#MyTechJourney speaks to women in technology about their backgrounds and routes into their current career plus they share the best bits of their role and practical advice for those wanting to get into tech. In this edition, we speak to Alison Hughes, Assistant Director ICT, Bolton and Wigan Council.
Tell us a bit about your background?
I am a woman who is ever so slightly over fifty and I have a 35-year-old son, so I’m proof you don’t have to be really young to work in tech. My background is unconventional in that I finished school at 16 and was married and pregnant by 17 and although I was someone who was deemed bright at school I was what you’d call a non- conformist. I was really lucky as my first job was as a data operator on the census and I soon realised that the people who could type and use computer equipment earned more than I could so I cottoned on that I could make a good living from tech!
What about education?
I left school with 4 o levels which don’t even exist anymore! 2 of those were in Religion and English but I went to night school and did A-levels and more qualifications and then was really lucky that I worked for an organisation that was hugely supportive of further career development. I was privileged to do more qualifications and have access to in-house training which definitely helped me develop.
What did you want to do when you grew up?
I’m not sure I ever had anything specific in mind, but I was the eldest of three siblings and I knew I was a really good organiser, so I always knew it would be something where I was in charge, so whilst I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do exactly, I had a clear career plan in terms of being in charge of things. I also knew I was a really good problem solver and that’s a really important part of my role now.
What sparked your interest in tech?
I’m old enough to remember tech coming into the workplace and the first example was when my manager said I want you to go along to a presentation about the Information Super Highway and I came back and said that sounds a bit futuristic! A month later someone plonked a large desktop computer on my desk and said ‘ you’re someone who’ll have a go at that!’ it gathered dust for a while and then I turned it on and it was that was when something absolutely incredible happened in my life and I thought’ this is really good there’s so much I can do with this’ – and I think that wonder about what tech can do and that wonder about the difference tech makes has stayed with me throughout my career.
What was your first tech role
I worked in the Child Protection team with a developer designing Child Protection information and what I discovered as part of that work was although I didn’t know how to make the programme work, I was really good at explaining how processes worked, how the data moved around and what the outputs were from the system so I guess I was a sort of analyst although I didn’t know I was doing that job at the time and I really enjoyed doing it.
What do you do now?
I am Assistant Director for the Strategic ICT Partnership at Bolton and Wigan Council, I manage a £47m IT services contract, a team of applications support staff and IT business partners. I also help all of the organisations I work with, with the development of their digital strategies, customer access strategies, online presence and those types of challenges.
What are the best bits of your role?
One of the councils I work for won a Council of The Year award so I would always like to think that IT had a little bit to do with that but also I’m proud of the fact that a lot of our focus has been around digital inclusion and helping our residents to get online, because we know that if residents are digitally included they will save money and have access to more opportunities and that makes me proud and really excited.
Advice for anyone wanting to get into tech?
Think about what you’re good at, don’t think about what you don’t know you can learn that. If you’re good at helping people to understand tech or make the best use of tech then focus on those skills, if you’re a good problem solver if you’re very organised there are roles for you, the tech industry needs you it’s not always about the development side of things. So, focus on what you’re good at.
If you’re curious and interested in how things are changing, then you’ll be really good in an industry which is about innovation and thinking differently – you don’t have to be a developer or know how to build kit to be really good in the tech industry.
What would you like to see in the industry in the future?
I’d like to see more job descriptions and adverts that are about some of the softer skills that the tech industry needs and needs to encourage. There also needs to be a greater focus on the benefits of working in the tech industry it’s a really flexible place to work and it lends itself to working outside the traditional hours of 9 –5. A lot of user testing and a lot of user skills development takes place outside of traditional hours and that can free you up to do other things during your day so it has got that flexible element.
It’s also really important that we recognise the different roles which support the industry and it’s important to remember there are statistics that say sixty per cent of tech projects fail, which definitely tells me we need more people who are really organised and can think about what goes wrong and really push projects over the line.