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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Sophia-Cooper-featured

#lifegoals | Meet Sophia Chambers, a software engineer & young mum proving you can have it all

 

Sophia Cooper

Sophia Chambers, 28, is a Software Engineer at Sky Betting and Gaming.

At 24, Chambers started her degree in Software Engineeirng BENG at Sheffield Hallam University.

Here she describes how she juggles motherhood with work, how she began her career in technology and what keeps her motivated.

Tell me about your young family, how was the change becoming a mum?

What isn’t challenging about becoming a mum? Lol! I have three children in total – five, nine and ten years old.

What challenges did you face practically?

The lack of sleep was probably the hardest thing to deal with! With that, the time management – making sure everyone’s where they need to be with everything they need. Whether that’s making sure each child has their PE kit on their PE day, homework or even extra curriculum activities. Between three, this can become quite a challenge, I believe I’ve truly ‘mastered’ the art of multi-tasking, ha ha, well at least I like to think so!

What challenges did you face emotionally?

Sometimes, I think working parents all get the “guilt” feeling. Putting your children into after school, breakfast or even holiday clubs – sometimes can be quite difficult. I think most parents experience the ongoing circle – you want to work to provide your children with great experiences, but you also want to stay at home and spend more time with them – it’s an ongoing circle of events – the realistic key to this is balancing the two worlds – between work and family.

What challenges did you face inspirationally?

You have to learn to balance the work – family lifestyle. Sometimes, this really can be such a challenge. Ambition to do well in your career, can sometimes make you push back on family time and vice versa. I’ve always had high ambition and a want to progress well in my career, to achieve highly, but sometimes you need to be realistic.

How did you come to decide tech was for you?

From the age of 12, I began teaching myself how to code simple websites using HTML and CSS – even at this stage, it became addictive! I had a keen interest in graphic design and created a small site that provided things like wallpapers, profile layouts etc for users to download. I then went more into the programming world, experimenting with PHP and Javascript – producing small websites for local business’ and family members.

How do you make time to study and balance the needs of the young ‘uns?

My interest in tech, developed into a degree and a career. I’m very fortunate to work for a company that allows me to work from home. I don’t actually know how I would function without the flexible work opportunity that Sky Bet provides. As a Software Engineer and a mum, if one of my children is sick or if there’s a school play etc, I don’t need to worry about not being present or being there – because I can. I can work my hours from home and be there for my children when they need me, it really is invaluable.

What did other people say? Were they supportive?  

It was very “50/50” – some were supportive, some not. I found it most difficult within my first year at university, there was around 4 girls in total, the rest male. Which made it slightly harder to enjoy the degree at first, on top of which, it was even more difficult being a parent. I couldn’t really socialise like others within my year and I wasn’t highly interested in games etc, which made bonding difficult. Thankfully, I had a few people including my Dad, Husband and Grandma that were super supportive throughout which pushed me into continuing with a subject that I loved.

Did you ever have self-doubts?

All the time. Literally, ALL THE TIME. It’s a case of “you are your worst enemy”.  I think one of my worst traits is the lack of confidence.

What kept you motivated?

I genuinely LOVE to achieve – in fact it’s probably an addiction! I enjoy hard work and I enjoy the sense of achieving a goal – completing an ambition. I suppose, I’m a bit of a “weirdo” – I have to be doing something all the time – even on holiday. But through it all the main motivation is the ability to provide my family with opportunities and a good life. On a selfish level, it’s to turn back the years in 40 years’ time (hopefully lol) and be proud of the career I achieved, with the steps it took to get there. Ultimately however, I am very fortunate as I genuinely LOVE the job that I do, being a Software Engineer within a company with such great culture and co-workers barely makes it feel like work at all!

What drove you to take the first step into tech?

Pure interest. Genuinely pure interest. I began curious with how websites and the internet worked (I know, sad right?), which was quite difficult growing up as my interests never seemed to align with those my friends had and I began to feel as though I was different.

Now though I love that I am able to support and inspire those who felt the same as me and support them with their journeys into tech related careers.

Were you ever worried it wasn’t the right decision?

Risking my previous career in Dental, to go back to university to finally start my Software engineering career always had its risks. “Was I going to be good enough?”, “What if I fail? “, “What if I don’t gain employment through the degree?” – I think all these thoughts are pretty standard.

What would you say to other women about managing their life choices?

