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"You are not your code." - Jessica Smith: International Women's Day 2024.



We caught up with a young up and coming data engineer Jess so she could share her thoughts on being a woman in a male dominated role in 2024 #IWD24.

Jess currently works for Sainbury's Data Engineering team, supporting the design and build of internal data tools to facilitate creation of data pipelines. Prior to this Jess graduated with a 1st Class Masters in Chemistry from the University of Warwick and then took a role at Kubrick (One of the U.K's largest, AI, Cloud and Data Workforces) as a data engineer.
 

1. What is your proudest achievement?

"My proudest achievement is contributing significantly to a project which positively concluded in large annual company savings and brought about improvements to the way in which many colleagues work. Bringing about tangible change allowed me to find purpose in my work and become more confident to lean into those opportunities when they come around."


2. What role has education played in your life?

"Education has had, and continues to have, a huge role in my life.

Attending Warwick University to study chemistry opened so many doors for me, both professionally and personally. Those 4 years played a pivotal role in developing me into the confident, resilient person I am today. Despite switching paths to a career in technology, I have maintained my passion for learning which I believe is important to keep up with an ever-changing technology landscape."


3. Why do you think equality in the workplace is so important?

"A diverse set of minds working together have the ability to catch more problems and anticipate more situations than a non-diverse group. This not only enhances innovation and encourages creativity but ultimately saves a huge amount of time and money at the end of the day. ‘It takes a village’ does not just apply to raising children, whether you’re building apps or taste testing ice-cream, having a wide range of opinions, perspectives and life experiences is vital."


4. Have you faced any barriers in life because you are a woman? And how did you overcome them? 

"Although not the most significant of barriers, speaking up when being the only woman in a room of men, on a daily basis, isn’t always easy. Existing in a male-dominated career, it feels like an uphill battle sometimes to even get your voice heard, and fighting for your opinion to be taken seriously is exhausting. Overcoming this isn’t easy, but every time I do, I make it a fraction easier for the next young girl to do so, until eventually it won’t be a struggle at all. Reframing any obstacle like this helps to maintain my confidence."


5. What is the most important piece of advice you have been given?

"You are not your code.

 

AND

 

Fail fast and hard. Ask all the questions you can, as early on as you can – being honest about not understanding is so important as it is rarely a reflection on your skill level and more so a reflection of how it is being explained or who is explaining to you. It’s easy to get lost when dealing with technical problems so try not to be paralysed by it. Try and try again – it does not need to be perfect, at least not in the beginning."


6. If you could give one piece of advice to a young woman who's thinking about a career in tech, what would it be?  

"Be loud and be brave. Don’t underestimate how valuable and transferable your talents and strengths are. You are not a man, so don’t lose yourself trying to act and think like one, acknowledge your differences and know that these set you apart and will come in useful in more ways than you think."


7. How can we, collectively in the U.K, encourage more young women to take up careers in tech? 

"I think we have a long way to go in changing the commonly accepted narrative that excellence in technology and maths is something you’re born with. Socially we stereotypically accept that males will naturally be better at skills that lend themselves to tech careers, but this is not true.


Women have the potential to excel the same as men do, so long as they believe this and have the guidance and support that is offered to their male peers. I think one of the first steps is improving access to introductory courses, training programmes and lessons in coding, to build confidence from a young age."


8. Who is the most influential woman in your life?

"I am extremely lucky to be surrounded by so many influential women in my life. If I were to pick one it would probably be my mum, Jane. If I didn’t have the unconditional support from her and the rest of my family growing up, I don’t think I would be where I am today. She consistently inspires me to be the best version of myself, never with any expectation or pressure. From her I have not only gained an extreme dedication to my career, but also an ability to feel and care deeply about the people around me and the things I do, which in turn allows me to life a more fulfilled life."


9. If you could have dinner with three inspirational women, dead or alive, who would they be and why? 

Dame Stephanie (Steve) Shirley

Describing Shirley as inspirational is a gross understatement. She has lived such an extraordinary life, from being a child refugee in the start of the Second World War to starting a software business which was valued at almost $3 billion. She speaks so poignantly about harnessing control over your life and forging the path you desire, especially in an environment heavily dominated by men. I would love to have dinner with her – I’m sure I’d come away with a relentless drive for life. I believe she is someone that every young woman should look up to.

 

Natacha Oceane

Although not in the field of technology, Natacha has been a role model for me for some time. I admire her outlook on how sports and movement can contribute positively towards our health and wellbeing, and I find myself constantly inspired by her dedication to what she does. I believe she is pioneering a crucial reform in social media, making science-backed knowledge more accessible; aiming to truly help people regardless of the financial compensation.

 

Annie Easley

A no-brainer. NASA rocket-scientist and trailblazer, Annie will always be on top of a list like this. I can’t begin to imagine the adversity that she will have had to endure to achieve what she did, and I think it would be a rather humbling experience to meet her – knowing the fire alight inside of me would be greatly overshadowed by the one I believe must have burned inside her.



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