BLOG: De-coding Diversity in Tech - Interviews with Women in Software Engineering

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De-coding Diversity in Tech - Interviews with Women in Software Engineering

Blog by Gaia Caruso, Talent Consultant, Sparta Global 

 

Throughout my journey researching gender equality in the digital ecosystem, I had the opportunity to join Sparta Global, an organisation that connected me with a community of inspiring, talented women engineers. A signatory of the Tech Talent Charter (TTC), Sparta Global is a technology services provider that strives to address the skill set gap in industry and to create a more diverse workforce by running its own graduate academy. Here I had the privilege to meet some incredible women who are passionate about making a change in the world through technology.

The backgrounds, academic narratives, and life experiences these women bring with them could not be more diverse. And they all have inspiring messages and powerful lessons to share. Their stories deserve to be highlighted because they speak about determination, perseverance and creativity.

Determination to apply their unique intelligence, ambition and skills to shape successful careers for themselves. Perseverance to keep learning and to endure through the challenges of picking up the hard skills, even after studying non-technical degrees. And creativity: both a consequence of diversity, and the key to navigate our ever-changing and increasingly complex digital world.

These are the connective and developmental forces that fuel change and breed complexity of ideas in our local tech communities, just as they do in the wider industry landscape.

I wanted to showcase the experiences of two of these women, Alison Opeloyeru and Katie Frost.

Both Alison and Katie joined the Sparta Global Graduate scheme after completing a technical training course at Code First: Girls (CF: G), a social enterprise that helps increase diversity in the tech workforce by fostering a supportive community infrastructure.  

Alison – a Law graduate who has recently completed the Sparta Global graduate programme – is now preparing to start on her first client project in London as a Software Tester Engineer. Katie recently joined our graduate scheme and is successfully training on advanced technical frameworks after studying a degree in History at university.

 

GAIA: How did you decide to go into tech and did you always know that working in technology was what you wanted to do?

ALISON: I studied Law at university and I never imagined I would be able to get into tech as a career at the time. Towards the end my degree, I didn’t feel like Law was the correct path for me and after I graduated I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I started thinking about the different careers directions I could take with my degree. And so, when the opportunity to learn more about tech came about I took it!

KATIE: My degree in History is also unrelated to computer science. Initially, I thought I had lost the opportunity to start a career in the tech world. However, I have always been interested in tech and kept up with what was going on in the industry. It was over the summer of my final year at university that I started thinking about coding and got passionate about it. Everything started from there.

G: Tell us about how you got involved with Code First: Girls and what was your experience there.

K: My mum first heard about Code First: Girls and told me about it. We both thought this was a really great opportunity, so I applied and got accepted into one of their courses. The course took us through the basics of HTML and CSS and was a great opportunity to meet other women who had the same interests as me.

A: After I graduated, my university posted a range of internship opportunities we could apply for. One of those was at Code First: Girls.  It was a sign, and I saw this as an opportunity to learn more about tech. I was a programme associate with them for 8 months. During my time there I helped with marketing, creating events, organising coding courses around the UK and meetings with different companies and organisations who wanted to collaborate with us on events. I also did the HTML/CSS beginners course.

G: How did you decide to join Sparta Global?

A: My manager at Code First: Girls invited me to join a meeting she was having with Sparta Global where they were discussing the creation of a new master-class as a collaborative project. I was introduced to who they are, what they do, and I got really interested. This was my chance to gain the skills to start my careers in a sector that I had grown to love. I applied for the Sparta Global Graduate Scheme and I was successful!

K: Because I only had very little coding knowledge to begin with, a career in tech was not looking like a realistic option for me yet. I needed to find a company that would teach me more, provide me with knowledge in programming and help me gain real industry experience at the same time: Sparta global offered me exactly that opportunity.

G: What are you currently doing?

K: I am currently doing my training with Sparta Global and I am now working on my second project. This week, for example, we have been developing a Rails web app. A typical day for me would start with a stand-up session in the morning: this is when we share our progress with each other, we re-cap what we have been doing that week and we speak about how we are finding the training. Then we plan and distribute tasks, we work in groups and get started with whatever we want to complete that day.

A: Throughout your training period at Sparta Global you are always doing something new, learning a new tool or language or working on real-life projects. I’ve just finished my training at the Academy and I am now getting ready for my first client project! I’m learning Java for my new role as a Software tester, so my days are now focused on that.

G: In which ways did Code First Girls and Sparta Global help you start your career?

A: Without Code First: Girls and Sparta Global I would never be where I am today.

For someone without a technical background, it’s hard to find a starting point and to figure what you really want to do in tech.

