We interviewed Caroline Woodhams, Product Manager of Integrations and Core Services at Holiday Extras on her experience and thoughts on women in tech.
As a product manager I lead the development process to create products, platforms and services that meet the needs of our customers and business. With integrations and core services this means technical products – microservices, APIs and data-driven architecture – which together provide core capability to our business, enabling customers to search and book their travel ancillaries like airport parking and hotels.
A significant chunk of my work involves collaborating with partners to automate the exchange of data between our systems – be that by API or another method. Relationship building and communication – with external companies and internal teams – are key skills in my job.
It wasn’t a conscious choice to work in tech, and I came into the industry quite late (in my 30s!) However, in my early career I worked in “technical” roles – be that as a construction project manager, business analyst, and now as a product manager. I’ve always been attracted to roles that involve working within multi-disciplined teams to solve complex problems, use “systems thinking” and take a lean, iterative approach to developing a product.
The attraction of working in tech is that it is always changing (which means it’s never dull) and as a result tech has an enormous influence over how society progresses as a whole – it has the power to change how we behave, for good or bad! That’s hugely exciting for me.
I was in the first year to take IT GCSE when it was introduced in the UK in the mid 90s! Back then the curriculum involved learning how to use software to do everyday tasks, like creating spreadsheets, and some rudimentary programming in Visual Basic. The internet was in its infancy and one of the most exciting things we could use it for was to chat online with people who were sat right next to us in the computer room at lunchtimes!
At A Level I did languages and business, and at university I studied law and construction. Whilst none of these subjects are directly related to what I do now in my role, they taught me many valuable transferable skills, such as communication, problem solving, and logical thinking.
Since becoming a Product Manager, I’ve taken online courses from Codecademy, Udacity and EdX to learn about computer science and how to code. It’s never too late to join the tech industry, and there are many resources out there to draw knowledge from. What’s key to success in this industry is not how old you are when you start, but having a mindset of curiosity that drives you to learn as much as you can and to keep improving.
No I didn’t – but with each role I’ve migrated closer and closer to the tech industry.
I think overall yes, but it does depend on the role and / or company we’re referring to. The product management team at Holiday Extras is split about 60:40 women to men, which is a fantastic testament to our diversity, although I know this is not typical of everywhere – and is not reflected in our engineering team.
I recently went to a Women In Product meetup in London (which was actually themed on diversity and inclusion!), and found it really inspiring to be surrounded by so many female professionals in product. We need more events like this, to enable us to meet, share experiences and build our support networks.
There is a pervasive engineer stereotype (white 20-something male Comp-Sci grad). I usually find myself at conferences and external training events where the men outnumber the women present, although I have never personally let that hold me back from pursuing what I want to.
It’s not helped that the stereotype is further reinforced by a shortage of positive female role models in the tech industry. A career in tech is not just for men, so I’m pleased to see this perception changing, particularly with organisations such as WIT promoting us!
I believe we have to start building the interest whilst girls are still at school – the earlier the better! Last year I was invited back to my old secondary school as part of a lunchtime series of careers talks from alumni, and I was disappointed to hear some of the challenges the IT team have in engaging girls in technical subjects, and getting them to pursue beyond GCSE once subjects become elective.
So an idea I’m currently exploring is helping girls see STEM as something they can do, an exciting subject with lots of opportunities and specialisms, and therefore a viable, fulfilling career path. What I hear from educators is that for some girls it’s not that they aren’t interested in learning more about tech, it’s that they lack confidence in their technical ability and therefore choose not to pursue it. Curiosity is only half the story, self-belief is the other.
As well as this initiative, I’m also involved in getting more women within Holiday Extras outside the Web team engaged in tech, starting with some sessions to learn to code basic projects. It’s never too late to start, and tech is one of the best industries for making a switch to later in life.
I think one of the biggest barriers is women’s own belief in their abilities. Men are on the whole more confident in their abilities – studies have shown that when applying for a job men will go for it when they meet 60% of the criteria, whereas a woman will only feel comfortable if she meets them all. We need to stop holding ourselves back from pursuing opportunities – easier said than done, I appreciate.
The tech industry is one of the most flexible – a lot of companies enable staff to work remotely and with flexible hours, so we can effectively balance family life and other commitments with our jobs. A diverse benefits package and welcoming environment (don’t just have bro-culture foosball tables in the breakout areas please!) can also entice women into roles at tech companies.
Encouraging girls to explore STEM subjects at school (and into university), promoting more positive role models within our industry, creating more networking opportunities such as women-only meetups (and highlighting crossover between, for example, marketing and sales into product and tech), developing courses and coaching opportunities to foster self-belief, making it easy to find mentors – anything that breaks down any remaining stereotypes and shows a way into the industry to overcome any fears that may hold them back. As my grandfather always used to tell me – whatever you want to do in life, just go for it!