Trainline – Sara Estrela, Development Team Lead

We interviewed Sara Estrela, Development Team Lead at Trainline on her thoughts and experience on women in tech.

trainline interview

1. What does your job role involve?

I’m a Development Team Lead at Trainline and my main focus is caring for my team. People are always on the top of my agenda, as I truly believe that a motivated and coherent team is key for success, particularly in a software development environment where passion and dedication play a central role.

I make sure there is good communication in the team and that everyone has the same information. I keep everyone updated regarding priorities, vision or any changes happening. The team is very autonomous and well organised, I just need to make sure everything flows well, and work to remove any impediments. I also support them on their personal career development, helping them develop their strengths and improve their weaknesses.

I’m responsible for overseeing all the activities within my team. I need to ensure that everyone is aware of our priorities and has a clear understanding of the work that needs to be done, and that we deliver high quality code daily, meet deadlines and that our clients are happy.

Furthermore, I facilitate inter-team communication whenever it’s needed as we’re all part of this huge Trainline team and need to cooperate daily.

Additionally, I help with the recruitment process for my team. It’s very interesting to meet new people and observe so many different career paths and I would love to see more women applying.

2. What made you choose a career in technology?

I actually wanted to study to be a movie director, but my father said that wasn’t a real job and that he wouldn’t pay for it. I’m now very grateful to my father, but back then was quite disappointed.

I wasn’t sure what else I could study until the day my physics teacher explained me how a software developer would write a program to manage a shop stock and I found that fascinating. That, aligned with the prospect of good financial reward, made me enrol for Computer Science at University and follow a career in IT.

3. Did you study an IT or technology related subject at A-Level or University?

I’ve completed my studies back in Portugal. My A-Level equivalent didn’t include any technology related subject but I did study Computer Science at University and have a Master’s degree in Computer Engineering.

4. Did you get any work experience in IT or technology before this role?

I got my first IT job as an internship at Indra Company straight after University and stayed there for 7 years. I was lucky to work in a lot of different greenfield projects, in totally different areas, with a diversity of teams and loved it every day. It was there that I single handed developed the system that is still used at the Portuguese Airport border control points. I’ve implemented that 11 years ago, after 18 months of real work experience and every time I visit my country, I see it being used and that makes me so proud. I always tell my daughter “Mummy did that”.

When I decided to move to London and sadly handed in my resignation, I was lucky to be offered a full-time job working remotely, from London to my Lisbon office, but I declined as working fully remotely isn’t the right thing for me.

When in London I started my first job at Trainline as a Developer. I was terrified about the move and my interview was actually not great and I didn’t expect to get an offer. I got a call the same day with an offer, although with a significant pay cut as they didn’t think I was at that level yet. I happily accepted as I knew once I was in I could show them wrong, and within a year I had my salary adjusted to my original request, so I was very pleased.

So here I am, after 6 years, and there is nowhere else I’d rather be.

5. Do you think there is a lack of females in the IT and tech sector?

Yes, I do believe that, and I see it every day across the industry. I do see more women now but still a very small percentage and still not enough, especially in my area as a backend developer.

I do think the issue starts earlier when applying to university, as only 15% of the applicants when I started university were females and less than half of those completed the degree.

6. Do you find there is a stereotype that a career in IT or technology is just for men?

That was the case for me 20 year ago. I was discouraged to pursuit a computer science degree by most people around me who would say that that was a degree for boys and that did scare me. I even had teachers discouraging me, I clearly remember a female teacher I had saying I was born to be a teacher and shouldn’t waste it studying computers.

I do see things changing rapidly here, but I now live in London and can’t compare that with most places around the world and knowing that such a big percentage of our workforce if made by people joining from other countries it’s important to understand their reality as well. I was born in a very poor and remote village in the Azores where people don’t have access to the same information and the same opportunities as people living here do, and there I would say I still feel many people think tech is for men.

I do believe that this mindset starts in our own home. Parents everywhere have the power to make their daughters feel that they can do everything they want and be whatever they want, the same way boys can. This can manifest from birth when parents buy the first toys and search “girl toys” online. Parents should buy the same toys for boys and girls. Let them both play with cars, with dolls, with Lego, with superhero costumes, with nail polish, with assembling toys and construction tools. Let them both be brave and get hurt without overprotecting the girls.

7. What would entice women to study technology related courses?

As I mentioned above, I believe it all starts with receiving the right encouragement and information at home, so maybe we should also focus in improving parents’ awareness and showing them that all the little things matter.

I would say that early advertisement in schools, promoting women already in the field and showcasing real work life examples would be very beneficial and encourage more girls to study STEM subjects and progress into a tech career.

A very important aspect I would mention is financial independence. Salaries in technology are above average and can increase fast and if you perform well your salary will really reflect that.

It’s also important that young girls understand that it can be very hard to become a mother and have a successful career if you don’t have a good salary, which will allow you to keep your job and arrange for proper childcare. I see so many women around me that unfortunately had to stop working when they had kids as their salary wasn’t enough to cover the huge childcare costs of living in London, where nursery can cost around £1700 a month.

I think it’s also a career where you can easily find a job working part-time and flexible hours. Trainline is amazing, I can’t complain at all, they’ve always been very supportive of all my part-time choices as a mum of three young children. Trainline lets me have the best of both worlds, I can have a successful career and still be there for all the important things in my kids’ life.

I’ve also been very lucky to work with amazing people through the years, so from personal experience I would say you will find a lot of happy, friendly, smart and supportive people around you.

8. Are there barriers when it comes to women getting into tech?

I don’t think there are real barriers. Nowadays I believe there is a huge amount of support as companies understand the benefits of having a diverse team.

Often the only barrier would be our own mind, thinking we’re not good enough to get that dream job. We need to understand that we are all different and we all have something special to bring to a team and together we can form an amazing team able to solve complex problems in different ways, having lots of fun along the way.

9. How could we encourage more women to start a career in tech?

I would use all the same arguments I mentioned above to entice them to study technology related courses.

Also, making them understand that they can potentially be working on things that can affect the life of millions of people every day and that is really rewarding. We have the chance to really make people’s life easier.

The technology sector is much more than just programming and system maintenance. If women knew that there is a huge diversity of roles available where they could leverage their problem solving, organization and people skills maybe they would find starting a career in tech to be more appealing.

Companies could do more advertising at universities, meetups and events. Take real female employees to talk about their journeys. Also, job descriptions could be slightly adapted to captivate more women. I’ve heard once at a conference that women will only apply if they match all of the requirements and man apply if they meet at least three, so it’s important to pass the message that no one needs to meet it all.

10. What advice would you give young women today at the start of their career?

Study hard, work hard, trust yourself and speak up.

Don’t linger over your mistakes. Acknowledge them and learn from them. It will make you stronger and better and everyone makes them.

Apply to jobs even if you don’t meet all the requirements. No one really expects a candidate to meet all of those, it’s more of a guideline.

Don’t get sad if you don’t get an offer, it just means that wasn’t the right job for you yet.

Believe that you’re better than what you give yourself credit for. You can do it, after all, we really have super-powers ?

Find out more about life at Trainline and current opportunities here