Inspirational Woman: Suzanne Linton | Co-Founder, Freestyle

Suzanne LintonSuzanne Linton co-founded digital product studio Freestyle more than 20 years ago.

Her people first-vision has built an award-winning culture and a close-knit team which uses technology to help businesses bring clarity to complex situations, problems and customer challenges.

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

I started off doing a degree in Mechanical Engineering in Manchester in the 1980s. I wanted a career involving science and maths and was up for pioneering for women in a very male-based course. There were exciting areas in the course - I loved the coding, loved the design engineering, but I wasn’t as much a fan of the more pure physics and what I saw as the traditional elements of the syllabus and the way it was taught.  After a year, I switched to an Accountancy degree (because it had a job at the end of it which was a requirement from my dad, and not because I loved accountancy!) and then did my ACA exams after. I saw this as a general business qualification but for several years it was a constraining factor – as a lot of recruiters (in the early to mid ‘90s) could only see you in a finance role.

Looking back now, I should have chosen my first degree course better, a degree more aligned with the industry I am now in (and love) and the role that I have eventually ended up doing.

Working in Technology is exciting – it’s constantly changing and you’re always on your toes, keeping up to date with all the new developments and methods, assessing them and selecting the best next steps for your projects/business/future strategy.

I’m now heading up a product studio, delivering technology for clients, which means I have to be on top of the latest trends across many different industries. You get to use technology to solve problems in different sectors, evolving and adapting solutions from disparate industries to deliver real value to people - which is very rewarding.

My role now is building the company and the team to be the best it can be. I want each individual at Freestyle to be the best version of themselves (and obviously all more talented than me) – and helping them achieve this means that we can, as a team, give our clients the best solutions.  I believe that there is a better way of working together than the traditional hierarchical structures and I am making it my mission to develop our own way of pulling together to create success for everyone.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No – almost the opposite really. I always thought I would have my own business but I wasn’t sure  what that was going to be. I believe you have to keep your mind open and be receptive to opportunities, you never quite know where things will take you. I do like going with the flow and jump on opportunities as they come.

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

There was casual sexism in the 1990s and I initially wanted to make a stand and fight the status quo in the companies I was in. However, I chose instead to opt out of that scene when I realised that staying could severely limit my career prospects and that my energy would be better served in more forward thinking companies and teams. Maybe I should have stayed and tried to make a difference, a stand, but it didn’t feel right for me at the time.

I have been made redundant, which at the time was a big blow to my confidence but it was actually a great opportunity to rethink as it was off the back of this that I got involved in starting Freestyle.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Starting Freestyle and leading it successfully over the last 20 years, through many ups and downs. Also seeing how previous teammates at Freestyle have gone onto other big roles in the industry – knowing we gave them the platform and foundation to build their own stories.

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

Remaining optimistic and being resilient to all the swerves you have to keep a company solvent and pioneering at the same time.

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

Technology is a constantly changing field. You have to have an open mind and be prepared to shift thinking – but that’s what makes it exciting. Keeping abreast of all the changes is a challenge, but you have to invest your time and passion in understanding your own areas and endeavour to become knowledgeable/an expert. And networking – I don’t think I really believed in the power of this when I was younger but I missed a trick. Develop your personal network as much as you can – whether on social channels or in person. Get yourself a speaker slot, write articles and get them published where your tribe will see them, find yourself a mentor – just ask, you’ll be surprised how people are generally very willing to help. You never know where your next job/project/client is going to come from and it might just be from the next person to notice you.

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

There are barriers for diversity in general and not just for women. The challenge to overcome them is, of course, multifaceted – but having more visible role models has to be a major target. Some of the world's most inspirational and successful people have come from a tech background.

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

Businesses should always recruit the best - but maybe companies need to work a bit harder to seek out the women who will make a difference in our world - and with this also other groups, who are not as represented as they should be. There was a recent example of a change of language in job ads in the water industry to be less ‘masculine’ in the requirements, having a big difference in the number of women applying. I suggest companies should have a real understanding of the language changes we can make in the whole of the working world, not just job ads, to make the workplace seem much more accessible - a really easy change to embrace.

There is currently only 17% 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?

Change the perception at school age, show how exciting and world changing technology can be, show how much of the world is seen through the male perspective and how this needs to be balanced out. All the way through school we should be showing how sexy technology can be – whether that is through using fashion to talk about tech or explaining the roles that exist in the real world where you can.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I really enjoy listening to podcasts but also the radio. I find Jim Al-Kalili’s ‘The Life Scientific’ on Radio 4 very inspirational. It makes you realise how un-linear many successful scientists and tech careers are – from people being told by their teachers that they would never get their GCSEs in science to becoming a professor (in a science), to women coming to tech later in their careers and making major breakthroughs. Have a browse through the many recordings on BBC Sounds.

WeAreTechWomen has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Professor Sue Black OBE, Debbie Forster MBE, Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here