We interviewed Kathryn Vickers, User Researcher at DWP Digital on her experience and thoughts on women in tech.
I’m a user researcher which means that I plan and conduct research with people who use digital services. Through this, I uncover what people need from those services and where those needs aren’t being sufficiently met. I then collaborate with loads of other roles – designers, data scientists, product managers and developers, to make changes which improve those services for users.
There is a lot of time spent talking to and observing users, hearing their experiences, and communicating those stories to stakeholders. I also facilitate interactive workshops and design ideation sessions and run trials and experiments to test new ideas.
I transitioned into digital after leaving a career in law. I studied law at university and didn’t have any IT related A levels. I worked as a solicitor in finance for several years, but I found it deeply unsatisfying, and the work-life balance was horrendous.
Instead, I sought something that I felt would make more of a difference to people’s lives, with a better work-life balance for myself.
I had no work experience directly in a technology role before my first job as a user researcher. After leaving law, I worked as a case manager for offenders in prisons, then as a legal consultant for a bank on their digital transformation projects.
In every role, I had gravitated towards speaking to people about their experiences of using the technology and services they relied on and had initiated projects to innovate and improve processes and service offerings.
It was only when I was chatting to a friend of a friend, lamenting that I wanted a career that combined all the best bits of the jobs I’d had – research and crafting persuasive arguments, social impact, and digital transformation – that she told me about her profession in user research. I realised I’d been doing it in bits and pieces, and all I needed to do was bring that together in my CV and apply for jobs strategically until someone picked up on my transferable skills and offered me a role. This happened for me in 2019 when I joined DWP Digital.
This hasn’t been my personal experience in the roles I’ve worked in. In user centred design professions, I have found there to be a balance and in user research in particular more women than men.
Technology is an incredibly vast ‘industry’ with a plethora of roles within it, and I think that often gets overlooked.
Perhaps in wider society, but I have to admit, I’ve never paid much attention to stereotypes. And I’ve certainly not found it within the organisations I’ve worked in.
I can’t speak for an entire gender or generation, but I think focusing on encouraging people to follow their interests is the best place to start.
I honestly don’t feel that I have encountered this in my career in tech. I don’t know whether that’s because I choose not to be limited by how others perceive me, or because I work in a user centred design profession which is more gender balanced. DWP Digital is also an organisation which uses ‘blind applications’ so they don’t know your gender when you first apply. What I can say is that I have been wonderfully supported in my journey transitioning into a digital profession in the DWP.
I think it’s good to challenge assumptions about what it means to work in tech. I also think these things are so personal that it’s difficult to say one approach will work for everyone.
I didn’t set out to work in tech, but I wanted a role that happened to be in tech, and it went from there. What helped me most along the way were the excellent informal mentors and women around me.
Perhaps it’s about looking to women who work in these roles to act as ambassadors for the amazing opportunities available. Maybe focusing more on what a career in tech can offer someone, and on offering women communities of support could help them have the confidence to shatter whatever barriers exist for them.
The same advice I’d give to anyone at the beginning of your career. Don’t worry about making the ‘right moves’ instead focus on what brings you satisfaction, what challenges you in the right ways and follow your interests. If you do that, looking back, it will always make sense as your career pathway because it will be true to who you are.
Find out more about a career at DWP Digital.