constantly on the lookout for emerging technologies or solutions that will help organisations reduce costs, work smarter and grow, but what use is a team of cyber professionals that cannot effectively communicate with our customers? That’s why our recruitment is not centered around technical ability alone – attitude and experience are also key.

So, how is this relevant to IT support? Well, it’s all about getting to know a business – including broader challenges not within the systems and IT category. By understanding what companies’ challenges are, unearthing their preferred ways of working, and most notably what’s important to them, our tech team can then work on what solutions will help achieve their overall business goals.  Now, I may not have the IT knowledge, but that is certainly not to say that Q2Q is run by non-techies, on the contrary – we have a team of dedicated digital-savvy professionals.

The harmony of technology, economics and psychology is not only what makes our approach to IT very different to the norm, but it’s what makes my not-knowing-anything-about-IT statement justified.

In reality, the fact that I know nothing, or very little, about IT is actually an added strength for our business and our clients, by asking questions that a typical techie wouldn’t necessarily think of, we can deliver far better technical solutions and services.

Lorna Stellakis, MD of Q2Q ITAbout the author

Lorna Stellakis


My role is to provide the overall direction and “eye on the compass” as to where we, as a team are heading, setting the overall business strategy and financial budgeting. Whilst always having been involved with systems implementation throughout my career, I have an operational background and no specific IT experience. However, if anything, I believe this makes me more qualified to ensure the team deliver great service, drawing from my operations experience, and having been on the wrong side of poor IT support in the past. I can relate to how crippling this can be to a business, making it paramount that we ensure that IT issues are as invisible as possible, leaving the customers to get on with running their businesses smoothly.

Women in Tech

Raising the 15 per cent | Encouraging women into tech

women in tech
L-R: Estee Woods, Liz Cook, Lucie Hyve, Crendal Kear, Liz Matthews, Sophia Zheng

International Women’s Day is something that WeAreThe City fully supports.

This year’s theme is #BalanceforBetter, promoting the fact that a balanced world is a better world. However, not all industries are good advocates for gender balance in the workplace. The STEM industry is an example of this – it’s often seen as a being very male-dominated, which can actually discourage women from applying to jobs. In fact, women make up 50 per cent of the UK workforce, but less than 15 per cent in STEM jobs.

With this in mind, WeAreTheCity spoke with eight IT professionals – all of whom are women – to get their thoughts on why gender balance and diversity in the workplace is important, and their advice for other women as to how they can get into the tech industry too.

Breaking through gender barriers in the workplace

One of the biggest hurdles the STEM industry faces is the stereotype that already surrounds it when it comes to gender. As Estee Woods, Director of Public Sector & Public Safety Marketing at Cradlepoint points out, “as a sector devoted to innovation and connectivity, the technology industry is uniquely positioned to help close the gender gap in the workplace. Yet, as recently as 2016, 43 per cent of the 150 highest-earning public companies in Silicon Valley had no female executive officers at all.”

It’s a shame that this has become the norm for STEM, and as Lucie Sadler, Content Manager at Hyve Managed Hosting comments, these “age-old stereotypes about the industry do not reflect the fast-paced, progressive nature of technology, and this needs to change.”

“This year’s theme of #BalanceforBetter reinforces the need for diversity in our industry,” Sadler continues. “IT companies must strive to be fully inclusive, and this change must come from within. Diverse teams work better, bring different perspectives to the table and make employees challenge their own thinking. And that’s a really good thing.”

This notion of diversity is something that Liz Matthews, Head of Community and Education at Mango Solutions agrees with. “Companies are investing in data-driven digital transformation more than ever before and the diversity of roles available in advanced analytics and data science is certainly increasing,” Matthews says.

With this in mind, Liz Cook, People Director at Six Degrees’ advice for the industry, is to make sure that organisations have a “balanced, inclusive workplace that celebrates and enables everyone’s brilliance.” Cook also goes on to mention that it’s important for businesses to “challenge outdated stereotypes and engage people in promoting gender-balance and driving a better working world.”

Encouraging the next generation towards STEM careers 

“I think there are two main reasons women aren’t working in technology – a lack of role models, and the perceived culture in IT,” believes Kate Gawron, Senior Database Consultant at Node4. “Young kids learn their entire world from what they see, ‘girls like pink and unicorns, boys like blue and cars’,” Gawron continues. “By the time girls come to do their GCSEs and commit to a career path it’s too late, they’ve already been convinced that IT isn’t for them.”

