Tell us a little about yourself
I am an accidental programmer. My parents bought me a Texas Instruments TI-99/4Acomputer as a girl, and I used a Macintosh Classic ll in uni (yes I am that old!). I majored in English Literature and Creative Writing, and after uni became a Youth Worker. My remit was to go out onto the streets and work creatively with young people to foster engagement - after that for any problems they needed support with, they would be enabled to deal with them by other teams.
The charity I worked for was a women’s organisation, and into tech, so we took early Mac laptops and mobile phones on the streets and demonstrated the ‘gift’ of the early internet. This was in dial-up modem days so more unusual than it sounds. I ended up running the network and machines and developing FileMaker Pro databases for the charity.
From there I took a postgraduate MA in Multimedia Arts, learning to program non-linear interactive pieces in Director and Flash, and worked with young people to develop multimedia arts installations using found sounds, video, images etc. on themes they identified as interesting. After I became a parent, I had to get a full-time permanent job to have a stable income for nursery fees, so I began work in Local Government as a Programmer specialising in Web Development.
What’s your experience with Umbraco?
We chose to move to Umbraco from Alterion (formerly Immediacy) after the company decided not to work with Local Government clients anymore. We had a baptism of fire converting an agency’s newly-designed Council website from Drupal to Umbraco, and there it stayed in Umbraco 6 as an Azure Web App for the next 8 years. Of late, we have migrated the site to Umbraco 7 and into the Umbraco Cloud, and are now gearing up for a reskim. Then of course we need to convert it to 8!
We are new Umbraco Gold Partners and when we complete the migration to 8, we want to develop a more diverse client base and add to our portfolio of sites, as we are now employed by a private company.
When you decided to enter this industry, were you concerned about facing prejudice as a woman? If yes, what were your concerns?
I wasn’t concerned so much as aware of it, as it was (and still is) simply normality. I’ve experienced my ideas being ignored until a man repeated them, received unwanted sexual attention, been objectified and dismissed and talked over by men in work.
Now that I am older (and no longer seen as sexually desirable/available!) some of these things have improved, and as a manager I command more respect.
It is tough out there, but things are changing slowly with time. I’ve seen the change from working in the office 5 days a week to working mostly from home (which was accelerated by the pandemic). It doesn't phase me if a colleague needs to focus on caring responsibilities sometimes - we are all flexible, hardworking and adaptable. We no longer have clocking in cards - we can get the work done when it is most convenient for us, meetings and collaborations aside.
In my company, there are more women than men in our department, and the corporate culture celebrates diversity in all respects. The three Heads of Services are women - the Head of IT post remains a challenge for us all to aim for! :)
What do you think would help increase gender diversity in the tech community?
As a sex class, women are systemically excluded from economic, social and political power structures. As a feminist, I want to see the eradication of the systemic oppression of women as a sex-based class. I could go all day on what might help with that.
First of all, recognising that different paths into tech are as valid as STEM routes would be a good start in attracting a more diverse bunch of people. Not everyone needs to have a Comp Sci degree - particularly when we are using frameworks, we have no need to reinvent the wheel. A talent for languages and symbolic reasoning are more than enough.
The language used for recruitment must reflect this. I recently saw a job that advertised its positions as “bootylicious” because they have a free canteen, onsite cinema, pool tables, bar and gym. This clearly tells me the advert is aimed at young men, and therefore not at all inclusive.
Studies show gendered language skewed towards male stereotypes puts people off, and companies should work to improve this in their adverts. One place to start is the free Gender Bias Decoder.
What advice would you give to other women looking to make a career move into tech?
I am the App Dev Team Manager and we are a team of 6 women and 1 man. Our ‘token’ man has been known to call us ‘Six Mums and Me’ 🙄 I think the shoe’s on the other foot there! (On the other hand, he’d be horrified to realise he has reduced us to our reproductive biological status - he was unaware of his gendered language in this instance, and unconscious bias can be tricky to push back at.)
In addition to Umbraco, we deal with the CRM for the contact centre, the payments system, integrations and bespoke applications. A colleague who joined as a programmer from university in the 60’s as the only woman in the team was confronted by pictures of naked women on the walls, and was not invited to social events. On the other hand, I have a colleague who started as a ‘punch girl’ feeding cards into mainframes. Now she is the Head of Service Management. So things have moved on from there!
Here is what I would recommend:
- Work in a company or sector which respects the work/life balance: In the U.K. Local and National Government there are a high number of women working in tech as well as a culture of flexible working, generous leave, sick and parental leave entitlement, which helps with the many responsibilities that otherwise, let’s admit it, fall to women.
- Be aware of ‘bro’ culture: Sometimes, in private companies, the tradition is still for working 60-hour weeks, competitive programming, often late into the night, with a ‘bro’ culture - beers on a Friday, pool tables in the office, away days at football matches etc. If you work in this environment, be very clear on your boundaries. Don’t try to compete in that lifestyle (unless you like it, of course).
- Find a support system, and own your place. A mutually respectful and inclusive working environment should be led from the top, and if it isn’t, it’s not your responsibility to assimilate into or try to change it single-handedly. You are there because your work is good - keep doing it well and don’t be shy about it. Finding an external mentor in women in tech/networking groups can be supportive - just being able to talk about it helps.
- Finally, just go for it. Women in tech are more prevalent in management, comms and marketing roles, but don’t let that put you off development work. Network the hell out of all the things (both mixed and women in tech groups), join in some Open-Source collaborations, make stuff and put it out there.
What book, TV series, podcast, etc. do you recommend to everyone?
I’ve been reading some magical action stories which involve an RAF Squadron Leader, an extremely empowered accountant, mages/witches, Spirits, Gods etc. (including the Allfather) and is basically Harry Potter for grownups, and I am enjoying it immensely because it’s total brain switch-off fodder. What is it called, you ask? The King’s Watch series by Mark Hayden. They have sPads for sorcery and the main protagonist eschews smart phones for fear of being tracked. Pure gumpf but enjoyable escapism.
Anything else we should know?
I once won a free ticket to Codegarden as part of Umbraco’s International Women’s Day and I was majorly thrilled to attend. It was mostly men but more diverse than you’d expect at a tech conference, and felt very inclusive. I’d go back like a shot!
(Editor’s note: Registration for Codegarden 2021 is coming soon - stay tuned on our socials!)