diversity, boys club featured

Why the software sphere is crying out for diversity

diversity, boys club

Article provided by Daniela Aramu, Head of User Experience, Thomsons Online Benefits

Just 16.8 per cent of people working in the UK tech sector are women.

Addressing this imbalance should be a priority for businesses. And not just to reach gender parity – which is a worthy goal in and of itself – but because it’s a commercial imperative, particularly when it comes to software development.

Does it matter who develops tech?

End users’ own experiences will shape how they engage with software and technology. For this reason, all good technologists should place audience demands and preferences at the centre of their designs.

If customers are struggling to use a product or feel that its functionality isn’t up to scratch, they’ll stop using it and go elsewhere. And there’s so much choice available to consumers now that if they don’t like one option, there’ll be half a dozen more to try, with new products launching all the time.

So, unless software is really tailored to their needs, people will likely move on.

Having people on board who can relate to different users and understand how they think and operate will help these considerations to be weaved into the earliest stage of the development process.

For designers, empathy is second nature. The role is all about understanding user needs and working with developers to transform that idea into a real product with real code. For developers, empathy is not such a prerequisite, but it is an incredible advantage, as they will be more willing to change their code structure to reflect user mental models.

When considering the above, it becomes apparent why there’s such a dire need for greater gender diversity in tech – and particularly on the development side. Developers do not have that much exposure to the needs of users, nor are they really taught to empathise. Increasing gender diversity in teams is one of the simplest ways to ensure the needs of women are considered in the development process.

But is it just women?

Of course, gender diversity is not the only thing that makes software development stronger. Different backgrounds, experiences and specialities all contribute to a richer development process and better end-product.

For example, my background lies in psychology; something which I regularly apply to developing the user experience of Thomsons’ software. In fact, studying people’s behaviour and perception turned out to be the perfect fit for my job in tech.  And my team is full of people with a range of backgrounds – everything from interior designers to border control. Each one can bring new perspectives to the design process.

We’re all united by logical thinking and a real curiosity about human behaviour, but crucially, our experiences and backgrounds mean we approach problems in very different ways.

Building cohesion in a diverse team

Having a diverse team is fantastic for getting the job done – we have people from all over the world working together. But it’s really important to be conscious of people’s backgrounds when communicating with them. For example, the world of software often comes with its own, complex language and shorthand. When people are new to the field, or new to tech in its entirety, you must take the time to give proper explanations and technical descriptions.

Bringing people on board can therefore be a fairly time-intensive task, but it’s a small price to pay for the diverse ideas and perspectives you get in return.

Bringing the best on board

For those in charge of hiring new tech talent I would urge them to broaden their candidate criteria. Of course, they need to have the skills to get the job done. But beyond that, should what university you attended, or if you even attended one at all, be a deciding factor in shortlisting prospective new recruits? Should your background or prior work experience?

I would say, no. In fact, it’s not something I particularly consider when recruiting for my team. I’m more interested in how people problem-solve and what their drivers are in building a product. This naturally leads to a more diverse workforce, where women are better represented, and teams are much more representative of the people that will use their products.


Inspirational Woman: Claire Mitchell | Software developer and computer programmer

 

Claire Mitchell is a software developer and computer programmer for a range of clients.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your company
Software

I’m a developer creating software for a range of clients in a fun, central London office environment. Since I started coding two years ago I’ve become very involved in startups, which has fueled my passion for the industry. I love putting new products together and have found that working in technology has brought out my creativity. It’s great to be part of a community of people who love doing the same thing.

Outside of my day job, I am also involved in several initiatives including Node Girls, a series of workshops which teach women how to do back-end coding, with events taking place regularly across London. I’m also working on a fashion start-up project called Mode For Me which is a crowdfunding platform for emerging fashion designers.

We realised that people graduate from fashion courses all the time and don’t have the money to produce full collections, so the idea is that they can post products on the website and then third parties can offer funding against collections they like. It’s a great way to offer opportunities to new designers.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I’ve had an interest in computers for as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t really something I thought I would do for a living until about two years ago.

I had originally planned to be a civil engineer following university, but after moving to London I found the startup community full of people who loved their jobs, with many of them working as developers.

I knew I wanted to work in startups so it sounded really appealing to me, but the only jobs going were for developers or people in marketing. I started learning to code on my own using various online resources, and was accepted onto Founders & Coders, a free coding boot-camp in London, and that launched me into my career..

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

I loved studying science and maths when I was at school, but they were definitely male dominated subjects. There were maybe 30 girls on my degree course in a year of around 170 students. But I never let that put me off. I’ve been lucky enough to combine that passion with the science skills I learnt through my degree in engineering. It’s led me to where I am now, working with really exciting startups to bring new digital products to life and I find myself being inspired every single day by what I’m creating.

The challenges I faced have also meant I’m now committed to encouraging girls to continue studying STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects at school, and not be discouraged by thinking science isn’t for girls. There are so many interesting and fulfilling careers they can pursue with a STEM background, including software development like me, which will be the most in-demand in 2023. That’s why I am a role model for EDF Energy’s Pretty Curious programme, to show girls in an engaging way what a career in STEM could be like for them.

I would love for the tech industry to be as diverse as the UK population and for it to become more accessible for minority groups.

Free coding education is something very close to my heart, so it would be great to see more teaching initiatives and tech meetups being organised across the UK.

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

I always start the day with a coffee at my desk and I have a ‘stand up’ with the rest of my team at about 10am, where we discuss what we achieved the previous day and what we’re planning to tackle over the course of the day. I work for most of the day at my computer, coding. My job mostly involves breaking down big problems into smaller, easy to solve issues and then solving them with code. In web development, there’s a good mix of different skills required, from design and styling, through to creating and applying logical solutions to problems, so there’s always something varied to do.

How have you benefited from coaching or mentoring?

Some advice that was given to me was ‘always continue learning.’ As a developer, it’s a particularly relevant piece of advice because everything moves at such a fast pace. If you’re not learning, you’ll be left behind. I use this as a measure for myself – if I’m still learning then I know I’m making progress.

What would be your top tips for women looking to pursue a career in tech?
  • Find a community that will help you. I would not be in this position if I was always trying to do things on my own. I made friends and found other like-minded people and we have since worked through problems together and encouraged each other along the way.
  • Keep learning. Set yourself a list of things that you want to know. It doesn’t matter how fast you tick the boxes, just take the steps (however big or small) to crossing them off your list.
  • Look online. There are ways of learning how to code without having to pay a fortune. There are many paid courses that are beneficial but if you are strapped for cash, there are plenty of free options too.
  • Give it a try! I have friends who studied languages at school and gave up maths as soon as they could, but now they’re excellent developers.
For girls who feel STEM subjects aren’t for them, what would your advice be?
  • Stick with them. Having STEM qualifications can help open doors to interesting and stimulating career opportunities in future and you can learn lots of transferrable skills, too.
  • Learn to code at school. Coding is a powerful skill in this increasingly digital world and will only become more important as we come to use more and more technology in our working and personal lives.
  • STEM is creative. You don’t need to work in the arts to enhance your artistic sensibilities – coding can be really creative too, and the same can be said for many STEM careers.
  • Think about the bigger picture. Look beyond the language and the syntax and think about the overall picture of what you can achieve with coding. The possibilities are almost endless.