The Makers Academy coding bootcamp recently put together a list of 30 women in the software industry to showcase the sector’s female talent.
Out of the many women who were put forward for consideration, a handful were chosen to represent the best young females in software engineering based on their ability to master new skills and technologies in a short space of time, influence both in and outside of the industry, and the projects they have been contributing to both in and outside of work.
Making sure these women can be seen and are accessible is important for creating role models for those considering a technology career, as well as proving those who use a ‘lack’ of women in the sector as an excuse for biased hiring or event organising wrong.
Three women who made the final list, Sarah-Beth Amos, Rachelle Mills and Elin Ng, have shared their personal experiences of some of the challenges of being a woman in the software wold, how they tackled these challenges, and any advice they would give someone experiencing something similar.
Rachelle Mills, CEO of KareInn
KareInn is a healthtech company which uses a software platform to improve health and wellbeing in the growing elderly population. Mills has been instrumental in scaling KareInn into a leading business in the UK Care Home sector.
Like any CEO and founder will tell you, there are years where the learning curve is steep, and you are rapidly reflecting on your strengths and challenges in order to adapt and become successful. For me, this felt more challenging because of the absence of female role models and mentors in the tech space. There is a personal gain from sharing your journey with others who have been there and done it. It supports you personally, emotionally and practically for the road ahead. Finding my tribe has been an important part of the journey, but there is definitely more that can be done to make this easier. I would like to see those of us that have broken through to play our part in paying it forward.
I started to overcome this by listening to podcasts, particularly Masters of Scale, but I also looked for ways to grow my real-life network. A turning point for me was when the team won a place on Google’s Residency Programme. I found myself surrounded by other peers who were scaling ambitious software companies, all with a technology for social good bias. Half of those companies were led by clever, ambitious women who had experience building software companies before. They have become good friends, and introduced me to their networks, such as the fantastic 10 Digital Ladies, so I think my key message would be hunt out or be on the lookout for your tribe, and invest time in those relationships when you find them. It pays dividends.
Sarah-Beth Amos, Phd student in computational biochemistry, Oxford University
Amos studied Biochemistry at King’s College London where she became very interested in the physics and mathematics underlying biology. After teaching herself to programme in her spare time while carrying out undergraduate projects in nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and computational biology, she was awarded an MRC scholarship to study for her MRes in Molecular Biophysics at King’s, and carried out a project on molecular simulation of antimicrobial peptides.
Whilst I have been incredibly fortunate that my academic supervisors have been very supportive, there have been a number of episodes throughout my career where I faced blatant discouragement and pretty sexist behaviour. I attended a recruitment event where the company CEO asked me if I was lost on arrival (I was the only woman there). In the last year I have been told that I should just let my partner ‘earn all the money’ rather than being ambitious with my work. One colleague said I wouldn’t be able to do a certain type of job, until I started getting interviews for those positions.
I am always amazed when people complain that ‘their’ job was given to someone else only because of equality initiatives. Who said it was ‘your’ job in the first place? It is a constant challenge to confront the gradual erosion of confidence that is the result of instances like these.
To overcome these challenges, I think you have to accept that you probably will have experiences like this, and maybe prepare for them by having some short responses to hand, and know that you need to be ready to ignore comments from people who don’t have your best interests at heart. At the same time, be a good role model yourself by working hard and advocating for others where you can.
Elin Ng, co-founder of Salve
Salve is a mobile app that improves patient service and outcomes for clinics. The firm is currently working with IVF clinics in the UK and across Europe. Salve is automating clinic workflows to free staff time for better care and improved patient safety by allowing patients to access treatment information via their smartphones.
Salve, the startup I co-founded, is a patient management platform, guiding patients through fertility treatment via mobile and automating clinic admin processes, so staff have more time for better care. The idea for this came from supporting some friends who were overwhelmed when undergoing gruelling fertility treatments. They were emotionally exhausted with daily injections, hormone treatments and invasive weekly appointments – on top of work and other responsibilities.
I originally came from a finance background and completed the Makers Academy software development program with the intention to launch a tech startup. This is where Salve began!
As a female founder, I had empathy for the women experiencing fertility issues and the substantial workload upon nurses and doctors to provide consistent and time pressured care.
Many of my product management and partnership meetings are held with technical specialists, where I’m the only woman. My confidence has sometimes wavered in managing technical conversations as I don’t come from a traditional tech background – whilst at the same time, I’ve undervalued my deep understanding how clinic staff & patients want to interact with our product and also the greater vision for the business.
When product development and partnership meetings become quite technical – I encourage the team to create a visualisation of the issue and solution – this helps create a common understanding of the topic. We also do weekly learning sessions where our tech team talk about what they’re developing & answer any questions from the other team members. This helps everyone communicate better on technical aspects to our customers.
I’m also building a network for fellow female health-tech founders, to share our learnings, resources and connections.
My advice? Don’t be afraid to ask for people’s time, advice and connections. Think carefully about how you can contribute to them. We’ve hired quite a few people who’ve taken the initiative to reach out to us.