Felicia WIlliams featured

Inspirational Woman: Felicia Williams | Director of Design & Research for Emerging Businesses, Twitter

Felicia WIlliamsFelicia recently joined Twitter as Director of Design & Research for Emerging Businesses, as well as the regional Design & Research leader for the UK.

 

The team and leadership at Twitter are incredible, smart and passionate about how they can grow their platform, and bring even better services and experiences to users. Her remit is to develop and scale products for small businesses and individuals looking to start their business.
Felicia is part of This is Engineering Day, a day created by the Royal Academy of Engineering to celebrate the world-shaping engineering that exists all around us but often go unnoticed, as well as the engineers who make this possible. As part of This is Engineering Day, the Royal Academy of Engineering has announced plans to create a new virtual museum named The Museum of Engineering Innovation, which can be accessed through QR Codes dotted around the country as well as by visiting Google Arts and Culture. To view the first collection of exhibits, which include Jonnie Peacock’s running blade, visit https://artsandculture.google.com/partner/museum-of-engineering-innovation. #BeTheDifference.

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

Well, first, I’m a woman. But you already knew that :) Digging in, I grew up in Oklahoma, in a small town (at the time), headed to upstate New York to attend Cornell University, where I played around with video games, oil painting, 3D animation and VR before nabbing my first job at MTV in NYC as a game designer and producer. I went on to work and/or live in some of the greatest and most diverse places in the world including Paris and Montreal as a Creative Director for Ubisoft, Tokyo as a pro gamer and manga artist, and Seattle as a hologram designer and patent holding mixed reality inventor. I would go on to London as a design leader, boosting teams and building zero to one products on a multitude of platforms including virtual reality, augmented reality and social media surfaces. Currently I am a Director at Twitter, leading teams and building products to support emerging and small businesses.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I certainly tried to! At about 12 years old, I knew for certain that I wanted to be a best-selling children's book novelist or possibly a best selling manga artist. I would have even taken being a famous painter as I loved to draw as much as I loved to write. I certainly didn't see the path that I've now traversed which has led me to a career in building and imagining amazing things using technology! Looking back now, I can see the desire to invent and the passion to build, which I expressed through small and large experiments at home (with many thanks to my father who is a scientist, and my mother who is a teacher). I wanted to make a big impact on the world as an adult, especially through the medium of storytelling, creativity and imagination. I'm happy to say that that's exactly what I get to do every day on the job; it's just a little different then what I imagined back then.

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

The biggest challenges I faced along the way were mostly related to my desire to blend in (or rather, to not stick out amongst my peers) when in actuality, there was no possible way for me to really do that being a woman and a woman of colour. Throughout my career, I have consistently found myself surrounded by people who do not look like me or come from my background. In every environment, there are the norms when it comes to culture and communication. Everything else is curiously strange at best or vehemently rejected at worst. Early in my career, after finding myself on the receiving end of multiple rebuffs and admonishments for being too much like myself (“It’s a cultural thing, Felicia, you just don’t quite fit in”), I worked hard to be like “everyone else”, taking special cues from the leaders whose success I wanted to emulate. Unfortunately, what I didn't realise was that I was going to stick out anyway! The exhaustive, never ending energy it took to “blend” would have been better utilised honing my strengths and shoring up the growth areas that would put me over the top. Today, I cherish the things that make me unique. It's something that I embrace and I encourage it in others.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I often answer this question by referencing the work that I did as one of the original product designers and design leaders on Microsoft Hololens, a holographic personal computer that has transformed the space of head-mounted displays, and helped usher in a new wave of VR, AR and mixed reality products. However, as I step back and look at my career holistically, the biggest achievement that I’ve gained as a leader and as a person, was breaking from a rigid, fixed, results only oriented leader to a more compassionate, flexible, resilient and adaptable leader. There is a style of doing business that places a strong value on top-down communication and top-down leadership. I found that while that certainly gets you part of the way, and can deliver passable results, it's impossible to achieve true greatness and indeed, carry the day, without placing trust and ownership in the hands of your team. As a leader, the greatest testament to achieving this, is when people are willing to leave their comfort zone and follow you, because they know, trust and respect you. I’ve had the good fortune of working with smart, capable people across multiple companies, and in many cases, people who have joined my team multiple times. I am grateful for their trust and grateful for the opportunity to continue to grow and learn through our shared experience.