Code First Girls taught me about the fundamentals of tech. It exposed me to what a career in tech looks like and connected me to other like-minded women at different stages of their career. Through working there and the HTML/CSS course, my experience and drive to purse tech really grew.

Sparta gave me the skills and opportunity to start my career in technology. I was taught key skills and how to think like an engineer. They gave me a clearer picture of what my future could look like. I am now starting my first client project and I am very excited to get exposure and experience working in industry.

K: Both Code First Girls and Sparta Global helped me realize that tech was a realistic career option for me. It doesn’t matter which degree or educational background you are coming from: if you are passionate enough about it, you can do it.

G: Which skills do you think are most important for a software engineer?

K: Definitely perseverance. It is so important to keep going when your code breaks or when you really don’t know how to solve a problem. Just keep trying until you find a way to fix things. Problem solving is also hugely important, so think differently!

A: It’s true: patience and perseverance are very important. When your code doesn’t work you may get indicators as to why, or you might not. You have got to be patient and stay calm, trying different methods to fix it.

Also, eagerness to learn. You need to want to continue growing and expand your skill set. Tech changes every day and the only way not to get left behind is to adapt and grow with it.

Teamwork is vital too: you will likely be working in teams, so you will constantly use your communication and team-working skills to make your projects successful.

G: In which ways is creativity a part of your job?  

K: Creativity is such a big part of coding. In fact, working out how to code is just as much creative as it is logical. There are multiple ways of solving complexity when coding and it is always down to your own creativity to come up with fresh ideas.

A: Being able to think differently is very important in Software Testing too. You will have to put yourself in different mind-sets to find the bugs. For example: How can you test a product? How will others use it? In which ways could the application break?

By being creative and by thinking about how defects are formed, you are effectively isolating the problem: so when it comes to give feedback you can be very descriptive.

G: Do you notice a lack of women in technology? If so, why do you think that is the case?

K: Yes, there is definitely a lack of women in tech. I think it is the case because tech isn't presented as much of an option for women as it is for men. For example, I went to a school for girls: when we all had to pick our degrees, I remember that only one girl in my school was sure about going into tech. I think the problem starts in schools: more emphasis needs to be put on the importance of technology and how viable it is as a career option.

A: Young girls do tend to have less exposure to tech and to be directed towards different career paths. And that’s why it is important for us to show girls more about different industries. And it is equally important to provide women who are older and want to make that change the opportunities to do so.

G: What do you think is the best part of being a woman in the tech industry?

A: Definitely the community. You meet so many amazing women who make up a strong community of intelligent, motivated people with diverse backgrounds.  Everyone wants to help you win. You can connect with people who will really help you kick-start your career and change your life.

K: For me, the best part about being a woman in tech is being a part of a great change. Although more women are now moving into the tech sphere, the industry is still male dominated. We are helping change that.

G: Tell us about the most inspiring moments you have experienced in your journey starting your career in Tech.

A: Code First: Girls has an ‘alumni wall of fame’: for me it was amazing to receive e-mails or tweets about the success the women who had taken our courses had gotten. The steps these women were taking were inspiring. To see first-hand how many more girls got into tech, and to witness what our hard work and dedication could do, inspired me to pursue something I really enjoy.

K: To have started from scratch and have developed so many skills has been incredibly motivating. After just three weeks of working with Sparta Global, I am now creating my very own game. Every little success inspires me to keep working hard.

G: Who are your role models?

K: Someone who motivates me to work hard to succeed is Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. She was one of the first women to gain such a high position in tech and has had a huge impact in opening more doors for women to join tech. She has also continually been a huge advocate of gender equality in the workplace, which I really admire.

A: I wouldn’t say I have a specific role model, but I can think of many people who inspire me and make me want to work harder and do better. All my colleagues (past and present) at CF: G and my colleagues at Sparta Global have had a great impact on my life and career.

Two of my old colleagues at CF: G have gone on to become software developers. My old manager is a tech switcher too and now she’s working at a great software. She’s helped me a lot with my career progression, so it’s great hearing about her success!

G: So what advice would you give to girls looking to break into technology?

K: Find a company, like Sparta Global, that will give you options to improve your skills and will offer you the opportunity to start your career. And work really hard to do the best job you can.

A: Remember: it doesn’t matter what your background is. If you want to start a career in tech, you can achieve it. Just put in the time and effort.

Build your own community, surround yourself with like-minded individuals. Go to different tech events. Many are free, so take advantage of those. Reach out to people in the sector you want to get into. The tech community is so friendly: if you are looking for advice or guidance, I’m sure you’ll get a warm response.