Career roadmaps: meet the women of Made Tech

Mar 04, 2024
hackajob Staff

“Remember you don’t need special permission to turn up to the table, you just need ideas plus curious questions and the will to ask them.” 

We recently spoke to 3 women growing their careers at Made Tech, a team that helps organisations make a positive impact through technology – fast. 

Tess Barnes, Lead Software Engineer, Sarah Sykes, Designer and Sonia Singh, Senior Delivery Manager share how they got into their roles, the technologies that spark their interest and the importance of community in the sector. Plus, read their valuable advice for women looking to build their own careers in the changing world of tech. 

Have you always known you’ve wanted to work in tech?

Tess Barnes, Lead Software Engineer [T]: 

I’ve danced with tech since maths in school, trips to computer exhibitions at 12, computer society in university, assistive technology as a thesis topic and web journals as an early hobby. Computers have always been part of my life, but they didn’t dominate through a business degree or early copywriting, artwork and photography jobs. It’s only in the last 20 years that I’ve been in the business of coding for money. I’m self taught and have used that independence to follow my curiosity into many coding languages, industries and problems to solve. 

Sarah Sykes, Designer [S]: 

The short answer is no. I never had thought I had the skills to work in tech and assumed you had to have a maths/science background to be successful in this industry. But that is definitely not the case. I spent over a decade in a different industry as a fashion designer. While I was considering a career change, I looked at various roles where I might have some cross over skills and a family member who worked as a software engineer told me about user experience (UX) design. 

From there I did a lot of research and spoke to a few people in similar roles to see what it was like and if I thought it would be suited to my skills. Made Tech offered an academy which allowed me to learn all the skills I needed to work in user-centred design, while also getting paid a salary with the guarantee of a job after the 12 weeks of training. This was an absolute life line for me when it came to making a career change and gave me a chance to learn and earn which set me up for a great start at Made Tech. 

Sonia Singh, Senior Delivery Manager [SS]: 

No, I actually didn't have any interest in tech when I was a student and I wanted to specialise in policy. I landed a tech role when I joined the Civil Service Fast Stream (graduate scheme) and I had the opportunity to work firsthand on high-priority tech projects, specifically relating to the EU Exit Transition period. From there I was able to understand the huge importance of tech in today's society and recognise the value it delivers to users. 

What is it about your work at Made Tech that motivates you?

[T]: The fact that I'm self-taught makes me value good, supportive training. This drives me to play an active role in our apprenticeship scheme, nurturing curiosity in others and championing diverse ways into a tech career. 

I still get my hands dirty with the technical work, which keeps me sharp but these days I prioritise pairing with other engineers to collaborate and mentor. As a lead I can be a multiplier and get a whole team delivering value. My work at Made Tech gives me that chance to make a difference to public life in the UK. 

[S]: Working at a consultancy means I find the work never gets boring. All deliveries are a  bit different, they have their own challenges and offer new and exciting learning opportunities along the way. The work I do directly contributes to the well being of everyday users. 

[SS]: I really enjoy working in a multidisciplinary team and learning from others. Admittedly, I’m not an expert when it comes to software development or UI/UX/UR, but having the opportunity to bounce ideas to my team and seeing the value of work we deliver is great. Everyday is different and there's always so much to be getting on with which I really enjoy. 

Is there a particular technology that excites you right now? 

[T]: I’m a firm believer that the most effective tool is the one you actually use - the one that brings real value. When focussing on access to services and advice, this includes easy access to information via websites, apps, text messages and robust search algorithms. However, one solution still doesn’t fit all and we have a duty to make sure that those who don’t have equitable access to technology don’t get left behind. Solving problems to serve our communities is what gives my career meaning. 

When considering how to spend public money wisely, data-focused technology gives amazing tools for data-driven decisions, highlighting tradeoffs and tracking measures for success so we can learn and adapt for the future. We make the best decisions we can given the information we have at the time, so let’s make that the most comprehensive, unbiased and digestible information possible. 

[S]: Healthcare, and in particular women’s health is an area I feel really passionate about. There’s some really exciting new research and developments going on. We know there is such a huge gap in research and data when it comes to designing services and products for women’s health which can lead to so many women facing obstacles when it comes to getting the care they need. Fertility, hormone health and menopause for example. Women have so many unmet needs and anything that will help solve some of these problems is really exciting to me. 

