We interviewed Sally-Anne Bennett, Software Engineering Manager at Metaswitch on her experience and thoughts on Women in Tech.
Half my time is spent on people and project management, and the other half working on software projects. In a typical day, I might hold a status meeting with one of my reports, discussing how their projects are going, whether they can hit their agreed deadlines, and also discussing how their skills have developed recently. Often, I’ll be spending some time finding out the requirements for a new project, and working out how much work we need to do to meet those, or I’ll do the coding for a project we’re currently working on, or I’ll talk to our test team about how a project we delivered to them is getting on in testing and debug any problems they’re hitting. I might plan whether the work my team has agreed to deliver over the next few months still fits, and if not discuss alternative options with my manager. It’s quite a variety!
2. What made you choose a career in technology?
In my maths degree, I did a single course which involved writing software, and I found I really enjoyed it. I’m very logical so working with algorithms and code suits me. When looking for jobs, I saw Metaswitch advertising that they accepted graduates who hadn’t got a background in software or computer science as long as they got through the interview process, and that fitted me, so I applied. They offered me a job, and I accepted.
3. Did you study an IT or technology related subject at A-Level or University?
I studied maths and sciences at A-level, and then maths at University. There was a tiny bit of my course that involved software; other than that I hadn’t ever studied IT or technology.
4. Did you get any work experience in IT or technology before this role?
None. I’d done some internships before I took this role, but they were in banking and Parliament and had nothing to do with technology. I wasn’t even that interested in IT or technology growing up – I didn’t spend hours on the computer, coding or otherwise, and didn’t build things. My technology experience has come pretty much exclusively from my job.
5. Do you think there is a lack of females in the IT and tech sector?
I’m sad to say so, but I do think there’s a lack of women in IT and tech. Both telecommunications (the industry Metaswitch works in) and software are male-dominated fields, and it’s not uncommon for me to be the only woman in a meeting amongst five or more men. However, it is improving, with the industry becoming more aware of the problems with the lack of diversity and focusing on efforts to improve it; Metaswitch is working to improve as well, and as a leader of the Minority Genders at Metaswitch Network I’m enjoying being part of that change.
6. Do you find there is a stereotype that a career in IT or technology is just for men?
From the outside, there is a stereotype of the white male nerd hunched over a computer eating pizza, drinking beer, and spending their entire life coding. But once you’re in a technology role, you’ll realise that very few – if any – of your colleagues are actually like that. I’ve not met anyone at Metaswitch who agrees with the stereotype that IT or technology is just for men. I hope that soon the stereotype will be broken down altogether, because that’s not what it’s really like.
7. What would entice women to study technology related courses?
I would have been more likely to study a technology-related course if I’d had more experience of technology at school – I’d never done anything like Engineering or Computer Science at school. It’s a risk to study a subject that you’ve not experienced before. Therefore, I’d like to see schools exposing more girls to studying technology-related subjects, even if just for a day or two, to show them what it would be like. Since I was at school, computer science has been added to the curriculum and I hope that’s starting to make the change.
8. Are there barriers when it comes to women getting into tech?
There are definitely still barriers to getting women into tech. There are internal and external barriers: the stereotypes and lack of familiarity with tech roles hold women back from considering it for a job, and if we do persuade them to apply, there are still some companies whose hiring processes are biased (normally accidentally) against women. That’s definitely decreasing though, and tech companies are becoming more aware of the value in being diverse.
9. How could we encourage more women to start a career in tech?
Raising the profile of women in tech is a great way to encourage more women to consider tech for their career. The more women see people like them in technology discussions and journalism, the more they will consider the career as a possibility.
10. What advice would you give young women today at the start of their career?
My biggest piece of advice to young women at the start of their careers is to speak up. I spent several of the early years of my career always worrying about saying anything in case I looked silly. I’ve now (mostly!) overcome that, and am gaining confidence. I still listen – and listening is important – but when I have something to say, I have enough confidence in my own usefulness to speak up. That way, I get involved in more conversations across the organisation, increasing my influence and my profile, and add value to Metaswitch by providing my ideas and thoughts.