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

I'm going to cheat and say two things; Resilience and passion. It's impossible, especially when we consider how difficult this past year has been, to understate how important passion is when it comes to my work. It is equally important to recognize that disruptions can and do happen and that things can go wildly sideways at a moment's notice. That can put a major dent in passion, and so growing and developing my capacity for resilience has been vital to my success. Alongside the work, I’ve been steadfast in taking needed time for healing, for reflection and for growth. It’s the only way I or any one can do their best work and be their best self.

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

My top tip is to find a community of people who have a passion for the technological space you're passionate about and get involved in the conversation! You're gonna want to start experimenting and building things, whether in software or simply drawing them up as a storyboard on a piece of paper (and you should). You should also get into the habit of collaborating and discussing your ideas with others; to stretch your thinking by getting fresh perspectives. You can do that as easily as messaging people that inspire you or reading amazing articles, tweets or threads from people who are working in spaces that bring you joy.

As technologists, we are inspired by the world around us, so it's important that you engage as soon as you can, even if it means just saying hi!

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

Unfortunately, there are many barriers for women in and outside of tech. And it all boils down to trust: can her team (up and down the org chart) trust her? Do they believe she is competent and has the skills to perform a job well. Unfortunately, women still find themselves measured by factors that have nothing to do with their core competencies and everything to do with just not looking or sounding the part. How often is a woman’s ethnicity used as an excuse for poor treatment because cultural bias has taught those in the majority that their style of communication, or their way of seeing the world is not equal to their own. These gender paradigms which regulate how others calculate the value of a woman has no place in a work environment. Period.

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

Companies can support women by making sure that the women in their company are fairly and accurately evaluated in accordance with their peers; that they are given ample opportunities to lead and contribute and set up for success with mentorship and guidance where needed; and to call out bias and remove it when it rears its head. They need to believe in women and trust women. And women need to believe and trust that their companies have their back.

There is currently an average of 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?

Immediately, I would make half of the world's CEO's who lead the largest and most impactful technology companies women. Leadership opportunities and the opportunities of women and people of color are directly affected by the leadership priorities set from the top. With women at the helm, more women will find open pathways and feel more supported, seen and celebrated in their workplace.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

There are too many to choose from, but if I had to pick a handful, I would definitely recommend classic like The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman, Make It Bigger by PAULA SCHER, Hidden Figures (the movie) and the book by Margot Lee Shetterly, AfroTech - an incredible tech conference oriented for black and brown engineers and inventors, SXSW, any Ted conference, and finally lots and lots of Star Trek. Star Trek Discovery is pretty great :)


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


Aurelia Specker featured

Inspirational Woman: Aurelia Specker | Partner Engineer & Coder, Twitter

Aurelia Specker

Aurelia studied Modern Languages at the University of Oxford but did a one-year switch course in Engineering to follow her dreams of becoming a Partner Engineer.

Now working at Twitter, no day is the same, a recent project involved using Twitter to create an app that measures how dry the soil is, so your plant will Tweet at you when it needs watering.

Aurelia says the best part of the job is how fun, rewarding and diverse it can be, but most importantly she loves coding because it enables her to continue learning. Aurelia first learnt to code through a not-for-profit organisation Code First, that teaches coding and tech skills to women and girls.

Aurelia is a part of This is Engineering Day, a day created by the Royal Academy of Engineering to celebrate the world-shaping engineering that exists all around us but often go unnoticed, as well as the engineers who make this possible. As part of This is Engineering Day, the Royal Academy of Engineering has announced plans to create a new virtual museum named The Museum of Engineering Innovation, which can be accessed through QR Codes dotted around the country as well as by visiting Google Arts and Culture. To view the first collection of exhibits, which include Jonnie Peacock’s running blade, visit https://artsandculture.google.com/partner/museum-of-engineering-innovation. #BeTheDifference

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

I currently work as a Partner Engineer on the Developer Relations team at Twitter, but my background is not in engineering or sciences. In fact, I have a degree in modern languages and literature, and my first job was in Market Research. A few years ago, I took a coding course with Code First Girls and I absolutely loved it! This course, and the people I met along the way, inspired me to change careers and move into Tech.

