Wondering what makes an IT Hero tick? We caught up with Featurespace's shortlisted Women in IT Excellence ‘Heroes of the Year’, Lucy Griffin, Megan Leoni, Reka Gay and Milena Jonkisz, to hear more about their careers so far, what drives them, and what advice they would share with others thinking about pursuing a career in technology.
Here’s what they said:
Tell us about your current role, what motivates you?
Milena: In my role as a Senior Customer Support Engineer, the thing that motivates me the most is that I’m able to see the real impact of my efforts because I can see the benefit provided to customers every day.
Lucy: I've always been motivated by solving hard problems and I can do that every day at Featurespace. As a Senior Data Scientist, I’m truly motivated by seeing the benefit we provide our customers through our solutions.
My role involves really getting to know a customer and then spending time building and optimizing the models. You need to make sure you have the data available to solve the problem that’s presented to you by the customer and we achieve that by learning about how their business works and the problems they experience with fraud.
Reka: My current role as a Senior Software Engineer often involves working across many technical teams and I really enjoy challenging myself for the best possible result in pursuit of innovation; I wholeheartedly believe in the product and the difference it makes to our customers globally.
I really love that I am constantly learning and that is something that’s vital for me and my career. I very much believe in continuous improvement and that’s something that is essential in our field.
Megan: As a Graduate Data Scientist at Featurespace, a big part of what drives me is the culture – everyone is constantly striving to achieve the best possible results and to be their best self, it’s infectious!
There’s a competitive element that forms part of the culture as you can see the results from your work directly, so you always want to improve your performance and create an even better model. It’s so rewarding to be able to get to know a customer, really understand their problem and work to create a solution for them – ultimately delivering a successful data science model for them.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in your career?
Lucy: The biggest lesson I have learned is to keep pushing forward - both in terms of career opportunities and in gaining new skills. Be satisfied and proud of your achievements to date but use that a motivation to keep moving forward. What's the next skill you can master? What's the next project you can take on? Tread the line between your comfort zone and the things which you are a bit scared of doing. You'll feel like a hero when you leave the office after accomplishing something you thought you couldn't do at the beginning of the day!
Milena: When I finished university, I had a bad case of ‘imposter syndrome’ where I just didn’t believe in myself or my abilities. I was lucky enough to have some really excellent mentors that showed me that you can achieve anything if you really put your mind to it and work hard – that’s my biggest lesson learned so far. It taught me that if you don’t know something you can more than likely learn it. It’s something I remind myself of regularly - it never stops me from achieving my goals.
Reka: I found that when you are self-learning or working on a project it can become a little bit isolating. You end up dedicating all your focus and efforts on that task, but you must understand the importance to share that work and get feedback. That’s been my most important lesson learned so far. To work collaboratively in IT is essential and to learn to take feedback constructively is hugely beneficial in the long run.
Megan: Something incredibly important that I have learned so far in my career is that, in IT and in life - often the simplest solution is best. I realised I’ve often made things much more difficult or complex than they need to be and it’s something that is not conducive to being productive or achieving great results. I’ve also found that if something was difficult to understand, it’s likely that I’m not alone in thinking that, so it’s about looking at that problem with a new or alternative perspective and looking to find the simplest solution to go forward.
What is your top tip for women looking to start a career in IT?
Reka: In tech, I think it’s critical to self-learn – it’s the most valuable tip I would give to any women looking to start or progress in an IT based career. It’s important to understand that IT and technology evolves so quickly, and you must keep up with it. For example, it’s highly likely that whatever you already studied in school or university, may be outdated by the time you enter the workforce. Self-learning and relentlessly practicing alongside that is absolutely critical, it’s also a really good way to understand and hone your skills and niche.
Megan: It may sound a little cliché but believe in yourself! Women are less likely to apply for a job if they feel like they can’t meet all the listed requirements, so they don’t take the opportunity through fear of not making the cut. I felt this way when I was first looking at data science jobs and believed that I lacked direct experience in the field and didn’t believe I met a lot of the requirements that employers were asking for. But I thought about my current skill set combined with my academic background and I was keen to learn as much as I could, especially in a new role. Being eager and open to learn and develop new skills is an invaluable asset, especially in IT, and most employers understand that when they look for new hires. Don’t close yourself off from opportunities you are interested in – you should always be your own best advocate and know that you’re on a level playing field.
Lucy: This may not be just specific to IT and serves as a general tip in any career, but I’d say it lies in hard work. Success, I believe, in any career is determined by competence and it is ultimately gained through hard work. Whether that's in the form of experience in the IT sector or academic study.
You must be prepared for whatever you are embarking on, so I always say, ‘know what you know well’, but equally if you don’t know something – don’t be afraid of it. Apply yourself to learn and master it. Another tip I believe is always valuable for young girls and women looking to start their career in IT, is don't think of the industry as a male dominated world – it’s great being a woman in IT because you are bringing so many new and different skills as well as fresh views to the roles available. So, keep going and find inspiration from the women already in IT that are the trailblazers – make them your role model and follow their lead.
Milena: If you’re looking for a career in IT, start by networking. The tech and IT communities are very welcoming and attending meet ups or joining groups to network is imperative. It gives you a real sense of the environment you can work and learn in. Another thing I’d say that’s important to bear in mind is don’t ever be intimidated by looking at a job role. Look at the job description with a glass-half-full mentality, if you’re able do half of the things required, you can scope out the rest to learn. As women, we tend to avoid such situations as we fear that we’ll feel like a fraud in the position, but we can offer so much more that may not be on paper to those roles.
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