By Caitlin Burns, DocsCorp Content Manager.
This post is part of a series for International Women's Day 2020 that aims to highlight just some of the women at DocsCorp who are inspiring change and diversity in the technology sector.
Jenny Ward is one of our Lead Software Engineers. She has extensive project lead experience and is highly experienced in developing .NET applications. She also has a bachelor’s degree in Mathematical Sciences from the University of Oxford and received her Master’s in Computer Science from the University of Bristol. Jenny is a true illustration of how women can do more than just succeed in STEM roles – they can thrive. We asked her about the challenges she had to overcome to get here, and what others could be doing to break down barriers to women in tech.
What kinds of reactions do you get from people when you tell them about your work as a Lead Software Engineer?
I haven’t really had any surprising reactions when I say what I do for work. Although it doesn’t stop me feeling a little self-conscious sometimes. I think there is more acceptance of women in tech these days, especially with the focus on gender ratios at large companies like Google and Facebook.
You have worked with us here at DocsCorp for nearly four years. Can you tell us what other roles you had prior?
Prior to DocsCorp, I worked at a data analysis company for seven years. I was a Senior Engineer and 2IC, but when I was ready to move into a team lead role, it just wasn’t available. My boss wasn’t going anywhere.
It took me a while to summon up the courage to move on from that company and to believe in my skills again. I think a lack of confidence and self-belief is a very common female trait.
Fortunately, I applied for and gained a place on a mentoring program run by FitT (Females in IT and Telecommunications), and this really boosted my confidence and helped me clarify what I wanted out of a new role.
How has the tech industry changed since you first entered?
The tech industry changes really quickly, and a huge amount has changed since I started my first job in 2003. There are so many new technologies being developed each year, so it’s essential to stay up to date and continually improve your skills.
I think in this respect the industry can be hard for women. We are so often the primary carers when it comes to having children. Taking a chunk of time off work, say 6 or 12 months, can mean that technologies and best practices have really changed when you return to work.
How did your university studies influence your career choices?
I have a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics from the University of Oxford and was keen on finding a role that used it, but I didn’t want to work in finance or accounting. I did a university placement during the summer of my second year and discovered computer programming for the first time – it appealed to my logical way of thinking and my love of problem-solving. I haven’t looked back!
You have been managing people for nearly a decade. How would you describe your management style? Have you had to change it or work on it over the years?
When I first started managing people, my style was quite task-oriented. I learned that this approach could sometimes alienate team members because they felt like their needs were not considered.
I have learned over the years to be much more focused on people. People need to feel that their individual contribution makes a difference. When this happens, the team gels so much better.
I do believe there are certain traits and characteristics that are often described as “female” characteristics – such as higher empathy, a more nurturing attitude – that definitely help in people management
How does people management fit into your career goals as a software developer?
I have enjoyed managing people. However, I am also interested in being a technical specialist and often found these to be opposing goals. It’s challenging to remain functional and hands-on in terms of programming when managing people – it requires a different level of abstraction.
What is one small, tangible way you ensure your job works around your family?
I currently work three days a week and look after my son the remaining two workdays. I’m finding this works really well for my relationship with my son – it seems to strike the right balance. Gaining traction at work while only there three days is a little challenging, but when the time is right, I plan to work four days a week, with one of those probably at home.
I also share the pick-ups and drop-offs for the week with my husband. It enables me to set a boundary with work and means I am often more efficient if I know I have to leave at 4.30 on the dot!
What advice would you give to a woman wanting to enter or progress in a career as a software developer?
Don’t be discouraged by the male dominance in the industry. If you feel that a particular role in tech is right for you, that it suits your way of thinking and you are passionate about it, then you should go for it. There are many organizations out there championing and inspiring women in tech and STEM roles; there is a lot more support now compared to when I started out.
Why do you feel gender diversity is important for the tech sector?
I think gender diversity is important because we shouldn’t be discouraging anyone, male or female, from pursuing a job they are passionate about.