Gawron has really hit the nail on the head when it comes to addressing the association of STEM with men. ”I’d never planned to become a Database Administrator,” she shares, “but it turns out I’m more than suited to the job. I believe it’s important to have the confidence in yourself to stick to what is important to you, and more often than not another amazing opportunity will open up.”

This is a subject that Jeannie Barry, Director of Technology Enablement at ConnectWise is also passionate about. “Young girls today need people surrounding them who can help to boost their confidence and inspire them to dream big and follow through on those dreams,” Barry says. “With social media all around us, girls are comparing themselves to other girls, causing a lot of self-doubt and lowering self-worth. We need to make sure we’re constantly providing opportunities to grow their confidence and ensure they are focused on their own journey and not trying to be like someone else.”

Encouraging the next generation into choosing STEM as a career path is something that almost everyone agrees as being the first step in solving this imbalance of gender in the industry. “Tech is very male dominated, which can be overwhelming for women considering careers in the sector,” points out Crendal Kear, VP Sales Operations at Exabeam. “People want to work with others that relate to their experiences and the challenges that they face.”

“At a young age, girls need to see that there are more and more women with successful careers, who balance careers and families,” she continues. “As a society, we must encourage and empower girls to say yes to an opportunity and embrace it.”

Finally, Sophia Zheng, Product Manager at Bitglass shares her experience from school, and the fact that she believes the root of the gender gap in the technology industry to have stemmed from there. “I remember being chosen for a gifted and talented ‘Maths Enrichment’ class, and at one point, I was the only girl,” she says. “At ten years old, I didn’t want to be the only girl in the class and, because of that, I didn’t really want to be there at all. I wasn’t the only girl because the school was trying to push out girls, it was simply about how well you performed in maths class and on standardised testing, and I guess not a lot of girls qualified.”

“I think that if the class had been open to everyone who was interested it would have fostered more growth for a wider range of students,” Zheng concludes. “I think that having the option is better than not having one at all. It could have a long-term impact on seeing more girls interested in STEM subjects from a younger age.”

There’s certainly a long way to go until the gender equality in the STEM industry is balanced, but the awareness that International Women’s Day brings can go a long way towards tackling it. It’s important that businesses are aware of the diversity, and that they do all they can to ensure a balanced working environment.


Why an IT career is perfect for women

woman on computer

By Stephanie Rowe

The tech sector is certainly majority-male.

According to The Guardian, just 27 per cent of employees in the UK digital industry are women. And the imbalance starts young, with only 16 per cent of computer science students being female.

Though it is unclear why young women shun tech careers, it may be down to misconceptions about the industry. Women might deem the work too difficult, technical or boring. Or they might enjoy the work, but simply don’t want to enter a male-dominated industry.

Whatever the reason for female disinterest in tech, it’s important to remember that this career is ideal for women! Read on to discover why you should consider a career in this exciting, fast-moving and highly rewarding industry.

The salaries are superb!

If there’s one reason to start an IT career, it’s the salaries. Software developers in the UK start off on £20k and can earn £70k or more with experience. Technical architects have an amazing starting salary of £40k, and non-technical roles like the IT project manager can earn up to £70k.

According to Reed, six of 2018’s highest paying jobs were in tech. At the very top are architects. Security and cloud architects can earn up to £98,000 and Java architects can earn up to £85,000. These jobs require you to design and create the ‘architecture’ of an organisation’s cybersecurity solutions, cloud storage or Java applications.

The salaries are good because IT staff need a strong skillset. They are being paid for their technical expertise, which is gained through their education and professional experience. Many are degree educated and possess a few industry-standard qualifications too. Another reason is demand. As our world becomes increasingly tech-dependent, the need for specialists in all areas of IT is rising.

We’ve been in IT since the 1800s

Women have been involved in tech since 1840, when Ada Lovelace (Lord Byron’s daughter) wrote the first computer program. In the 1920s, Edith Clarke patented the first graphical calculator. In fact, women were heavily involved in programming, data and codebreaking throughout the 1900s, being responsible for the first NASA programs and breaking code at Bletchley Park.

In the early days of IT, society had a somewhat better view of female computing abilities. Women were seen to have well-developed typing skills and made less mistakes. The decline in female IT professionals started in the 1980s, perhaps due to negative media stereotypes of computer geeks, and the rise of male dot-com success stories like Steve Jobs.

However, women are still very active in the sector and have been hugely successful. Without Susan Kare and Adele Goldberg, Apple’s computers and graphics wouldn’t look as good as they do. Marissa Mayer was the CEO of Yahoo for many years, and Susan Wojcicki is currently CEO at YouTube. All these women prove that there is also a place for you in the tech industry!