You have to be in a career that makes you happy, if you’re in a career that you enjoy it makes life so much easier to balance. It doesn’t matter what the sector or job role is, as long as you’re happy you will always achieve – if you’re in a career that you enjoy, you’ll never have to work again. The opinions of our social peers does not matter so much when we get older, so take that risk, go back and do what you enjoy! YOLO!


Angelika Podlinska featured

Inspirational Woman: Angelika Podlinska | Software Engineer, Spicy Mango

 

Angelika Podlinska

Angelika Podlinska is a Software Engineer at Spicy Mango

Before she embarked on her software engineering apprenticeship, Angelika had been planning to join the armed forces. Having never had much technology training at school, Angelika had had no exposure to the world of tech and didn’t know what to expect. During her course, she was one of only two female members out of 12 and had to adjust to learning new skills and different ways of working. She’s now a respected software engineer at Spicy Mango, leading projects from start to finish and consulting on the evolving technologies in the broadcast arena.

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

I have always been a little bit of a geek and into challenging myself. I hadn’t considered or tried coding until I applied for an apprenticeship with British Airways as a Software Developer. It was a great start to my career as I got to experience the different roles and departments within the company, each with their own unique range of responsibilities. I completed my apprenticeship with a distinction and began to look for a new challenge to build my knowledge further. I started working at Spicy Mango and have loved every minute of it. It presents new challenges and problems to overcome on every project - every day is a school day as they say! I have worked in IT for over four years now.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

A career in technology wasn’t my original intention, we had little exposure to IT at school and I wasn’t aware of the possibilities or what it involved. When I was at school I wanted to be a Police dog handler, as I love working with dogs. However, it was difficult to get into and it doesn’t have the same possibilities or career opportunities. I like to plan for everything, so I can prepare for what’s coming as best I can, but the apprenticeship was a jump into the unknown. At the time I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect but I’m glad I decided to take the leap.

Have you faced any particular challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?

To begin with the main challenge for me was lack of knowledge. I had to understand how programming worked and how the different areas worked together. Then I had to learn about all the different types of software and possibilities out there. I spent a lot of time researching things I didn’t understand as well as using the knowledge of my mentors to help me progress in my career. It took time and hard work, but it has paid off - I even manage to answer the odd question on stack overflow now!

I believe my challenge is one that everyone faces in this sector; it is the nature of the business. The IT sector is constantly changing, evolving, and developing, new languages, software and new fields of expertise are required. In order to be successful, you not only have to stay on top of this but learn how and where to apply.

If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?

I’d like to place more of a focus on equality. We should all be competing fairly with those around us, being measured on how productive we are and the quality of work we produce, not our genders or backgrounds. At the moment there’s an emphasis on increasing the amount of women in tech and while this may prove a positive change in the short term, it’s important that it doesn’t result in discouraging any other people from entering the sector and causing a further divide.

How would you encourage more girls and young women into a career in STEM?

I think it’s important that from an early age both boys and girls are encouraged into STEM careers. This should be taken into account from the very beginning of their educational development, often parents are still drawn to gender stereotypical toys e.g. cars and ‘tech toys’ for boys and dolls for girls. Children should be educated from an early age about the STEM opportunities available, and it’s great to see an increasing amount of toy manufacturers taking this into account with their products. More apprenticeships should be offered in these areas too to help develop their skills.

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

I’ve been a mentor and a mentee. Having a mentor is particularly important when you’re just starting out, it gives you a boost of confidence knowing that there is someone there to guide you if you start to go off track. The best mentors will challenge their mentees and thrive to get the best from those they are working with, helping them to find their unique attributes. I get a real thrill out of introducing those I mentor to new skills and helping them nurture the talents they have. Once you see students succeed in something you’ve mentored them through you get a great sense of pride and joy, and it’s not a one-way relationship, students will also invite you to look at things from different angles and make you question why you do things like you do.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I think finding a supportive, innovative company to work with has been my biggest achievement so far. Spicy Mango has so many exciting projects and I feel lucky to work with all of our clients. Aside from the projects, the team is also really inclusive and we all strive to achieve our goals together.

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

We’ve got lots of interesting projects lined up, so I’m really looking forward to getting ‘hands on’ and I’m ready to face all of the challenges that may appear. I love what I do, and I’d like to continue expanding my skills in the tech world. I’m currently in the process of finishing my degree in Computer Science and I’m hoping to take this further in the future, possibly onto a PhD.


