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“Don’t dwell on the past, soak up every moment of the present and always be excited for the future” – An interview with Jessica Dowdall

Jamie first connected with Jessica on LinkedIn just before Christmas and was blown away by quite how much work one person was able to be involved in – #iamremarkable mentor, Strategic Advisory Board member for Cardiff Uni, a fundraiser for MIND, STEM mentor, shortlisted for ‘Role Model of the year’ and winner of the highly commended ‘Rising star of the year’ at the 2021 Women in Tech Excellence awards. This doesn’t even include the day job! Jessica is super passionate about improving diversity, inclusion, and mental and I couldn’t have asked for a better person to my first Women Rock interview with. We cover everything from her journey from working in Starbucks to becoming the Global Program Manager at AWS, the power of networking, dealing with rejection, removing bias from the interview processes, and advice for young people starting out in the world of tech. This is educational and inspiring in equal measures so grab yourself a cuppa, sit back, and enjoy!

Jessica, we’d love to know about your story so far?

Where did it all start?! So I was born and raised in Newport, South Wales. I originally studied Social Sciences at the University of Southampton where I went on to realise that the social sciences wasn’t for me after realising my passion for tech after landing a job at one of the coolest tech companies in the world. I then had to find a way to transition over to the tech world with barely any experience which was pretty tough, but it was worth the journey and I love to sharing my learnings with others these days to help people in the same situation. I faced a lot of rejection but ruthlessly changed my approach each time to follow my passion. I’ve worked for some awesome companies like Apple, Capgemini, Dyson and now I’m leading two programs (Cloud Migration, Digital Innovation) for the Business Development and Strategic Industries (BDSI) function at Amazon Web Services (AWS). I am extremely passionate improving diversity, inclusion and mental health, where my personal blog will be released very soon. I also do a lot of STEM mentoring on the side and also spend my spare time outside of work contributing to a Strategic Advisory Board for Cardiff University and other organisations across Wales (Universities, Welsh Government, NGO’s).

How did you get into the world of tech?

What a great question! I can’t deny my journey had a bit of a tough start. After starting fresh with a blank sheet of paper after deciding to change industries with barely any experience in tech, I had to do something to set myself apart. I probably applied for about 60 tech jobs and only got interviewed for about 8. I changed up my CV design, matched my content to the job application and started to take more care with each application whilst trying to do relevant online courses to put on my CV as a starting point. I was then offered a job in Cyber Security Sales in London which I thought would be an amazing in-between role for me to get into more of a technical role in future. Every decision I made from that moment on was to soak up all the information I could, deliver high quality results and help others who are also struggling with that transition into the tech industry to reach their career goals.

Tell us a bit about the coaching you do outside of work to help women and underrepresented groups find employment?

I started mentoring people in STEM two years ago now and its flown by and I absolutely love it. It is so gratifying helping others find their dream roles, increasing their confidence, improving their mental health and teaching people how to bring their full authentic selves to work. As well as 121 coaching, I also lead a group workshop for people around Diversity & Inclusion called #IAMREMARKABLE. This is a Google program that aims to 1. Increase self-confidence in others. 2. Teach others around unconscious bias. 3. Help others own their own achievements to help them thrive in their careers.

How do you think we can change the narrative of companies using educational background as the main part of their hiring requirements?

I think that organisations internally and externally should be focusing their energy on changing the narrative by 1/Gathering data around success in roles with educational background VS non-educational background (Qualitative and Quantitative). 2/Once you have the data, create a way of verbalising in the form of stories you can promote and highlight to companies and their benefits to change the dialogue. 3/Verbalise and promote this change across all organisations to make recruiting more diverse and inclusive.

Do you have any ideas on how companies can remove bias from an interview process to make sure everyone has a level playing field?

I have loads of ideas, which are actually most from my learnings and experience from Amazon who set the bar SO high with diverse recruitment.

  1. Rework job descriptions: This provides the first point of contact with a company’s culture, make sure that job descriptions and the interview process is removing gendered wording and reviewed by multiple people.
  2. Blind CV reviewing: You need a level playing field where you don’t know their age, gender and other demographics. Just the best person for the job!
  3. Having standardised and mixed gender interview panels: Ensuring an inclusive environment and all feedback collected is based on facts and data, not opinions.
  4. Non-Bias Bar Raiser: Have an objective third party who facilitates the interview process. More information HERE

What challenges have you faced in your career?

  1. Getting a 2.2 at university and no graduate schemes being prepared to take on talent based on grade and not passion and experience.
  2. Lack of female role models in tech to inspire me to be authentic, be different at work. I’ve learned this a lot later in life than I hoped and also the reason why I’m trying to be an advocate for others.
  3. Discrimination based on gender and age. As much as companies will never admit it, these things happen and we need to be the advocates for change. There is so much un-tapped talent out there who you need to enrich!

What are your proudest achievements (personal or professional)?

I think talking about your own achievements is always a difficult one! However, I’m particularly proud of generally helping others achieve their goals but also improving their mental health (I have coached about 25 men and women now). Winning “Rising Star of the Year” 2021 in the Women in Tech Excellence awards. Landing a role at Amazon was genuinely one to be proud of, one of the rigorous processes I’ve ever endured. Finally, I was asked to join the External Advisory Board for Cardiff University and now building an Innovation Ecosystem across Wales which I’m so proud of.

What advice would you give women starting out in tech?

“Own your insecurities, embrace the fear of the unknown, have the courage to get stuck in, continually change things up, NEVER give up, own the stage, ruthlessly ask for feedback and change your approach until you succeed”

Please provide a mantra or quote that you live by or just like?

“Don’t dwell on the past, soak up every moment of the present and always be excited for the future”

Who have been/are the most influential people in your career?

Who were the most influential people in my career? Well, let’s start with my first manager when I was working as an SAP security consultant at Capgemini, Rob. He taught me that you can be a nice person, you can bring empathy to work and you can absolutely rock what you do and deliver results all in one. Another really influential person in my career who fully embraced me bringing my full, crazy and authentic self to work was David. At the age of 24, I had built trust with a senior VP at Capgemini when I was leading Innovation for the UK. He believed in me and my talent regardless of my age, letting me fly around the world building Innovation teams across EMEA and US and delivering design thinking workshops for incredible customers like Burberry and Lamborghini. My manager at Dyson, Morna. She taught me real hardcore operational rigor and resilience at work but also that it doesn’t matter about age, gender, sexual orientation when it comes to recruitment it should be about delivering value with the best person for the job. Finally, my current manager Leanne. She’s an incredible lady, so intelligent and articulate but has an incredible backbone too (has taught me to say no to more things and stand up for what I believe in) but most importantly she cares about people and their wellbeing so much. One of the best managers I’ve worked for. These are my role models and people who have shaped me over the years. I’m so thankful and grateful for everything they taught me, I wouldn’t be the person I am today without their support.

Thank you so much Jessica! Keep rocking #womenrock

An interview by Jamie Forgan

A voice for diversity in Tech & Engineering <3

I: @womenrockbristol

T: @womenrockbrstl

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