Hi Rosie, Thanks for agreeing to do this interview. I thought we should start with a little bit about what you do?
Hi Elspeth, no problem.
I am a Research Technologist at BBC R&D (Research and Development), which is the department of the BBC responsible for pushing the boundaries of broadcasting and media with innovative new technology and concepts.
Wow! That sounds really exciting. Can you give any hints as to what you’re working on at the moment? Or is it top secret?
At the moment I’m working on a project called Multiplayer Broadcasting, which aims to take advantage of the convergence of TV/films and video games (video games are becoming more cinematic, and as we move towards On Demand video, TV and film can become more interactive). We are experimenting with broadcasting a live video of a presenter into a video game. Think something like Crystal Maze, but where the contestants are virtual avatars controlled by players at home, but can still interact with the live presenter. We think of it as exploring a new TV format using ‘mixed-reality’.
I love Crystal Maze! That’s amazing!
I imagine there’s a team of you working on this? What’s your role within it?
Our projects are quite flexible, so at the moment there is a small team of us working on it, but others will dip in and out as they are needed. It’s hard to define my role much more than ‘technologist’ – which I’m aware is very general! It involves a mix of coding, identifying technical challenges, finding creative solutions, researching current tech trends, working with filmmakers… One of the reasons I enjoy my job is just how much variety there is!
Additionally, as part of my role I am undertaking a doctorate which looks at how we can automate the integration of video into virtual environments, which will contribute to solving some of the technical challenges of the Multiplayer Broadcasting project
Do you think that’s true of a lot of technical jobs, that they allow a lot of variety? Or are we two of the lucky ones?
Haha, I’m not sure! I think I am very lucky, but a lot of people I speak to who work in tech seem to identify variety as a highlight, so maybe it’s quite common!
So how did you become a Research Technologist?
I studied BSc Physics and the MSc Computer Science at uni, then started looking for web development jobs. I’d heard about people working at the BBC on iPlayer so I started looking for jobs on their website. I then saw an advert for the BBC R&D graduate scheme – I didn’t even know the BBC had an R&D department but when I read about what they did it seemed like my perfect job – using technical skills to solve problems in a creative environment. I was lucky enough to get the job – and after the scheme I continued on as a Research Technologist.
Did technology play a large part in your BSc? It seems like a slight pivot from that to your Masters?
No, it was quite a pivot! Before I started uni I knew very little about computers. But while I was doing my BSc a few people suggested I might like coding because I enjoy logic puzzles. I gave it a go and was hooked! That, combined with the fact that my laptop kept breaking and I wanted to know why, gave me an interest in computers.
You didn’t study it at school or college at all?
No not at all – I got into it really late.
I hope the fact that coding is being introduced into the curriculum might mean that more teenagers (especially girls) who wouldn’t normally be exposed to it have the opportunity to try it.
Do you think that being a woman in tech means you or your work are treated differently?
Yes, but it’s usually subtle things caused by unconscious bias rather than people being intentionally sexist.
For example, when I am at a tech event to talk about my work, people assume I’m a HR rep, or there because of a partner or something, and it can take a lot of effort to get people to trust what I’m saying.
I think one of the biggest things we can do to attract and retain more women (and other under-represented groups) in tech is to educate people on how everyone (no matter how well-intentioned) has unconscious biases, and how that can have real, tangible effects.
I completely agree. How do we go about doing that as individuals? Or do you think it is something that should first be addressed at a higher level?
I think it requires a number of levels.
On an organisational level, I’d like more companies to put in place unconscious bias training (a lot of big tech companies like Google are doing this, and BBC have recently done the same) and diversity strategies in general. It’s important that recruiters understand that this isn’t just about political correctness – companies with diverse workforces and been shown to be more innovative and successful – it makes business sense! Minimising unconscious bias also means you’re more likely to hire the person who is actually the best person for the job, rather than the person who you assume is the best.
On an individual level, I think people can help just by talking about this stuff – a lot of people just aren’t aware of it. For women, this could be chatting about their experiences, and for men, it means listening to women and talking to their male colleagues about it. Personally, I also try to share relevant studies, articles and news on social media to try and raise awareness.
What advice would you give to women working in tech or thinking about making that pivot to tech?
I would say google ‘Imposter Syndrome’! I think a lot of women working in tech or thinking about making the pivot underestimate their ability. I’d also say that, as we discussed earlier, many jobs in tech are incredibly varied and rewarding, despite the stereotype. There is a huge skills gap in the tech industry so it’s a great career option, and there is a particular gap in the creative industries like VFX, video games, broadcasting and digital media. If you enjoy art and creativity but are also technical and logically-minded, it may be perfect for you.
I think you are absolutely right, Rosie.
Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me.