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, Account Manager Jessica Thompson speaks to Programme Manager Issy Middleton about finding balance, role models, career paths for women in tech and learnings from a career in the industry.
What were your career aspirations when you were growing up?
Issy: I didn’t really have any. I definitely wasn’t a child who knew what they wanted to do when they grew up and focused on achieving a specific career. Being set on one career is fine but also being open to different opportunities is good too.
Who is your all-time role model?
Issy: I don’t have a specific one but if I had to pick I’d probably choose an athlete like Jessica Ennis-Hill or any Olympian. No doubt they have natural talent but the level of discipline to achieve that level of success is extremely impressive. The ability to focus and deliver such a breadth of techniques needed for a heptathlon shows utter dedication to a complex training regime.
You have forged a successful career in tech. In your opinion, is the industry now a more accessible career path for women?
Issy: Probably yes, but I think all career paths for women have opened up in the last 20 to 30 years from an automatic expectation that females would be home makers and full time mothers. However I haven’t seen the step change that I was expecting and women are still outnumbered significantly in the meetings I routinely attend. In the energy sector, which is historically male dominated, people tend to have very long careers with the same company. However more focus is being placed on diversity and employers are seeking to better reflect the communities they serve, hopefully as vacancies emerge and workforces evolve we’ll see more women enjoy a career in tech.
What is the biggest challenge you've had to overcome in your career? Do you think this relates specifically to the tech industry being male dominated?
Issy: Probably managing others and identifying myself as a leader. Possibly this relates to our industry being historically male dominated, but not necessarily. Culturally I think there is still an acceptance of the ‘Alpha A’ male. Having female role models that we can identify with and seeing women in leadership roles is vital to challenging and changing cultural norms and unconscious bias.
What is your proudest achievement?
Issy: Graduating from the Open University with a degree after studying part-time for six years, whilst working full time. At the time it was just a relief to have finished and a bit of an anticlimax. It didn’t change my circumstances immediately and most of the hard work was still to come. However, it was the start of a real step change in opportunities. I’m so pleased I stuck it out.
Do you think education or experience is more important when looking to embark on a tech career?
Issy: One without the other is always going to limit your opportunities and the importance of one over the other is probably going to shift at different points in your career. Education is more likely to open doors if your experience is developing but once you have a solid work history and proven skills there is probably less focus on qualifications. That said, depending on the market for your skills, employers will expect both.
Do you have any advice for balancing home and work life?
Issy: You can achieve anything you set your mind to. However there’s a price tag in terms of sacrifice and hard work. Time is a precious resource. Be honest with yourself about where your boundaries are personally and professionally. If you were to look back in 5/10 years’ time would you be happy with your life choices?
What one thing have you learned during your career that you could pass on?
Issy: Be willing to volunteer. Show initiative. Focus on doing your own work well but if you are itching to do more speak up and ask.
Do you have any advice for any future talent looking for a career in tech?
Issy: Be mindful that the pace of technology change means that skills can get out of date very quick. Find a company who will show interest in your continued professional development but look out for your own career if the organisation isn’t prepared to. Be conscious of choices that will lead to specialist skills that could become irrelevant and be prepared to always learn. Even after seven years at Northern Powergrid I’m always learning and the role of tech in future energy systems means the opportunities to learn and develop will continue.
Shout out 3 incredible people in your network that are doing great things!
Issy: Gabbi Barnard at Scotia Gas Networks who has been pivotal and a key driver behind the work of the Energy Network Association’s Data Working Group
Gemma Slaney at Western Power Distribution who is doing a great job of challenging the service provided and improving the performance of the DCC’s smart metering national infrastructure
Maxine Frerk at Sustainability First who is one of the leaders of the Public Interest Advisory Group on how society can benefit from accessing data generated by the smart meter programme
If relevant, how have you dealt with the hurdles of career transition and/or returning to the work place?
Issy: In my early career I moved companies every few years. I tended to work for smaller organisations and needed to move for more responsibility and bigger roles. New working relations can take time to build depending on the organisation’s culture. Be patient and identify win-win scenarios. Demonstrate your value by actions rather than words.
As a result of working for smaller companies I was made redundant a couple of times, which is a tough experience regardless of how it is handled. Luckily a door closing has always resulted in a better opportunity for me. My advice would be to stay positive.
Getting honest advice you trust to guide your search for a new role has been very helpful to me over the years. The recruitment market has changed so much. If I’ve wanted to move on I’ve made it a project and worked hard at securing a new position. Equally I’ve been willing to listen if great opportunities have been offered. Being flexible, open minded and realistic will help in making any tough decisions.
In conclusion, are there any other comments you would like to make?
Issy: I do genuinely believe that people who are enjoying their work are more productive. For me I enjoy the diversity of my role and being part of a sector that is so key to society and increasingly using tech to power peoples’ lives.
Also, it is important whilst building your career to be patient and generous in supporting others and sharing your knowledge. Recognise others have skills and knowledge you can benefit from. Working in a high performance team takes effort but is extremely rewarding so I would recommend everyone finds a way to be an active contributor.