Inspirational Woman: Louisa Spicer | Software Engineer, Echo

 

Louisa Spicer is a Software Engineer at Echo.

Echo was founded just over three years ago and already has 100,000 patient downloads so far and a Net Promotor Score of 83. Echo is on the NHS Digital app store, one of the approved digital tools available to patients, and is an NHS GP Systems of Choice, which ensures GPs and practice staff have access to the best technology to support patient care. Echo were also recently awarded the Best British Mobile Startup 2018 at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and won the 1st Mayor of London MedTech Business Awards last month.

Echo is a prescription management app which empowers patients in the UK to take control of their health and has the potential to significantly ease the strain on health services. In the UK, 40 per cent of patients do not take medication as directed, costing the NHS billions each year and leading to approximately 20 million unnecessary GP appointments. Echo is on a mission to transform the future of healthcare, and is the first app to improve lines of communication between GP, pharmacist and patient.

On the app, patients are able to order repeat prescriptions when stocks are running low- and will also receive reminders for when to take medication and when to order more. Echo also seeks to improve communication lines between GPs and their patients, making sure that information is clear and informative without being either patronising or too clinical and therefore hard to understand.

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

I’ve grown up loving anything and everything to do with the Creative Arts. Finding it difficult to choose what career path to take, I just went with what I was most intrigued about at the time - the theory behind the cinematic arts. I graduated with a degree in Film Studies and went on to become a Digital Producer at a media agency. This involved helping to oversee Film and TV asset deliveries to various digital platforms like iTunes and Netflix.

I soon started to miss being able to express myself through some form of creativity though, so I started looking for other career paths that would satisfy this. That’s when I discovered the world of coding and haven’t looked back! Just over a year and a half ago I wrote my first line of code and attended an intensive 3-month coding bootcamp, Makers Academy, where I learned the very basics of Software Craftsmanship required to land a job as a Junior Developer.

I am now a Junior Software Developer at Echo; part of a team building many exciting developments of an internal software application. There’s always something new to learn and that’s what I love the most!

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I found it hard to pin down exactly what I wanted to do, but the various careers I thought of always revolved around creativity. Unfortunately I didn’t realise a career in Software Development was even a possibility for me until a couple of years ago.

Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?

A major challenge of mine was having the wrong mindset. It’s a typical story but it was/is hard to get over that “imposter syndrome” feeling and thinking that I’m not the right kind of person to be “good” at coding, due to many factors including not having the typical Mathematical or Technical background that a Computer Scientist graduate would have. This cloud was at its peak when applying for my first job as a Developer, carrying over well into that job too.

What really helped me to overcome these thoughts was being told about the Growth Mindset. In the most basic terms, this is just about realising there’s no limit to what you can achieve if you’re persistent and open to putting the effort in.

If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?

To always be treated with fairness and equality. What more can you ask for?

How would you encourage more women and girls into a career in STEM?

Show young girls (and boys) how creative and fun a career in STEM can really be. As much as I appreciate that I was free to choose whatever subjects I wanted to do at secondary school, I’m sure I would have been willing to learn more about STEM fields at an earlier age if I had more guidance from teachers on the exciting range of things you can do and build.

There’s an amazing amount of free or cheap online courses to learn and play with code - this means that it’s now easier to develop skills in your free time, at whatever age.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Believing in myself enough to commit to learning to code and not stopping when it gets tough.

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

To gain more confidence and keep growing my coding skills to the next level so that I can pass on some knowledge in the future. It would be amazing to build up enough confidence to get out there and be more active in the movement to help inspire and guide more girls and women into STEM.


Hannah Pretswell featured

Inspirational Woman: Hannah Pretswell | Software Test Engineer at Scott Logic

 

Hannah is a Test Engineer at Scott Logic, a UK-based consultancy delivering high quality software to clients in financial services, the public sector and healthcare.

She is a graduate in Character Animation from Teesside University, as well as a STEM Ambassador, and spends much of her free time drawing, painting, dancing, and climbing.

software
Tell us a bit about yourself and your company

I’m a Software Test Engineer at Scott Logic, a software consultancy specialising in solutions for financial trading, and it’s a fantastic place to work. We sit in an open plan office, which makes working in an Agile environment so much easier.

I sit with my team of three developers, just a stone’s throw from the other testers in the office. It makes fostering both a project community and a test community ideal, and we often share information and tips during the work day.

