Steve Dalley recently spoke with some of the incredible team at AND Digital to chat about their beginnings, struggles & successes and what we can all be doing to encourage more women and underrepresented groups into the wonderful world of tech. Tina Howell, Charlie Newman and Sophie Cosgrove all had very interesting and insightful stories when it came to increasing diversity in technology.
All three of them had a different path into IT proving there is no right or wrong way to enter the world of tech.
AND Digital pose a fantastic opportunity for those entering the industry with their graduate/apprenticeship programme as well as those career tech professionals looking to further their career.
Thank you Tina, Sophie and Charlie for your time and sharing your stories with us. Tell us about yourself and your AND Digital journey so far.
Tina – I have worked for AND Digital for coming up to four years now and am the Exec for Cloud Engineering in the North. I look after a lot of Engineers such as Sophie and also have a team of Engagement Leads like Charlie. We help clients build Cloud platforms and move their applications in AWS, GCP and Azure
Charlie – I’m the Engagement Lead and Disco Diva for Cloud Engineering in the North. I’ve been with AND Digital for just over four years. My role is all about enabling our clients to achieve their goals through digital transformation within cloud infrastructure. I also support our Cloud Engineers on collaborating with the client teams.
Sophie – My title is Associate Cloud Engineer and bookworm. I am a Cloud Engineer that came through the Cloud Academy which is set up to help juniors get into the industry. I specialise in Amazon Web Services so I help clients with a focus on that but whilst also looking into other platforms as well and integrating that into DevOps technologies
How did you get into the industry?
Sophie – I actually did Psychology at University and I came out of it not really knowing exactly what I wanted to do but gathered after doing some work experiences that a psychology role wasn’t what I wanted. During University I was a Maths and English tutor and I really liked the problem-solving side of Maths so I wanted something similar to that but had never been exposed to tech so it took a while to figure out coding was really similar to this and what I enjoyed. I got into Python, learning it myself, then did a DevOps boot camp that featured Cloud. I later came across AND Digital and it was exactly what I wanted to do in my career so joined AND in Cloud Engineer role.
Tina – I got a degree from Huddersfield University in Computing and was the only female on the course. I joined as the only female technical person at Compaq Computers which was taken over by HP. I then moved on to Vodafone and now have years of experience in many different roles gaining experience in a lot of areas. However, my main area of love has always been infrastructure and operations as I’ve always loved building stuff and problem-solving. My key element is that I can take what customers see as a big issue and convert that into what they actually need. My end goal was always to build a cloud practice at AND Digital so it’s certainly been a demanding four years to build the Cloud business in the North.
Charlie – I have quite a varied career as I had nothing to do with Tech before AND. My background is human resources specialising in learning and development and that’s how I joined AND Digital. When I joined there were only 300 in the business and four years later we’re at over 1000 so my role was to go around and set-up the new clubs and business units helping the teams understand what we deliver to our clients and embed that culture. After three and a half years I was looking for something to push me out of my comfort zone and something that really challenges me. I was on a walk with Tina one day and she mentioned about joining the cloud practice which led me to take on the role of Engagement Lead within the Cloud Engineering team.
Do you think degrees are essential to help you get into IT?
Tina – I don’t think you need a degree to get into IT anymore. 10/15 years ago it was set on a precipitous but I think employers need to change that and use apprenticeships and building your own training programmes like Cloud Academy to bring more people in to be more inclusive and diverse. Looking back on it, I would have preferred this route rather than getting into debt and going down the university route to give more flexibility and not worry about a degree
Sophie – I think university degrees help provide you with a structure and encourages you to do a lot of learning on your own. I think with tech there are so many things you aren’t going to know so you need to be comfortable to go and research to find out those things by yourself. Thankfully there are companies like AND that don’t require a specific degree and help get people into the industry who otherwise wouldn’t necessarily have the opportunity.
Charlie – I think this comes down to how you learn best and your learning style. I have a number of qualifications but didn’t go to university because my learning style is much more hands-on and sitting in a classroom or researching on my own doesn’t always bring the best out of me. I think it’s important to reflect on your learning styles and then look into what might be the best thing for you whether that is university or apprenticeships. This comes down to having determination and a desire to learn and I believe these are the main things that helps to get into an IT role.
What do you think can be done at both personal and business levels to attract underrepresented groups into Tech?
Tina – I think the key to think about going to those areas that you wouldn’t normally think about going. For example, you could look at going to schools in slightly less privileged areas to have the chat that IT isn’t just about developing code but showcasing the number of different paths you can take and I think this is something really important we need to demonstrate more of. We can look at introducing the different types of tech being used at a school level whilst also focusing on implementing newer and more widely used technologies in universities and stopping teaching outdated and unused technologies that have moved on. Don’t be afraid to take away the bias of it being a man’s world and target those underrepresented groups, whether it is certain minorities or women.
