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Key takeaways from Women in Tech 2017

Women in Tech 2017 was an inspirational event, with a range of speakers covering everything from games programming to sex robots.

20 February 2017 ( words)
Lois Wentworth Lois Wentworth

"Change is the only certainty in tech."

Women in Tech is an annual event held by the eponymous organisation and HackSoc, the hacking and programming society at the University of Nottingham. The event aims to bring people working in the technology industry together, especially women. It's a fantastic event for anyone seeking a career in tech, particularly students. The atrium area of the Jubilee Conference Centre was a bustle of activity for a Saturday morning, with companies such as Esendex and MHR Solutions hosting stalls. After a coffee and some networking, we all made our way into the conference room.

Introduction with Amy Dickens

We were welcomed to the event by Amy Dickens, who is a research student at the University of Nottingham and lead organiser of the Women in Tech conference. She outlined the itinerary for the day and thanked everyone for their attendance - especially those that had travelled to get to Nottingham early on a Saturday morning.

Developer Relations with Jess Rose

First up was Jess Rose, who spoke about developer relations - a relatively unheard of role that many decided they wanted to pursue after listening to Jess' talk. Jess outlined the first time she realised she wanted to work in developer relations, when she caught herself getting serious job envy of some others that she kept meeting at tech conferences. Although she mentioned some drawbacks of the job such as being permanently jetlagged, her passion for her work was clear and the advice she gave to the audience was definitely worth remembering.

Jess gave some advice on getting started in public speaking, which began with advising people attend as many events such as Women in Tech as often as they could. She also gave great advice on becoming well-known and respected in the industry, which is to 'fake it 'til you make it'. This entails acting with confidence, even if imposter syndrome is reigning supreme. Alongside this, Jess also highlighted the importance of keeping a calm exterior, even if you're panicking on the inside.

Another key emphasis in this talk was for women to ask for more money, holiday time and benefits; a particularly prevalent point as the gender wage gap is still a big issue. It's also something that was cleverly protested back in October 2016 (and also in preceding years) when the women of Iceland left work at 2:38pm - the minute that they start working for free in comparison to their male counterparts.

Women in Iceland gather in Austurvöllur square to protest about the gender pay gap.
Women in Iceland gather in Austurvöllur square to protest about the gender pay gap.

Jess ended her talk with some advice about advice - everyone is different and not all suggestions are going to be helpful to you. She cited her own talk and said that all of her points (except asking for more money!) was not necessarily the best advice or applicable to everyone. She finished by giving one final pointer - to always give credit to others where they deserve it. This is incredibly important in the workplace as people often underestimate the importance of giving positive feedback.

Hello World: Lessons Learned as a Games Programmer with Timea Tabori

This was another great presentation which focused on a personal journey into tech. Timea began by telling the audience that she landed her job as a games programmer by applying to internships and roles that she only applied to for feedback, thinking she wouldn't be offered the opportunity. Yet she was offered the role each time she did this, demonstrating that no-one should let the impostor syndrome drive their decisions!

Timea highlighted the importance of learning by doing, and told the audience not be scared of breaking things! Failure is part of the journey, and if something gets broken, it can usually be fixed. She also gave the great advice that if you want to learn something properly, then teach it to someone. Even if you don't know something inside and out, when you teach it to someone else they will ask questions that you hadn't even thought of which might help things fall into place a little bit better. She also told us the dangers of pretending to know things when you don't - something especially relevant to bear in mind when starting out in your career. Be confident, but know when to ask for help.

Finally, she gave some advice that applies more specifically to those that code; don't take comments about your coding personally, and if looking to begin your career, coursework projects on your CV will not be enough. Ensure that you include supplementary projects to illustrate that your interest goes beyond what you're told to do and provide something unique to distinguish yourself from your peers.

Julia Higginbottom - Innovation Consultant at Rebel Uncut

Julia began her talk by asking how many people in the audience considered themselves to work in tech, and a large proportion of the audience raised their hands. Next she asked people in the room that are 40 or over to raise their hands, to which a significant number did – showing that you don't have to be a millennial to work in tech and it's never too late to start!

A shortage of people working in technology was the starting point of the talk, where Julia highlighted that there is a 800,000 deficit of tech workers and this will double by 2025. She described how she began her career by doing the 'woman thing' and becoming an accountant and cited her current position as being an 'accidental technologist'. She encouraged everyone to either become a mentor or get a mentor, which is great advice for anyone working in technology as it's important to receive the perspective of people outside of your organisation that will provide objective career advice.

