In our new series 'Tech Talks, my career journey' we'll be diving into the career journeys of individuals from across the tech industry.
Our aim? To motivate, spark curiosity and inspire.
By exploring the challenges, triumphs and experiences of our talent network, through this series we will highlight that there are opportunities for all in the tech industry. In a sector that has been traditionally seen as lacking in diversity, we want to inspire people from all backgrounds, genders, sexual orientations, ethnicities, levels of experience and education, to realise their digital ambitions.
In this Tech Talk, Senior Recruitment Consultant, Sarah Copely, speaks with Lesley Jackson, Head of IT Business Engagement at DLA Piper about finding balance, role models, career paths for women in tech and learnings, from a 20 year career in the IT industry.
Sarah: What were your career aspirations when you were growing up?
Lesley: I never really had any burning ambitions to strive for a particular career. I had a strong desire to work and earn my own money. That’s the reason I decided not to go to University and went straight into work after my A levels.
Sarah: What is the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome in your career?
Lesley: Without doubt my greatest challenge has been juggling a family and career. Thankfully things are changing for the better, but 20 years ago, it was tough returning from maternity leave, back into a full time role, working long hours, with frequent European travel required. So much so that my husband had to work part-time for us to be able to adequately manage everything.
With many people now being able to benefit from agile/flexible working, this will hopefully start to ease the pressure on working parents.
Throughout my career, the environment has always been male dominated, but I wouldn’t attribute this to the childcare/work balance that challenged me.
Sarah: Do you have any advice for balancing home and work life?
Lesley: I’m hopeful that the last 4 months have taught us all a valuable lesson whilst many of us have been remote working. We can be productive and effective, can manage our workloads and still keep connected with our colleagues and teams without being in the office 9-5. The huge positive has been able to spend more time doing the things you want to do outside of work, as our commuting hours have been used for the added value.
In the early days of the lockdown, I was personally struggling with the balance, as I wasn’t properly ‘shutting down’ for the day. Only after talking it through with a colleague did I realise that I needed a bit more discipline in taking the breaks when needed, having a lunch period with no laptop in front of me and choosing a time to completely switch off for the day. This has really helped me to enjoy working from home.
Sarah: Do you think education or experience is more important when looking to embark on a tech career?
Lesley: Experience wins the game in my book. Of course a good level of education is important, but it shouldn’t be a barrier. Common sense and an ethos for hard work and effort goes a long way. I personally always look to seek out a person’s experience rather than just look at their education level on a CV for instance.
Sarah: After 20 years in the IT sector, do you see the tech industry now as a more accessible career path for women?
Lesley: It is certainly getting better, and I see lots of initiatives encouraging diversity, so it may be more accessible, but I still don’t see many women taking this career path. This could be just down to not realising the many different roles you can undertake in the tech industry.
It’s certainly an area we like to focus on when we attend career fairs. Students are surprised at the variety of roles we have in our IT department.
Sarah: Do you have any advice for any future talent looking for a career in tech?
Lesley: If there is a particular organisation or type of org you want to work for, do your research and look at the different roles you could pursue. You’ll be surprised at how many there are, each requiring a different skill set. It doesn’t all have to be about coding. Also look for opportunities to get some experience through voluntary work experience. This goes a long way on a CV and shows you care about your career choice.
Sarah: What one thing have you learnt during your career that you could pass on?
Lesley: Trust your gut instinct! which is a difficult concept for many working in a tech environment where the logical, scientific route is often preferred. I’ve found through the many years of working in IT, that 9 times out of 10, my first instinct was correct and so it’s a formula that works for me.
Sarah: Who is your all-time role model?
Lesley: I actually can’t think of anyone that is my all-time role model but there are many people who I admire. I follow people on social media who I think are inspirational becuase of what they have faced throughout their lives or careers. Most recently, someone that has really stood out for me, is Professor Karol Sikora, who I follow on Twitter. Throughout the Covid-19 period he has offered clear guidance and, more importantly, hope for many when other media or news outlets have chosen horror stories or scaremongering. He’s been my solace on Twitter over the last few months.
Sarah: Shout out 3 incredible people in your network that are doing great things!
Lesley: My colleague Kirsty Meese who has only recently returned from maternity leave after having her first baby. Returning to work after having a baby is an incredibly difficult period, plus Kirsty had the additional challenges of building and managing a completely new team. Covid then struck and we were all thrown into lockdown, Kirsty obviously had to then juggle home and work life with a young child. Yet she has been very open about her challenges and has shared this with many on her social media page, along with the many, many positives she is encountering on a daily basis. I admire her strength and courage!
Robin Goldsbro, a friend and former colleague of mine took the leap of faith and backed himself to become self-employed. Robin is now a successful transformation coach who is helping many people unlock their true potential.
A friend and former colleague from many moons ago, Claire O’Connor who has helped to keep me sane over the last few months with her daily blogs. A fantastic photographer, she has captured the lockdown period through hers, and her families’ eye, and it is wonderful to read each day. She probably doesn’t realise the positive impact she is having on people.
Sarah: What is your proudest achievement?
Lesley: It’s a non-work one. I'm pleased to say I ran the London marathon in 2016. It was a few months after I lost my mum to cancer that I decided I needed a big challenge and I put my application in thinking that I didn’t have a chance. Lots of people try each year to get a place and have no luck. My first attempt at trying and I was accepted! I decided to raise some money for Yorkshire Cancer Research and I'm thrilled that we raised over £1,500 for them. It’s still the toughest challenge I’ve ever put myself through and tested my mental strength way more than my physical strength.