Tips on climbing the tech ladder in a foreign country featured

An American tech woman in London - tips on climbing the tech ladder in a foreign country

By Rosemarie Diegnan, Chief Strategy & Product Officer, Wazoku

Tips on climbing the tech ladder in a foreign countryIt can be hard enough establishing yourself in the tech sector in your own country.

But at least you know what the general mood is like, what the culture is and may have contacts or mentors that you could turn to, should the need arise.

But in a different country, you may well not have any of that. That was certainly the situation I found myself when I first came to London. I had worked in the US tech sector for a period, but I am always attracted to manageable risks and when the opportunity came up to work for idea management start-up Wazoku, I found it too good to resist.

Because I have Irish citizenship, I could move to Europe without too much red tape, and although working for an early-stage start-up in a new country could be perceived as risky, I felt it was a risk worth taking.

But living and working in a different culture was certainly an eye-opener, especially so working in technology. But as a woman in technology, I actually found it a little easier in the UK than I did in the US.

Although national stereotypes can be reductive, I do think that generally Americans are more direct than Brits. At times when working in the US, it can feel like a struggle to be heard. But in the UK, a US accent combined with that US directness meant that a little of the gender imbalance could be eliminated. I have found I can say exactly what I mean and people take notice of that far more over here.

I think also that not coming from the UK can be an advantage in other ways. I attend a number of ‘women in tech’ type conferences and events and I often notice there seems to be a disproportionate number of foreign women in positions of seniority.

A recent London event I attended had four women speakers and just one was actually from the UK. Another recent conference had five speakers out of 20 women coming from the US. I think it might be easier to be recognised and to stand out if you come from another country – I see it too much for it to be a coincidence.

But I love the UK and I love being an American woman working for a London technology start-up. Here are my main takeaways for any woman wanting to work in technology in a different country.

Be willing to take risks and be open to opportunity. If you have wanted to work in a different country and you get a sniff of an opportunity to do so, just go for it. I know I was lucky with regard to my passport situation, but I am so glad I went for it. You don’t know how often such opportunities will arise to work in a different culture, so it is well-worth making the commitment if something presents itself.

Don’t wait for the ‘perfect’ role. The perfect technology job may well be out there for you in another country, but it is unlikely to be the first one you find. Perhaps your first job abroad won’t tick all of your boxes, but it will get you over to the country where you can begin to grow your network. Once you are established you can then plot your next move in tech.

Don’t hang too much with ex-pats! Whether you are a Brit in NYC or an American in London, it can be tempting to spend your time with ex-pats. We are all drawn to the familiar and the comfortable, but by hanging out too much with ex-pats you will be denying yourself a lot of insight and opportunity. You will learn more about tech by building local contacts, so immerse yourself in the eco-system of your adopted country and you will reap the rewards.

Take advantage of the new culture. This builds on the previous point. Your new country will be culturally very different and you should absorb as much of that as possible. Even if you only spend a brief time in that country you will still have broadened your network, horizons, outlook and experience. It therefore stands to reason, that the more you put into your new country and its tech sector, the more you will get out of it.

Rosemarie DiegnanAbout the author

Rosemarie Diegnan is Chief Strategy & Product Officer at idea management start-up Wazoku. She began her tech career in the US, before moving to the UK in 2012 to work for Wazoku. She has held a number of roles in product development (as well as a five-year stint as a lawyer) and in her current position is responsible for leading Wazoku’s product strategy and the planning and development for Wazoku’s suite of idea management applications.

Rosemaire Diegnan featured

Inspirational Woman: Rosemarie Diegnan | Chief Strategy & Product Officer, Wazoku

Rosemarie DiegnanRosemarie began her tech career in the US, before moving to the UK in 2012 to work for idea management start-up Wazoku.

She has held a number of roles in product development (as well as a five-year stint as a lawyer) and in her current position is responsible for leading Wazoku’s product strategy and the planning and development for Wazoku’s suite of idea management applications.

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

My degree was in technical writing and editing, so I have always had an interest in tech. After graduating I worked for a software firm in the technical documentation team, before taking a complete sidestep and enrolling at law school. I then worked as a lawyer in the US for around five years, but missed working in technology and made the decision to return to the software sector.

I mostly worked with smaller firms and startups, leading product strategy and development, before moving to the UK in 2012 to lead product development at Wazoku, which makes SaaS to help organisation unlock ideas and innovation.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

To an extent I did. There wasn’t a grand plan or anything but at various times I have made big decisions to change direction, such as when I moved from software to law. After five years as an attorney I then decided it wasn’t what I wanted to do and actively decided to leave. I didn’t really have a plan at this stage though. I knew that in technology there are lots of opportunities out there, so have never been afraid of leaving a job without a new role to go to.

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

At Wazoku I lead product development. While I have a decent understanding of this, I am really not a developer! So to be taken seriously by development teams you need to demonstrate your understanding and if people think you don’t get it, they won’t respect you.

I make a big effort to keep myself up to date so I can earn the respect of more technical people than myself. I do a lot of my own research, reading a lot about new and emerging tech, talking to peers and attending more technical meet-ups and conferences than I really need to, so I can understand what’s going on.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

At Wazoku we have achieved some great things as a business, but from a personal perspective I am really proud of the product and development team I have built here. It’s an environment that gives solid career progression and opportunities for people to grow within the business. We have developed apprentices to become full-time employees and then seen them get promoted and I think we have put in place a structure where people can grow, both here at Wazoku and then in their subsequent career.

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

I would say that I am willing to take risks. My dad taught me this and early on in my law career I had a boss that did the same. Many people are afraid of risk and often take the safe choice and there are consequences to this. If you always play it safe, you will have a safe career, but possibly not the career you want. I was prepared to move countries and continents to come to London and work for an early stage start-up – that could be perceived as risky but for me it was manageable risk.

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

I would say to stop worrying about being a woman in tech. You will undoubtedly encounter people who will be gender-biased, but if you focus too much on that it will take too much of your energy. Focus instead on what you want to do, and how you can achieve it.

I also think many women feel they should be 100% qualified for a role or they won’t apply for it. I knew I was capable enough to do my first job, but didn’t really know the specifics and was willing to take the risk and go for it. Nobody is perfect for a role and if you wait until you are, you will always be a few steps behind in your career. You will need to put in the hard yards, and upskill while in the role, but that shouldn’t be a barrier to doing it. Be aspirational!

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

One of the main barriers starts way before women even enter the workplace. Young girls are encouraged to do maths and science, but when it gets to A-levels the numbers of women just aren’t there. Perhaps this is a cultural thing, but it means that young women are restricting their opportunities in tech before they have even got started. Without this base it is much harder to do STEM degrees and join the technology workforce.

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

All companies should provide people with a clear career path and give them good opportunities to progress. This is gender neutral, but men are more likely to take these opportunities, which goes back to the idea of women feeling they are ‘not quite ready’. Mentoring can play a massive role here, encouraging women to step up and instilling in them the confidence that they can succeed.

There is currently on 15 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

I would make sure that we address issues much earlier on, ensuring teenage girls are not blocking their ability to progress in tech because of choices they make when they are 16 or 17.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

It’s actually hard to be specific here, because technology is so broad and the roles within tech are also very broad. So you need to find the resources that are relevant to you. I work in product, so I look at UX content, resources about making better products and motivating a development team. But someone working in tech marketing would need something else. I would recommend seeking the resources that are tied to your area of interest and career.