I’ve been a Partner Engineer for over two years now. This role blends the perfect amount of technical work (writing code, troubleshooting technical errors) and working closely with other people, whether that’s internally with a range of different teams, or externally with various partners and developers.

As a Partner Engineer, my role is to enable developers and customers to be successful with the Twitter developer platform. Developers use the Twitter API for a variety of different reasons, from powering academic research and commercial businesses, to learning to code and building apps that enhance Twitter as a platform.

Right now, my team and I are in the process of rebuilding the developer platform from the ground up. The next generation of the Twitter API is going to be built on a more modern foundation, including new features and endpoints, and will allow a wider range of different developers to find value in the platform. We have big plans for the future, which is both challenging and exciting. I feel lucky to be part of an initiative that will make it easier for developers to build solutions with the Twitter API and, in doing so, contribute to making Twitter, and the world, a better place.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Recently, I started thinking more purposefully about my career and what strategic steps I should be taking to get to where I want to be.

For me, this really boils down to exploring a few different options for the next 3-5 years. There’s obviously a level of unpredictability: I don’t need to know exactly where I’ll be in 10, 15, or 20 years, because I can’t foresee everything that will happen, on both a personal and a professional level. And, if anything, maintaining a degree of surprise is exciting!

However, I do think it is important to think about your current position and what it might enable you to do in the coming years. Write down different options and the steps required for each of these; then, have a conversation with your manager. Talking openly to your manager about your career plan ensures that s/he can help you gain relevant experience and support you in achieving your goals.

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

As I mentioned, I don’t have a formal technical background. This sometimes leads me to doubt myself and to question my abilities. Not having a strong technical foundation can be really frustrating at times, and I’m sometimes scared that colleagues might not take me as seriously as they otherwise would.

But when I feel like that, it’s important to not listen to the little voice inside of me that tells me I’m not good enough. Instead, I attempt to identify the gaps in my knowledge and fill these. For example, shortly after I joined Twitter, I took part in the #100DaysOfCode challenge, which helped increase my technical skills. I was also lucky to have the opportunity to code pair with some of my colleagues; this gave me a chance to ask questions and learn directly from more experienced engineers.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Landing a job at Twitter, as a Partner Engineer.

I vividly remember finishing the Python coding course I took with Code First Girls (I was still working in Market Research at that time) and wondering how on Earth I would get a job in Tech. I live in London and I didn’t have enough savings to stop working for a few months and take part in a coding bootcamp.

When I found out about the Partner Engineering job, I put all of my energy into applying. At the same time, I genuinely didn’t think I stood a chance of getting the job. The fact that I eventually did really demonstrates the need to believe in yourself, to push yourself outside of your comfort zone, and to put energy into trying, even when you don’t think that you stand a chance of success.

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

“Networking” has become a bit of a buzzword, but I think it’s really important to purposefully meet people who are where you want to be. Whether that’s in a specific role within your company or in a different industry altogether; connecting with others will open doors and lead to new opportunities. In my own case, I found my current job thanks to people that I met through Code First Girls. Go to meetups, get involved in various initiatives, and meet people. You’ll be surprised at how much you can learn from simply spending some time with people who are in an area that interests you.

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

Three things: be open to feedback, don’t be afraid to ask for help, and seek opportunities that push you outside of your comfort zone.

Receiving and asking for feedback can be uncomfortable; but I’m a strong believer that you can’t make meaningful progress without knowing what areas you need to improve in. Make sure to seek feedback regularly and, when you do, ask a specific question that will lead the person to highlight areas for growth. Don’t be offended by “negative” feedback; instead, view it as a powerful tool that will help you progress in your career.

In terms of seeking help, you’ll be surprised at how often people are willing to support you. And that’s especially true if you respect people’s time and are willing to help others in return. Asking questions when you’re stuck or don’t know something will help you move faster. And you’ll gain meaningful advice along the way.

