Get inspired: Scotland’s women in tech

Get inspired: Scotland’s women in tech

Frances Sneddon, chief technology officer, SIMUL8

As CTO of SIMUL8 Corporation and deputy chair of technology industry trade body ScotlandIS, Frances Sneddon sounds like a perfect pen portrait of a successful tech industry executive. However, she tells BQ, her career could have taken a completely different path.

“When I was at school, my big ambition was to become a lawyer,” she explains. "But when I spoke to students a few years ahead of me it became clear that they were struggling to find jobs. That prompted me to think about what I was good at and reconsider my options. I’ve always enjoyed problem solving so I studied maths, statistics and management science.”

Today, Sneddon is responsible for the strategy and direction of SIMUL8’s products, which are used by Fortune 500 companies including Ford and American Airlines to take the risk out of business decision-making. She joined the firm as an intern and then consultant, helping clients improve their business processes. Working in a small team she also got involved with marketing and started to experiment with coding so she could develop the company website.

Her then boss was instrumental in her next move - from consultant to developer. “The founder of SIMUL8 was incredibly supportive and he taught me the basics of coding,” she says. “He gave me the confidence that I could do it and didn’t need to go back to college to retrain. He also gave me the space and opportunities in the working environment to put that learning into practice. That spurred me on and I became absolutely hooked. I moved into software engineering and went on to head up the development team.

“This is an amazing industry and it offers so many interesting opportunities but people don’t always realise that they are open to them. My experience shows that even if you don’t study computing science at university, with the right support you can transfer and learn the technical skills you need not just to be part of a development team but eventually to lead it.”

Hilary Roberts, group product manager for online flight comparison tool, Skyscanner

“People ask why I chose to get into tech and the honest answer is that I never thought I shouldn’t,” says Skyscanner’s Hilary Roberts. “I come from a family of small business owners who demonstrated the power of being responsible for your own luck. It was a gift that meant I saw the world as wide open as long as you said yes to opportunities and were brave.”

Originally from Alaska, Roberts studied at the University of Edinburgh and worked for their student entrepreneurship programme. This was her introduction to the startup scene and the growing internet economy.

“After I graduated in 2010, my boss Becci Barr created a full time position for me which, looking back, was a huge break. It took me around the UK and Europe meeting lots of people who had contagious enthusiasm for solving problems with technology. After that, it was hard to imagine working in any other industry.” 

Roberts went on to join Skyscanner’s product management team in 2013. Mark Logan, Skyscanner’s then COO, was one of the people who made a big impact on her. “Product management was a step change from my previous job so they were taking a bet on me. When I started, they offered me one to one meetings with Mark, which I took. I didn’t realise at the time how much I was learning from him about leadership and personal resilience, or how unusual that time was for someone as junior as myself.” 

“Skyscanner has grown rapidly since then and recently I’ve begun working with three ambitious, talented associate product managers to develop their leadership skills. I have also been back to the University to judge pitching competitions, I write blogs for Skyscanner and I speak at events when I can. It’s important that women are seen representing the contribution we make to the industry.”

Cara Bullock, modern apprentice, CGI

Project management modern apprentice Cara Bullock spent a year at university studying engineering, before deciding it wasn't for her. Now, she's part of a team that will help deliver e-counting for this year's Scottish local government elections.

“My modern apprenticeship with CGI has been an incredible experience,” says Bullock. “If you told my 14 year old self that I would go on to work in IT I would have been surprised. Computing wasn’t my favourite subject at school but training as a modern apprentice has shown me that I do have what it takes to build a career in technology.  It is the best thing that could have happened to me and it goes to show that a degree isn’t the only route in to a rewarding career.”

Her role at CGI is varied, ranging from supporting the testing team to making presentations about e-counting to councils and election management boards from around the world. She says, “it’s a really exciting project to be involved with and the team here are open and welcoming.”

She has benefited from formal mentoring through CGI, and has the support of her line manager, a career mentor, and a senior member of staff. “They are helping me to progress and think about what I really want to achieve in the future,” she says. Having mentors who are at different stages in their own careers helps her to plot out her goals for the short and longer term.

Bullock is keen to share her experience with the younger generation and as a Brownie leader she hopes to inspire more girls to follow in her footsteps. “I invited a technical colleague to meet the girls and run a Raspberry Pi session. They absolutely loved it and it was a big success. It was so different to what I experienced when I was at school and I hope it has shown them the fun and challenging side of digital.”

Maria Hamilton, executive consultant channel manager

Maria Hamilton has been involved in the technology industry over the last three decades and seen many changes as it has developed. Now she is working with Girl Geek Scotland to facilitate mentoring for the younger generation of women navigating careers in the sector.

“Formal mentors didn’t exist when I was starting out in the 1980s,” says Hamilton, whose first role was as a trainee software engineer with Marconi Avionics. “I have always been mainly self driven to make the most of the opportunities presented to me and to develop my skills to support the roles I have carried out along the way. I think that a formal mentor would have enabled me to develop my career more effectively, at an earlier stage.”

“My initial training and experience at Marconi Avionics provided me with the technical grounding to follow a varied and interesting career that included pre-sales support, marketing, change management and network management. My current position, working for a professional advisory firm, involves maintaining an expert community of executive level consultants, who deliver strategic IT advisory services to our private equity and corporate clients”.

“Role models in schools are a really valuable way of bringing technology to life for children of all ages. Industry needs to work with educators to inspire and encourage both girls and boys to follow a career in digital technology. Our sector offers exciting and well-paid careers and we can challenge stereotypes by telling young people and their parents about the opportunities out there.”

She believes that positive role models and mentors remain important once people enter the workforce. “Within the Girl Geek mentoring programme we are working to create a framework for effective mentoring relationships so that the right support and encouragement is in place to develop and retain the many talented women in our industry.”

Published: 08 March 2017

Article by Suzy Jackson
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