[SS]: Automation excites me, as well as the possibilities that automation has. Automation is so varied and can add value to so many different areas of society, maximising user experiences. It's growing and used frequently (if not everyday) by so many people, think of customer service automation or data entry automation for example! 

Let’s talk about good career development opportunities, what does that look like to you? 

[T]: Clear role definitions and flexible progression paths are key. Everyone should have equitable access to the resources they need to move forward, whether that’s technical skills, systems thinking, human communication or confidence. As a side note, let’s remember, management is not always a promotion - it’s a different job. 

[S]: Opportunities to develop and practice skills while in a safe environment (free of judgement and where you can feel safe to fail). Skill sharing sessions with our community of designers or with cross disciplines, learning days to attend conferences, networking with a community of other designers, both at Made Tech and in the wider UX community. 

[SS]: The opportunity to discuss your career aspirations and put a plan in place to work towards this. This could then mean having a breakdown of different actions or tasks to help develop your career, whether it be shadowing someone, getting exposure to a way of working you've not had previously or something as simple as gathering feedback from your team. I would emphasise the point of being open to different opportunities that you may not be familiar with or may feel challenging. Opportunities like these tend to give you the chance to experience something different and develop your skills even further. 

Something we see come up time and time again is community, what role does that play in tech? 

[T]: Community plays a big part in tech. Communities of practice help us share techniques, talk about anti patterns and support our continuous learning. It also helps us save public money too, avoiding the need to develop an independent solution in every agency. Community gives us access to experts in rarer technologies to help existing systems serve well for longer. While we engineers can be deep thinkers and deep workers needing concentration time, we don’t thrive in isolation and always do best when we learn from each other. 

[S]: Community, especially in design, is vital. It allows us to come together to share ideas,  problems and ideate on solutions. It’s safe spaces for us all to broaden our knowledge, offer learning opportunities and it creates a sense of purpose where we can come together over shared goals of improving digital transformation in the public sector. 

[SS]: The role of community is essential to the tech sector. We’re seeing that tech is growing at such a fast pace (look at the development of artificial intelligence) and it's key that communities leverage these opportunities of growing tech to better understand the users of a specific type of tech. In doing so, communities would be able to use data to recognise and drive for areas of improvement.

How about advice? Is there a piece that’s stuck with you throughout your career? 

[T]: Always grow, always learn and stay curious. Sometimes opportunities come when and where you least expect them. No matter where my career takes me, I will be open to learn from everyone. 

To women getting into the sector, follow your curiosity and get into the why of what you’re aiming for, understand what motivates you. Remember you do not need special permission to turn up to the table, you just need ideas plus curious questions and the will to ask them. Being a technologist first will go a long way. A diverse tech community considers all points of view and being open to diverse allies will help you do so too. 

[S]: I try not to stick to a ‘5 year plan’ or anything too rigid as you just don’t know what opportunities might come up, and you don’t want to miss out on something just because it’s not in your ‘plan’. Listen to your gut, if something feels right go with it, take new opportunities to learn and grow, always ask questions and embrace change! 

My advice for women? Don’t be intimidated! I’m a prime example of having almost zero knowledge of the industry before starting out. So don’t let that be a barrier. Try to connect with a few people in the spaces you’re interested in learning more about or join some networking groups. I have always found people to be really helpful, supportive and responsive when I’ve asked questions or needed something explained- there’s no such thing as a stupid question! 

[SS]: To enjoy it and keep learning! I’m very open to new challenges and any opportunity to try something different. I really value working in a team, learning from others, taking time out to reflect on my own performance and identify areas of improvement. In doing so, I ensure that I'm able to enjoy my role whilst simultaneously trying to grow and learn more. 

I think that the sound of tech can initially feel quite daunting and complex, however I would really emphasise that the tech industry is so adventurous and has so many different opportunities. Once you nail down your specific interests in tech, whether it be wanting to maximise user experiences or working closely with clients to ensure the delivery of a project, you can then drill down the core skills and behaviours that you have or may want to gain and develop further. I have found that the tech industry is so varied due to the amount of opportunities available and therefore there's always the opportunity to keep learning more. 

Join the team at Made Tech! 

If you’d like to join the Made Tech team or see what roles they have available, you can login or create a profile on hackajob. You can also stay up-to-date with everything Made Tech on their hackajob profile, website and Linkedin. 

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Want to meet these three women?  Register now for our upcoming webinar with Made Tech on April 9th, 2024 – save your spot here.