Women have the talent

Think women can’t do technical work? Think again! In 2016, The Guardian examined 3 million pieces of code submitted to GitHub, an open source software community. They found that the code written by women received a roughly 4 per cent higher rating than code written by men. So not only can women do the work, we can also do it well.

Women are also talented in other areas. We have naturally good interpersonal skills, being able to read body language, build relationships, listen and collaborate much easier than men. As more IT companies start delivering projects using agile methods, the need for techies with good social skills will increase, as such methods emphasise the importance of teamwork.


Whilst it is true that women are a minority in tech, it’s time to shatter the stereotypes and stop being scared to get involved! IT careers are exciting - you could be working on the next blockbuster video game, keeping an organisation safe from hackers or writing a programme that saves lives.

The salaries are awesome, and tech isn’t going to disappear anytime soon. This is a job for life and you can shape it to suit you. Want to be a contractor? Sure! Want to fit work around childcare? Well, working from home is common in this sector.

The UK tech sector is currently having a skills crisis. As a result, there are lots of jobs out there that need to be filled. Take advantage and push your career in a new direction now!

Stephanie RoweAbout the author

Stephanie is the Content Manager at Knowledge Train. She writes articles, ebooks, website copy and manages the company’s social media platforms. Since leaving university in 2011, she has had articles and content published both online and in print. Her favourite topics are careers, skills, and the workplace.

Women 6.0 | Being Tech Role Models Event | In pictures

Women 6.0 - Tech Role ModelsAs an industry, IT is crying out for more “real life” female role models at all levels, so WeAreTheCity and Morgan Stanley partnered for a fourth consecutive year to hold an innovative event to show 150 women how to become one.

The technology industry is full of potential role models, yet many women believe they have to be a “super woman” to deserve the title of “role model”. In a speed networking style event format, not-for-profit organisations, who are supporting the growth of women entering the technology industry, shared what opportunities are available and how to get involved.

Not-for-profits included TeenTech, BCSWomen, CompTIA, Aimar, CodeClub, Code First Girls, FutureFirst, Socitm, Inspiring the Future and Your Future, Your Ambition, Color in Tech, #techmums, AppsForGood and Stemettes.+

Teenagers coding, hacking and swapping personal info for cash on the rise

Teenagers able to code, hack and willing to swap their personal information in return for cash, are on the rise, according to a survey from Logicalis.

Teenagers coding featureAccording to the eighth annual Realtime Generation report commissioned by Logicalis UK, entitled ‘Are you ready for the age of digital enlightenment?’, 7% said they have tried hacking, equating to 1 in 14 or at least one hacker per classroom.

The survey of over 1,000 13-17 year olds found that young people spend nine hours a day online, with 93% owning a smartphone.

Of those questioned 42% said they would rather accept £15 for giving away their personal information than earn cash from a job.

Gerry Carroll, author of the report and marketing director at Logicalis UK, comments, “While some of the statistics around hacking and online behaviour may be alarming, it’s essential we recognise the economic potential of these instinctively digital teenagers.

“Whether creating new careers in an increasingly digitalised workplace, or nurturing the skills so sorely needed in the IT industry, today’s teenagers are better placed than ever before to achieve the efficiency and productivity promise of IT. Public and private sector organisations should nurture and channel these talents, creating the right opportunities for these digitally enlightened teens to deliver their true dividend.”

81% of students said they believe teachers do a great job integrating digital learning into lessons, and 60% said the ICT curriculum offers an adequate foundation for their higher education and career aspirations.

41% are taking a qualification in a computer science subject and 52% would make ICT and computer sciences mandatory - 45% of these were girls.

Of those questioned 43% said they are coding already or would like to learn how. 48% of these are girls.

64% of boys and 48% of girls said they would like to create their own apps to use on HE or company network.

Carroll added: “With numerous reports bemoaning the loss of jobs to increasingly computerised functions, this generation is busy developing the skills it needs for careers that don’t yet exist. The next decade will see an influx of employees whose capabilities will be light years ahead from our existing expectations of ‘ICT skills’.

“Able to create, build or knowledgeably commission the IT they want, today’s teenagers are a future workforce with the potential to enable and transform the UK’s digital economy.”

The top three career options for boys were IT & Information Management (28%), Manufacturing & Engineering (23%), Science & Research (21%). The top three for girls were Education & Training (18%), Medicine & Nursing (18%), Science & Research or Arts, Crafts & Design (15%).