A flexible career in tech

Ceri Godwin, Director Growth & Advisory – EmTech at Santander UK, talks to workingmums.co.uk about her career path and how to get more women into Tech.

 

A recent report by recruiter Robert Walters and analysts Vacancysoft shows that the jobs of the future will be defined by having data skillsets at their core. For Ceri Godwin, Director Growth & Advisory – EmTech at Santander UK, this is precisely why technology as a profession urgently needs to be democratised and made more accessible to everyone, particularly women. One way is through promoting how flexible it is as a career.

Ceri agrees that most jobs will have a tech element in the future so we need upskilling, a change in how we teach technology at schools from an early age and a challenge to nerdy stereotypes.

Barriers such as the use of technological jargon need to be brought down, she says, and she advocates a makeover to give tech jobs a bit more ‘glamour’, to move away from the idea of people working in data centres on industrial estates in the middle of nowhere.

This is already happening in part with tech start-ups and the focus on innovation centres. “Tech needs an image makeover,” says Ceri.

“The ironic thing is that technology itself is really, really democratic. We all use the same stuff,“ she says.


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Career trajectory

Ceri herself got into technology accidentally and has now spent half of her 30-year career in IT. She studied civil engineering at university, but found she only liked the construction part of civil engineering rather than “being locked in an office”.

On graduating she started working in banking, working her way through customer-facing roles in local branches of Abbey National up to head office functions and eventually to a role in risk management, specialising in business intelligence which she continued when Santander acquired Abbey.

Santander required staff with both business and IT knowledge and Ceri found herself in the midst of a tug of war between the finance director and the IT director and ‘fell’ into business intelligence, IT and data strategy. “It was part evolution, part happy accident,” she says. “Ultimately, the role was about problem solving in a creative way, not about writing code.”

This was just as well, she says, given that at university she had a reputation for having more lines of error than lines of code when she studied computer programming. “It’s ironic, but it underlines that working in technology is not necessarily about code. It’s about thinking critically,” she states.

Ceri says she does not find it difficult being in a male-dominated sector like Tech. She had been in environments which were dominated by only one sex from an early age. She went to all-girls’ schools as a child, yet on her undergraduate course she was one of only seven women out of 150 other potential civil engineers. She found retail banking within Abbey/Santanderfemale-dominated, but when she moved to IT she was very much in a minority as a woman.

She is worried, however, that things are getting worse in IT. “When I recruit now I see fewer and fewer women coming through, especially for technology roles,” she says. She thinks technology is a very misunderstood sector and career path and needs to be promoted better.

“There are a lot of stereotypes,” she says. “There are a huge range of jobs within the sector, from analytics to project management. I work with university students who are very surprised that banks do cool IT. They assume we are quite traditional when in reality we are cutting edge.”


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Outreach

Ceri herself is involved in a lot of initiatives to promote tech to young people. She works, for example, with University College London, one of Santander’s 86 University Partners, who run a 40-week course for arts students to be digitally savvy and thinks every employer should be engaged in giving its employees the digital skills they will need throughout their working lives.

Santander has also sponsored the Birmingham-based School of Code, a 16-week bootcamp to get more and different types of people into tech, in a bid to address the growing need for coding and programming skills in the UK. She is also on the steering committee of FinTECH Talents which brings together students, start-ups and large corporates for an annual festival.

Nearly a third of tickets are given free to university students so they can have open conversations with people working in fintech and challenge the stereotypes. “We want to start to change people’s perceptions,” she says. “The key is giving people the confidence to try something new.”

Ceri believes that it is vital that perceptions of tech are tackled from an early age. She has been into secondary schools through the Founders4Schools programme and says that, despite her experience of always being in a minority on IT-related courses, she is shocked at how many 16 year old girls have already “deselected” themselves from STEM-related careers. Ceri has a 17-year-old daughter and sees how little real technology school students still do.

“The majority of technology classes are based on Powerpoint and Excel spreadsheets, which is not technology. It’s counterintuitive when that age group are completely engaged with technology on a day-to-day basis. Yet they have no curiosity about how it works because they are not taught early enough,” she says.

She adds that the UK needs to improve its teaching of all languages, including coding. She thinks industry and government need to work much more closely together to scale up all the work already being done to encourage young people to get the tech skills they need, for instance, through giving them open access to lots of work experience and encouraging younger children to try new things, to ‘try before they buy’.

Targeting returners

Another area where Ceri would like to see more activity is in attracting back women who have left the industry to look after children. She says many lose confidence and feel their skills are out of date after taking a career break. She stresses that the core skills remain the same.

“It’s about taking the fear factor out and instilling the right level of confidence,” she says. “I was told when I came back from maternity leave that things had changed so much, but most things don’t change a lot. A core skillset of problem solving, an appetite for learning, communications and analytical skills and intellectual curiosity – will mainly take you through unless you are in a cutting edge role.”

Meanwhile, she argues strongly that it is important for industry to have a diversity of thinking.  Ceri says there are a lot of stereotypes about what working in technology means.

Santander have an internal development programme which it trialled in its technology division and will roll out this month. As part of the programme participants need to build an app and do a sales pitch for it. Ceri says the programme highlights the kind of skills you need to work in technology are broad-based business ones, such as an ability to think about the customer.


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Flexible working

Ceri says one of the undersold things about tech is that it is usually a very flexible career with a high rate of contractors. She herself worked fairly flexibly when her daughter was young. Her husband, who took a career break at one point, has always shared childcare with her. She adds that she finds that the need for flexible working is greater as children get older – for instance, around exam times.

“Flexible working needs to be forever. You need different types of flexible working for different phases of your working life,” says Ceri. “It’s not just about small children.”

As a team leader she is aware of the different responsibilities people in her team might have outside work and she says she factors it in. “It’s about treating people as individuals,” she says. “That makes for better teams, a better corporate culture and a better working environment.”



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