Talking to Women of Tech

Talking to… Hannah Atkinson

Hannah AtkinsonHannah Atkinson
Project Support Officer
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Hi Hannah, thanks for chatting to me.
So let’s start with what do you do?

I’m a Project Support Officer at Eduserv. I work in a team with three project managers and the idea is that I’m there to support them. If someone’s got a very heavy load I can share that. Or if someone new comes in I show them where things are and how to set up the way we do things. As part of that I manage internal projects and small customer projects. So I’m also a project manager.

What kind of projects do you manage?

I’ve done what we call infrastructure projects, so hosting. If we host a customer’s website, that infrastructure needs building or if they change their website the infrastructure may need changing in some way, making sure it’s secure, that there’s enough storage.

I’m doing a security project at the minute which involves ensuring when you log in that it’s more secure. Instead of having one password you’d have multiple passwords. And then another infrastructure project moving database hardware on to the cloud.

So what got you interested in technology?

I was really good at IT at school. I always had good A level and GCSE results. Before I even started working I thought “I like computers!”. I come from quite a technically-minded family so even at a young age when the computer broke I took it apart. I’ve got a curious mind.

Did you manage to put it back together again? 😄

No! It went in the bin. The aim was just curiosity, taking it apart and seeing what’s inside.

I loved doing A level and GCSE IT. I left school and tried to get an apprenticeship, it was really hard. I then went to work for the Council, completely unrelated to IT. That’s where I learnt I wanted to be a project manager. Because I worked with project managers but in construction. Then I got made redundant but at the time just before the recession it was quite hard to get a job without a degree. So I thought I’ll go and get a degree.

That sounds like a good next step. What was your degree in?

Applied Computing.

Ooo! What does that mean?

Ah… we did everything you can think of. We learnt how to programme games. And we learnt normal programming like Java. We learnt how to make a website. We learnt GIS which is digital mapping. And we did management bits as well so I learnt how to do project management formally. We did bits of business, bits of marketing.

Each year we did a project on our own with real people, so one year I made a website for a couple who sold cards. The idea was they were going to have an e-commerce website that I made to sell their cards.

For my final year project I made an app for a local company that scraped data from the internet and displayed it so you could filter it. I think it scraped data from gov.uk. Data mining for an app. You could market it.

What was the purpose of that? What would you be filtering?

So you could compare one data source to another. You could pull up data from one council and another and compare the them.

OK. So you could compare park opening times or bin collections or…?

No, so you could compare crime data.

O! The interesting stuff not the boring council stuff.

It depends what you want. So you could say, what are the crime statistics of Bath and compare it to Bristol. It’s all a central government database. You link to their API. I finished it and it worked perfectly it could have gone on to be a fully formed product. You’d just need to make it secure. It worked across devices, which was good.

From that I got into Bath Digital Festival and BathSPARK. I used to go around asking for jobs. Literally going around to people saying, “Have you got any jobs going?” And that’s how I met the guys at Storm. I was in my last year at Uni and wanted to do front end development and project management and at the time that was such a small place that it was possible. They had no project manager so I ended up at Storm.

And you liked it there?

I loved Storm. I was there for two years. It’s a very cool place to work. I managed all of their projects. Did a bit of development, but the project management kind of took over. I learnt a lot there and I loved interacting with our customers.

It sounds as though you really liked it. What was your favourite thing about it?

It was just knowing that you could make their day. You can give them something great. You can give them good news. As a project manager you’re the person between the technical guys and the customer. So you’re that person who’s meeting all their needs.

You’re the translator?

Yes. That’s exactly what it is. But then the technical guys like you because they don’t have to talk to the customer about all the nitty gritty bits. As the project manager you tell the technical team all the important things they need to know but kind of filter out the bits they don’t. I miss that. I don’t have as much customer interaction any more. Storm had some great customers

And do you feel that being a woman has affected your career in terms of choices or attitudes?

Not at all.

But, when I was at uni, and actually my GCSE IT teacher told me this and my degree professor; as a woman you have an advantage in technology because there’s not many of you. Even recently, I’ve applied for a job at work. It would be a promotion for me. Someone else went for it as a contractor and he’s a lot more senior so he got it, but I don’t think he got it because he’s a man, he’s got twenty years experience on top of me.

So if anything it’s a positive? Because there are more opportunities?

That’s what people say, but if you go anywhere these days you are treated equally. I don’t know. Everywhere I’ve been I have been. Even at university we were treated extremely equally. In my final year there were ten of us and four were girls. You come out with such a mixed bag of people and qualifications and jobs, no one’s pigeon-holed at all. People talk about it a lot, but it’s not something I’ve seen. And we live in Bath. It’s a very open place, where people are very open minded.

It’s very liberal.

Yeah. When I was at college I thought going into IT would be full of old men in suits with grey hair. Dave, my first boss, is only a year older than me. When I worked at Storm, the majority of people were under thirty. So there is no thing of “You’re a woman”. You’ll find a lot of project managers are female. Very organised ladies.

Do you think that’s because of the ability to translate between the technical stuff and the customer service? Or do you think it’s just an easy way in?

I think a lot of the time you are good at juggling lots of things. Multi-tasking and being organised are traits women have a lot of the time. Customer service side of things men and women are pretty equal. Even at work, we’ve got very few women in very technical roles. But it’s not because no one wants to.

But I thought when I was at uni that we were the exception because there were so many women in our class. There’s a huge age mixture as well, probably 18 to about 46 just in women. It’s probably bucking the trend a lot.

One thing that lots of people I’ve been talking to have mentioned is imposter syndrome and that being something that affects women and stops them from believing they can do things and going for things. Is that something you’ve come across? That feeling that you’re not quite qualified enough to do something?

I feel like that but not because I’m a woman.

I think it affects everyone.

I work with people who have ten or twenty years more experience than me. If anything that’s a great situation because you can learn from them and they’re the nicest people that they’re willing to help you. Because they’re like “I want you to be the best you can be. I’m going to pass my knowledge on.” I’m very open, I ask questions and consult and as them and help them where I can. Everyone’s very helpful. But I think if you’re quite open and you want to learn, people are willing to help you. It’s just finding the right people.

So it’s about admitting where there are gaps in your knowledge and saying help me fill them? Rather than saying “O, I’m not good enough to…”?

Yeah.

And finally, do you have any advice for women working in tech or going into a job in tech?

Socialise a lot.

Especially if you don’t know people and you’re quite a small firm. I have a lot of friends in different tech companies because I went to different social events. It kind of breaks down boundaries and you learn about tech generally outside of your company. And you find there is a mixture of people and ages, of men, women and doing it for different reasons and at different stages of their career. I think that is the best way to engage yourself and actually get to know people. And you learn from people because you are just talking and learning from what they do. And it kind of opens your mind even more, especially what’s going on locally.

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