Finally, Julia touched upon the fact that a career isn't necessarily for life – everyone has the option to go down a different path according to their interests, and Julia herself stated that she'll probably change her career path 2 or 3 more times before she stops working. This was undoubtedly comforting for students and recent graduates in the audience as it's scary to think that whatever you choose to do straight out of university completely dictates the rest of your career path.

The Three Times I Thought I'd Stuffed Up My Career with Katie Fenn

Next up was Katie who talked about growing up and being interested in coding and computers, but was unable to pursue this due to the inaccessibility of Visual Basic. She then went on to compare this to the accessibility of HTML and how she felt when she began to learn it – that she could become a developer and it wasn't an unobtainable dream. There are now loads of free resources and guides on learning to code - you can hear from our own developer Tanya about how she taught herself coding in our blog 'A Year of Code'.

Our developer, Tanya, featured in the press for her coding skills.
Our developer, Tanya, featured in the press for her coding skills.

Katie told us about some of her other career lessons. One of these was her discussion of a previous role where she had a very difficult relationship with the one other person on her team. This lead to her emphasis on the importance of a supportive network within the industry - whether this is in the form of a mentor, monthly meet ups or just keeping in touch with others.

One final takeaway from Katie was that "change is the only certainty in technology", a statement anyone in our industry can identify with!

You can't predict the future but you can learn to code with Charlie Allen

This was an inspirational talk from Charlie, who described how her journey of how learning to code helped her recover from difficult personal times. To learn code, she took an intensive course with General Assembly which was tailored to those with practically no experience. She stated that it was the most difficult thing she's ever done but it was clear that it was extremely rewarding and has allowed her to pursue a career in tech.

The main focus of Charlie's talk was impostor syndrome. She told the audience about her struggles with believing in her ability whilst she was on the course, and how she managed to get through it because of the people around her, again emphasising the importance of a network. She ended her talk by saying that she believes she still has impostor syndrome and that she thinks that she will always have it, which, considering where she is now, really drove home the message that it doesn't have to stop you from doing anything you want to do!

Indie, but not alone with Alice Casey

Alice is a student at Goldsmiths and also a contributor to Code Liberation, an organisation which aims to build a community of women interested in gaming development. It was great to hear about some of the work that Code Liberation do, including a workshop series at the V&A Museum which taught women how to build games. Alice also directed people to the Code Liberation website if they are interested in volunteering.

The importance of networks and community was a recurring theme throughout the talks and Alice emphasised it in hers too. It's easy to understand that life as an independent developer could mean you stay within small circles, however Alice spoke about the importance of attending industry events to connect with people that have similar interests to you in order to create a support network.

Dr Kate Devlin – Head of Computing at Goldsmiths, University of London

The Women in Tech talks went out with a bang, as Dr. Kate Devlin took to the stage with tremendous energy to talk about her experiences. It was interesting to hear about how she became involved in computing after a career in archaeology – and a lot of it had to do with being spurned on by sexist comments such as, "You're a girl, what would you know?". She used visuals such as the below to demonstrate how this attitude can prevail in the workplace.

A drawing showing male domination at work

After citing some more shocking examples, such as Tim Hunt's remarks a few years ago, Dr. Kate moved on to speak about sex tech. She used examples of how technology is often built 'by men for men' and spoke about the Sex Tech Hacks that Goldsmiths run, where techies unite to talk about sexuality with artificial partners and come up with ideas for hardware and software for the industry. You can register on the website for updates about the next one if you're interested. Kate concluded with advice for those that are interested in going into academia: be prepared for the long hours, don't expect biscuits in meetings and make sure you love your subject!

In conclusion

In a world where not enough women are getting involved in STEM subjects, conferences like these are vital for creating supportive networks. We found the day to be incredibly motivating and would like to thank Amy Dickens, HackSoc, Women In Tech, all of the speakers and anyone else involved for organising such a fantastic event! We'd highly recommend it to anyone and think that all of the organisations present at the day are well worth getting involved with.

As stated earlier in this piece, if you enjoyed this article then you may enjoy hearing from our developer Tanya on how she got started in coding

Lois Wentworth

Author: Lois Wentworth