As part of our Tales in Tech series we’ve been catching up with members of our tech community to share the journeys, lessons learnt and advice that has helped them through their careers to date.
We’re proud to have worked with notonthehighstreet over the years to help build out their pioneering Product and Engineering Teams and were excited to hear from Software Engineer Alex Parkinson, who has been working at notonthehighstreet for the last two years. Having been intrigued by technology from a young age and unsure of what to do after leaving school, Alex completed a Makers Course that would go on to kick-start her career as a Software Engineer.
Tell us a bit about yourself; what inspired you to get into technology and how did you come to be at your current role with NOTHS?
My fascination with technology started as a child; my parents bought me circuit boards and things like that for Christmas, as I was naturally drawn to technology along with problem solving games and activities like puzzles and jigsaws. I would always get a serious feeling of achievement when I got the circuit board to light up with all the components working. As I grew older my fascination progressed in the form of video game consoles like the PlayStation, which I’m still really passionate about today.
When it came to choosing a career, it wasn’t a conscious decision for me to go down the tech route but more of a natural evolution towards something I had always been drawn to and something I’ve always naturally been good at. I decided against university as at the time I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so a degree didn’t seem to be the right next step, especially if it might send me in the wrong direction.
When I turned 18, I was recommended to take a Makers course. At this point I was still a little dubious, but I applied via the entry test and (to my amazement!) I was accepted. That experience laid the foundations for my career. It enabled me to meet likeminded people that I’m still close to today and provided me with the skills that really sparked my passion for code.
Once I finished my course, I was lucky enough to experience a broad spectrum of environments from start-ups to agencies, which left me with quite a tested skill set and good domain exposure working on a wide range of products in multiple different industries. I attended Silicon Milkroundabout – a tech job fair in London - which was where I first found the opportunity to join NOTHS. I was excited as it felt like the right time to move in terms of their size and status at the time. There were a lot of interesting technical challenges to tackle and the culture looked amazing due to the high number of seriously talented Engineers they had onboard, so there was great potential for me to learn and grow.
Two years on and I’m still growing and developing along with NOTHS and really feel like the company is helping me to get the best out of myself.
What has your experience been navigating the tech industry as a young woman?
Being honest and speaking from my own perspective and not that of the industry, I felt it was easier to get a job as a female Engineer. The bar was lowered, and you do often get favouritism for opportunities against potentially technically stronger Engineers, however I found it was the opposite when you're onboard. A lot of my fellow female Engineers shared the same opinion and often felt overlooked for promotions, leadership positions or any impactful ownership in projects. Although NOTHS has been the exception for this in my experience.
In my earlier career as a Junior Engineer, I was always given ‘pet’ nicknames, which to me emphasized or reinforced my novice status or inexperience. These nicknames certainly wouldn’t have been awarded to a male counterpart; so I found there was an ore of condescension for women that men don’t experience.
Have you noticed an attitude shift in the industry over the last 6+ years around diversity and inclusivity in tech?
Certainly, the conversation has started. Most companies out there are recognising the problem and making moves towards addressing it, but being honest, in a lot of cases I do wonder if it's genuine or just for public image, making sure they keep in line with cultural trends. But what’s important is that there has been a big shift in mentality and culture and companies are actively trying to address inequality and discrimination. There’s a long way to go but tech is a leading industry for it.
What are your career goals for the next 5-10 years? How do you hope to achieve them?
The next step is more technical ownership and eventually leadership and management. I’m already on my way to these goals with the help of NOTHS. It’s good to set these objectives for the long term but it’s your actions day in and day out that get you there. It’s about being proactive, constantly learning and constantly putting yourself forward for more responsibility.
Have you got any role models or mentors that have helped you in your career?
My mum is my main role model, mentor and inspiration. She’s a Professor and Lecturer at UCL and a strong personality who has overcome a lot of discrimination and hardship to get where she is – she offers a lot of motivation, support, advice and empowerment that gives me the courage and ability to get where I want to be in life.
What advice do you have for other females looking to get into technology?
Don’t be intimidated or told you can’t do something. In this modern time everything is possible and it’s within you to make it happen. Unfortunately, being a woman as a minority in the industry as it stands, you are likely to experience prejudice in some form, but it’s up to you how you use that experience. It’s about channelling that experience into motivation, that’s how the status quo changes and prejudice is overcome.
What further change do you hope to see in the future of software Engineering?
I hope to see initiatives that have been laid out right now across the industry actually being realised. Equal opportunities, unfair bias and stereotypes dissipated so that all that matters is your ability.
Equal opportunities for women in leadership. Right now, you can see real action in the industry to make this happen, so hopefully in the not-too-distant future this will become a reality and I’m certain we’ll see some unrealised benefits from having a more diverse perspective steering the companies that are laying down the foundations for the future of technology.
Do you attend any meetups or online events?
I was quite active in the meet up scene before lockdown as I enjoy the social aspect; they're a great platform to meet fellow techies from the wider industry, to take in outside perspectives and widen your network – there’s a lot of great take-aways from them on top of the talks.
During lockdown I’ve attended quite a few webinars, I think they will remain popular post-pandemic as they’re great for allowing people to dip in and out based on if its relevant to you or not, plus the obvious factor that its more accessible and easier to join. I’ve remained close to the Makers alumni and am quite active in their meetups.
What tools, resources, bootcamps or courses do you recommend for keeping up to date?
YouTube and other various free streaming platforms are really useful. There are so many free tutorials out there which are so accessible. That’s something I love about code; anyone can pick it up if they have the motivation and aptitude to learn.
Any advice or tips you have for working from home and keeping productive?
I’ve been fortunate enough to create a separate workspace away from my living area. It’s been so useful for enabling me to differentiate my work time and down time, which really helps with relaxation and leaving the workday behind. I’ve also purchased a personal laptop so if I need to do something in my leisure time it carries no theme of work. The philosophy is to isolate work and leisure as much as possible so you can be productive in both.
I also think it’s really important to have passions. My partner and I have a crafts room where he practices music and I can be creative through various means of art which I really enjoy.
A huge thank you to Alex for sharing an honest insight into her journey as a Software Engineer. Highlighting the importance of carving out time for your own self progression and development, ideally with the help and support of your line manager, to help realise and achieve your goals.
If you’ve had an interesting pathway into tech or are working on an exciting project you’d like to share, please get in touch! We’d love to hear from you and share your story with our tech community.
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