Sophie – AND are big advocates for women and minorities in tech which I felt took a lot of pressure off me as there was a company advocating and supporting these groups which is a big thing more companies can be doing. In hindsight, I would have liked to have done a computer science degree and although it wouldn’t be directly related to what I’m doing right now, it would have given me a good foundation in technology.
Charlie – One of the biggest ones is social media. If we are really pushing that social media presence, that will help people be more interested and want to find out more. AND Digital are looking into how we use platforms such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook and how these platforms can be used to showcase what technology is all about.
Another big thing is partnering with charities that are centred around helping underrepresented groups and finding out how you can support these to help attract more people into tech.
What barriers have you faced to get to where you are today?
Tina – At university, I suffered with really low confidence and didn’t like standing up in front of people doing presentations and actually suffered from panic attacks as I always felt like I was being judged. In my early career, I was bullied by various organisations due to my different thoughts and feelings, and the way I spoke – back then I have a thick Irish accent. I was regularly told I shouldn’t be in tech and should just look to get married and have children because that’s what women should do. There were different extremes from being stalked to being judged in the workplace by having a break and thinking they can get away with it. When I turned 30, I changed and took a no-tolerance approach to this as it isn’t acceptable because I think work is about collaborating to achieve something and having experienced that in my early days, I wouldn’t want anyone around me to go through that. I now have a great community around me that is really supportive.
Sophie – I think one of the biggest barriers is around the stereotyping and when I say I’m in tech people straight away assume I mean sales and not what I actually do. I think we have come really far getting more women into tech but until we see more of an uptake of women in senior roles people will assume you are more junior. I also feel when you ask questions, quite often people overexplain things thinking you have less knowledge about the topic but I do think we are on the way to getting rid of that.
Charlie – I think I have been quite lucky and haven’t received any direct discrimination. We are very big on treating everyone equally and it’s not about who you are, where you come from or your gender but about whether you do a good job. Having said that, I have seen bias against females within tech sales, for example, being questioned on their knowledge. I’ve had such a good support network around me so thankfully I haven’t been exposed to this.
Proudest personal and professional achievement?
Charlie – My proudest professional achievement was initially not being afraid to take a step into Cloud by achieving my cloud accreditations and I’m currently working towards my Cloud Practitioner having achieved two accreditations so far. My proudest personal achievement is definitely doing a skydive.
Tina – This was actually my third attempt at becoming an Exec and having been told at other companies I wasn’t successful, to finally achieve what my career ambition has always been with AND was a big moment. Personally, I’ve done quite a bit from travelling the world and doing a lot of extreme things, but when I receive messages on LinkedIn from women saying they are IT because of me, that’s when I’ve known personally I’ve made a difference. The give back is a big requirement and if I can incorporate more women into tech and give them the career I’ve had, without the same problems I’ve faced, I can say I have achieved my life goal of making men and women equal.
Sophie – I’ve always wanted to publish a blog post because when I first started out learning new things, I was always very appreciative that someone had taken the time to write it, their knowledge and their way of conveying it. This is something I have always wanted to do so being able to do that this year has been one of my most cherished achievements, especially putting it out on Medium as that has been a go to for me. Personally, finishing university and achieving a First was a big one for me as I did struggle during that time as at one time I thought I would have to take a year out or even drop out to then turn that around break through my own limitations and overachieve what I thought was possible, was a bit achievement.
In one sentence, can you sum up your career so far?
Tina – It’s been a bumpy ride but I got there in the end but feel very fortunate and lucky and for anyone on the same journey, I hope they have a better start.
Charlie – It’s been an adrenaline-filled rollercoaster, it’s had lots of up, some down and a lot of twists.
Sophie – My ambition to learn overcame my fears about not following the traditional career path.
What one piece of advice would you give to others
Sophie – If you have a question, that is always a good start as it shows your interested. I think it’s important to not be afraid to ask questions because you’ll come away from that experience knowing more and having more confidence in yourself. It doesn’t matter what people think and if they think it is a basic question or not, you will end up not caring as you’ll know within yourself you’re capable.
Tina – Research, research, research. There is so many things to help you get into tech now from Tech Returners, to things like Code Nation and Code Your Future. There are so many available training places now that doing your research is important to find the right fit for you and not to worry about it as everyone starts at a different point in their career. Organisations like AND Digital are a great place to start so don’t be afraid to just go for it.
Charlie – Embrace your imposter syndrome and take time to reflect and then just do it. What you don’t want to do is regret anything later down the line.
Do you have one quote you live or work by and what is that quote?
Charlie – Learn from yesterday, live for today and hope for tomorrow.
Tina – Karma is a bitch. Treat people the way you would expect to be treated.
Sophie – It’s not a silly question if you can’t answer it.
Thanks so much! You three rock!