Finally, pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone is scary (and in some cases it might lead to “failure”) but it will also allow you to reach the next level much faster. If you adopt a mindset of “I have nothing to lose”, you’ll end up doing things you never thought were possible!

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

Yes, I believe that such barriers still exist in tech, as well as in other industries today.

One barrier that is often mentioned is that workplaces are not set up for working mothers. In most families today, mothers continue to be the ones responsible for childcare duties; workplaces need to understand and address the challenges that come with these duties. To name a few options that could help tackle this issue: companies might want to allow flexible work schedules, they could work to ensure that team socialising activities take place during working hours, and they need to give both men and women equal parental leave, as well as equal opportunities for promotions and growth. For example, Twitter has a business resource group in place to support working parents; in my opinion, this type of initiative is key to making workplaces more attractive for women.

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

I think it’s important to acknowledge and openly talk about gender bias in the workplace. Companies can provide safe spaces and channels for women and minority groups to report unfair behaviour, and then actively investigate and act upon complaints, as well as provide tailored resources to help women progress their careers.

In addition, companies can also conduct active outreach and show young women the possibilities of a career in Tech. This includes, for example, going to schools and universities to talk to young people about job options, or hosting events and conferences with a goal of supporting minority groups in Tech.

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?

I see hiring quotas as a possible solution to better represent minority groups at all levels and within all departments. Interview panels, as well as the pool of candidates itself, need to be more diverse. And, as a society, we need to rethink how workplaces are set up and how we can make these more welcoming for women and other minority groups.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

The following books helped shape my understanding of gender bias in the workplace and helped me become more confident:

  • “Rise”, by Patty Azzarello
  • “Invisible Women”, by Caroline Criado Perez
  • “Lean In”, by Sheryl Sandberg
  • “The Confidence Code”, by Katty Kay & Claire Shipman

In terms of websites, Elpha is a private community and provides a platform for women in tech to come together and talk candidly about their personal and professional development.


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


Olivia Ifrim

Olivia Ifrim | Twitter

Olivia Ifrim

I got into tech when I was 4 when my dad bought me a computer and I started playing pixel art games.

I went to university to study computer science and landed my first internship with Microsoft. From there on everything is history as they say. I've worked in Microsoft, Amazon, startups and now Twitter. I've been incredibly lucky to have the right mentors and managers in my career who have helped me grow really fast, so I try to give back some of that by doing lots of talks and trying to help people who are just getting into tech.


'The perception of what it is to be a scientist needs to change,' says Dr Emily Grossman

Dr Emily Grossman is a force to be reckoned with. A scientist who has achieved a double first in science from Cambridge University, she has since become a writer, educator and science broadcaster, known for the Sky 1 programme, ‘Duck Quacks Don’t Echo’ and her regular appearances on news channels.

Dr Emily Grossman headshot 2Having recently suffered at the hands of Internet trolls, Grossman is now using her power to educate and reform people’s attitudes towards science and particularly towards women in the field.

In 2015, Grossman gave her opinion on a debate that had been sparked from Nobel prize-winning scientist, Tim Hunt’s comments. Hunt had said that, “Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab: you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them, they cry.”

Speaking of her decision to speak out, Grossman said, “I spoke out [against Tim Hunt] because his comments were irresponsible. Even if it was meant as a joke, it was an irresponsible thing to say, especially when so many girls lack the confidence to pursue careers in STEM.”

However, Grossman faced a huge backlash on Twitter and YouTube, with users making sexually aggressive comments, stereotyping female scientists and sending vulgar and insulting messages.

She says, “I was totally shocked by the backlash I received. What I found most disturbing was the misogyny and stereotyping – low lying and institutionalised sexism.”

After lots of self-reflection, looking after herself physically, spiritually and emotionally, and receiving support from End Online Misogyny, Grossman is now using her experiences to highlight that there is nothing wrong with being emotional and crying.

Her Tedx talk, entitled ‘Why science needs people to cry’, incorporates this idea and focuses on the concept of three ‘C’s – compassion, collaboration and creativity. Grossman argues that these are as essential to science as they are throughout any aspect of life.

“I wanted to share my experience so that other women would never feel as alone as I felt and so they might feel that they too could speak out.”

“My experiences have given me a platform to talk about online misogyny and offer support to other women. My response has not come from a place of anger, but education.”