Did you ever sit down and plan your journey to becoming a software tester?

Becoming a software tester has been an interesting journey for me, and it’s definitely not something I planned. I studied character animation at university, and as a way to get my foot in the door of the games industry, as I’m a keen gamer, I landed a job as games tester. This was my first ever experience of testing, and I fell in love. I figured that if games need testing, other software would need testing too. So I researched what I needed to become a software tester.

I was overwhelmed and underqualified, but thankfully I’m not one to give up easily. I taught myself basic HTML/CSS and JavaScript and created a very simple, 90s-esque website with some of my artwork on it. I studied the difference between Agile and waterfall software development methodologies, and what black box and white box testing were.

In doing this research, I had shown potential employers passion and interest, which is an important part of being a software tester.

What advice would you give someone who wishes to move into a technical role for the first time?

Unfortunately, software testing isn’t something that really gets taught anywhere. If you do a computer science degree, then you might briefly touch upon unit testing, but you won’t study it anywhere near the level required for most testing jobs. If you really want to be a tester, my advice is to be proactive.

Unlike software development, where you can sit down and learn a language and build something, if you don’t have something to test how can you practice?

You could learn automation testing, pick up something like Protractor.js and find some Angular websites to write tests against, but that doesn’t tackle the issue of sapient testing.

If you aren’t currently in a testing job, I’d advise reading, and getting involved in the testing community. I’d recommend Explore it! Reduce Risk and Increase Confidence with Exploratory Testing by Elisabeth Hendrickson, Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, and, An Introduction to General Systems Thinking by Gerald Weinberg (this is actually the first testing book I read).

You should also participate in conversations on social media, and join local testing or Agile development meet ups. There are two main Slackchats I love: ministryoftesting.slack.com and testersio.slack.com.

And I recommend reading blogs by James Bach, Michael Bolton and Katrina Clokie. Follow them on Twitter too, along with anyone else who has interesting conversations about testing. You can learn a surprising amount in 140 characters.

Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?

The biggest challenge that I face is that I don’t have a background in code. New projects generally mean new technology, and though picking that up might come easy for someone with three to four years computer science experience, it does not come easily for me. I spend a lot of time learning, and I’m thankful that I really enjoy learning (if I could stay at school forever, I would) which helps me pick things up quickly.

The real challenge comes down to Google. It is so difficult to search for things on Google when you don’t actually know what you’re supposed to be searching for! Thankfully this is easy to overcome - simply ask for help. You can’t learn if you can’t hold your hands up and admit you don’t know something. Suffering in silence is detrimental to both you and your company.

If you want to progress as a software tester, it’s a constant learning process. Like any job in technology, things are constantly changing.

There’s always a new bit of tech, or a new process to be used. The benefit of staying at the forefront of the technologies and ideas is that you get to try things out before other people.

This means you get to build an opinion, which you can then share. This builds up not only your knowledge as a tester, but your reputation too if you write blogs and share your insights on social media.

Have you benefited from coaching or mentoring? Do you feel this is/has been important to your professional development?

I’ve never been officially mentored as such, since the way Scott Logic’s test team works is we all help each other out. However, the company is in the process of rolling out a new internal coaching programme. Up to now though, I guess I could say that everyone I work with has been somewhat of a mentor. They have all been integral to my professional development, helping me with different test ideas, helping me figure out personal projects to pursue, or helping me get my head around different technical languages.

I have taken part in being a mentor myself, and that opened up a lot of opportunities. I’m involved with the STEM Ambassadors, and over the last year I’ve been involved with many school activities; either practice interviews or giving talks to young students about my role in testing. I signed up for the Newcastle University mentorship program, and was partnered with a second year student who was considering testing as a career choice. This led to the problem of the lack of internships for testers, which I took to our test lead and head of development and within a few months we welcomed our first test intern.

What does the future hold for you?

I’m looking forward to all the future projects I get to be involved with, since every project requires a different approach to testing and new challenges to overcome. I would like to garner enough experience and knowledge to be able to consult with businesses and help them perfect their testing within their organisation.

I also hope to carry on with my work with STEM Ambassadors and help inspire a new generation of people to pursue a career in technology. I believe kids should be informed of as many career options as possible, so they can make more informed decisions as they get older. I also hope to show, courtesy of my odd background in animation, that if you do make an “incorrect” choice somewhere along the way, it isn’t the end of the world. If you have enough drive and passion you can succeed in anything you want.