To celebrate International Women in Engineering Day, which takes place on June 23, TechBlast will this week be profiling three women about their journey into tech.
Figures from 2021 show that only 16.5% of engineers are women. According to the Manchester Digital Skills Audit 2022, 95% of businesses said that diversity was important to them but only 58% of them were actively doing something to address it.
Manchester Digital has been running its Digital Her programme since 2019, which organises events and sessions for young women at schools and colleges across Greater Manchester to inspire them into a career in tech.
Rachel Chenery swapped her legal career to become a software developer for Auto Trader and hopes other women will follow in her tech footsteps.
Q1: Can you tell us your journey into tech?
I had a very roundabout career path into a tech role. After university, I worked as a charity fundraising manager and project manager in the public sector, took a year out to travel, went to law school, became a solicitor and then after many years decided to change career and I did a coding bootcamp. Through this I got my first role as a junior developer.
Q2: What was it that made you consider a career in tech?
Before I went to law school, I had a job applying for funding and running small digital inclusion projects in Manchester, supporting people from different communities to learn tech skills. I also learnt some basic coding for web pages and remember being excited when I made the words on the page turn blue! These experiences came back to me when I decided to change career.
Q3: Did you have a mentor, and if so, how did they help and encourage you?
Yes, I have been very lucky to have some brilliant, supportive mentors during my journey into, and now in, tech. First of all, Becky and James, the founders of Tech Returners were really supportive when I was made redundant from my first tech job during the pandemic. They encouraged me to apply for their upskilling programme and through that, I was delighted to get a job with Auto Trader, who were one of the programme sponsors.
Since I have been at Auto Trader, I have been lucky enough to have great mentors and coaches: my first manager, Paul, who had faith that I could do the job to start with and has explained how to develop my coding skills; Emina, who has been very supportive and encouraged me not to be afraid of trying stuff out, getting stuck and learning from it; and Mark, who gives up his time each week to teach me about different aspects of coding.
Q4: Were you encouraged into tech, science or digital while you were at school?
Not really to be honest. I was at secondary school in the 80s and early 90s and although I went to a good school, it was pretty old fashioned, with girls doing some separate subjects to boys, eg. home economics instead of design tech.
Q5: What subjects did you study at school and university?
I loved languages and went to university to study French and Italian.
Q6: Did you find the transfer into the tech job easy?
Some of my interest in coding comes from my love of learning languages, as there are some similarities. For example, there is syntax in both spoken human languages and coding languages and translating from one human language to another is a bit like trying to understand what a piece of code is doing.
It has been a very steep learning curve, but overall, I have enjoyed it. One tip I would give is to really try to work on your growth mindset. I am now much better at saying to myself, ‘I don’t know how to do that…yet’. I am learning incrementally, and I definitely know more than I did when I started.
It turns out I had lots of transferable skills and qualities: curiosity, resilience, determination, communication, time management. As a solicitor, I had to ask my clients lots of questions to understand their situation. I now use that skill to understand what I need to do and learn from my ever-patient colleagues and mentors.
Q7: What do you most enjoy about your tech job now?
I love working through a task, solving problems, and writing code. It is really satisfying to see code that you have written used in the live Auto Trader website.
Q8: What does it mean to you to encourage young women into the tech industry?
I am very passionate about encouraging girls and young women into the tech industry. Honestly, if I can do it, anyone can! I run a girls’ code club on my day off with two other parents at a local primary school. We want to give the girls the opportunity to try coding and realise that it is creative and satisfying and definitely something they can do. There are so many interesting opportunities in the tech world please do consider it.