“I just want to live in a world of equality of opportunity.”

Despite establishing an amazing career in science, Grossman confides that she hasn’t always had confidence in herself.

Having grown up with a supportive family and attended an all-girls school, Grossman says that she ‘didn’t have any inkling that a passion for maths and science was anything out of the ordinary for a girl.”

However, while studying at university surrounded by ‘male students, male lecturers and male tutors’ she began to question her abilities.

“I felt very, very out of place and different. At first I took that as a challenge but about six months in I lost my confidence.”

She now wants people to understand that, “science is not just about logic and analysis but also creativity and imagination.”

“The perception of what it is to be a scientist needs to change.”

Enticing women and girls into STEM is still a problem and Dr Grossman argues that we need to show girls all the exciting careers that are on offer. She also suggests that more role-models, a change in teaching methods and more available support would help encourage more girls to think of a career in STEM.

“We should be showing all young people that whatever qualities they possess, as long as they are excited about understanding the world, then STEM will welcome them.”

You can find out more about Emily and watch her Tedx talk here.

If you are suffering from online abuse and misogyny, you can find more information about End Online Misogyny here.

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“Diversity on boards is crucial” says Baroness Martha Lane Fox as she is welcomed at Twitter

Baroness Martha Lane Fox has penned her thoughts on becoming the newest member to join Twitter’s board stating, “diversity on boards is critical to sustaining and advancing performance.”
Baroness Martha Lane Fox
Baroness Martha Lane Fox

Lane Fox announced last week that she would be joining the social media giant’s board by tweeting that is would be the “best job ever.”

It was also announced that Pepsi’s chief financial officer Hugh Johnston will be joining the board. In February Twitter posted a quarterly net loss of $90m (£64m).

Lane Fox was the UK's Digital Champion until 2013, the same year she joined the House of Lords. She is best known for founding lastminute.com with Brent Hoberman in 1998. The company was sold in 2005 for £577m.

More recently she founded a national body called Dot Everyone, that champions digital innovation.

Speaking to the BBC she said: "I'm absolutely over the moon to be part of the journey of an iconic company that I love using."

"Watch out Silicon Valley - the Brits are coming."

In an article for the Telegraph she wrote: “I'm incredibly excited to join Twitter on its journey to more deeply focus on inclusion and diversity at all levels including board, and be a part of the amazing team that will help shape the platform's future development of products, services and ideas.

“Diversity on boards is critical to sustaining and advancing performance and having worked in the tech sector since its early days, I find it astonishing that there’s already a profound gender imbalance - at every level - in an industry that didn’t even exist 30 years ago.”

“Having worked in the tech sector since its early days, it still surprises me that the original promises of the internet - to empower, be universal and uphold democracy - have somehow stalled.”

“A strong and dynamic tech sector is essential if Britain is to flourish in the digital world. We won’t – and shouldn’t – always compete on price. The battles we should be looking to win hinge on innovation, skill and creativity. However, we’re currently playing this game with one hand tied behind our backs.”

Doteveryone recently published data giving an overview of women in technology finding that only 17% of tech jobs are occupied by women and that less than one in 10 of these are in leadership positions.

The research also found that women make up only 3% of partners in venture capital firms, 20% of tech founders and 4% of software engineers.

"If we don’t rectify the gender imbalance [in technology], we are missing out on 50 per cent of the talent pool."

According to a McKinsey Global Institute report $12 trillion could be added to global GDP by 2025 by advancing women’s equality.

Lane Fox added: “On a global scale, we see that women entrepreneurs are poised to lead the next wave of growth in global technology ventures. Research shows the high-tech companies women build are more capital-efficient than the norm.”

She said that as a nation we need to do more to support women in tech: “This fast-growing sector needs to offer flexible working hours to make a tech career a lifelong career for more women. Some companies get it. These are the most agile and best placed to thrive as they take advantage of the untapped pool of talent.

“It's also difficult to raise money to build your own tech business from external sources if you have no traction, revenue, or impact in the marketplace. Pre-seed funding needs more focus and attention from investors so that more women can have the confidence to find their feet during the transition from business idea to execution.”