Women in tech

Four women at Access Worldpay describe how they got here, their experiences working as engineers, and advice they'd give young women today.


Written by Stella Crowhurst
23 October 2020

Stereotypes exist for a reason. And although the tech industry isn't exactly 'The IT Crowd', it is undeniably a male-dominated environment. In a small step to address this imbalance, we asked four women working at Access Worldpay to tell us about their background, their experiences, and the advice they'd give their younger selves.

Today, Liz Basser is a Senior Development Engineer. At school, however, she didn't really know what she wanted to do, and was studying for A levels that included History and Sociology. "Then we had to do an IT course," she says: "It involved writing a little program and something just clicked - I really enjoyed it." Swapping her A levels for a BTEC in IT, she went on to complete her degree in Computer Science: "It was purely by chance that I found what I wanted to do."

Senior software engineer Daniela Giron knew she wanted to work in technology but says: "I had no idea that computer science was an option." Studying for a degree in Mechanical Engineering, she only discovered coding through her partner: "He was doing it the whole time and I really liked it too - I just naturally gravitated towards it."

As a result, Daniela made sure that her next degree - a Master's in Mechatronics - involved some programming: "I chose it because it was more technology-oriented, and I did a program for my dissertation." She continues: "I could just spend hours and hours doing little programs and websites because I enjoyed it so much." By this time, Daniela knew she wanted to work in tech: "When I graduated, I applied for development jobs - and here I am!"

Explaining the attraction

What's the appeal? "It's addictive," says Anne Schwarz, Principal Engineer: "It's all about problem solving, it's quite creative and it's never boring - you're always feeling stretched." Daniela agrees: "You can feel your brain burning - there's always a problem to solve, you're always learning and then you finally get to that moment where you realize you've worked it all out. That's really rewarding."

For Mary Agbro, a Senior Quality Assurance Engineer, gratification comes from the sense of a job well done. "There's the satisfaction you get when something goes live and there are no issues, there's no panic," she says. "That's your reward - the confidence that you've delivered the right product, that you've added some value and that there's quality in the work you do. I take pride in that."

This remains the case even when situations arise. "It's not always that nothing goes wrong," she explains: "It's how you deal with a situation where something has happened - those can be the lessons you learn to become better at what you do."

Tackling gender bias

However satisfying the work itself, though, there's no escaping the gender imbalance. For example, women make up only 17% of ICT specialists and hold a mere 5% of leadership positions in the tech sector12. That's no surprise to Anne: "As a woman, I've always been a small minority." Despite instances of "obvious sexism" where her opinion was overlooked in favor of a male colleague who was "possibly even less experienced", she says that this has been limited: "I'd love to give you a dramatic story of having to fight my way into my career through adversity, but it's not been like that. I've always been lucky in having really good male colleagues."

If anything, university seems to have been more problematic. "I remember a teacher telling me I was only there because I'm a woman, which knocked my confidence," says Daniela. Liz had a similar experience: "Being the only girl among 35 teenage boys was intimidating but college was harder still. I felt more sexism and, in some cases, it was the lecturers who were more dismissive."

For Mary, a low point was a work placement she attended while a student: "I was the only woman there, I was completely left to my own devices and I wasn't learning," she says. "It wasn't successful."

Building up confidence

However, a more common hurdle has been a lack of self-confidence. "It's my own internal sexism, thinking that I'd never be as good as the guys," explains Anne. This often persisted until the point at which real experience won out. "I kept feeling like I had to prove myself," says Daniela: "When I was actually in the role itself I finally realized that actually I am good, I'm actually better than you!"

As far as Anne's concerned, she's right. "I've not had many women colleagues, but they've all been excellent at what they do," she says: "It makes me wonder if this is because we perhaps need to perform better in job interviews, so we end up getting hired not because we're women but because we actually excelled in the interview."

On top of this, engineering can be very supportive, they explain. "Teams become a little family," says Daniela: "You're building your product together, making decisions together and you've got lots of responsibility." For her part, Anne thinks that the sexism she experienced rarely came from fellow engineers: "My technical colleagues have largely been gender-blind."

Starting your career

No surprise, then, that all four recommend tech as a career. "It's not like the stereotype of the nerdy boy just typing away," says Liz: "It's creative, it's fun, it's hard work and it's really rewarding." For Daniela, it's about following your passion. "If you find something you love, you'll be willing to invest your time and that's how you can get really good at it," she explains. "Being a developer is fascinating - it's something you can feel excited about when you wake up each morning."

And they have some advice for anybody who's interested. "Talk to some women who are doing this already," says Anne. "Also, try to find some work experience, maybe a short internship or summer job so that you can get some experience, even if you're working for free." This is useful, she explains, because actual programming is much better than what's taught in college: "You can actually do real things that people use, that makes their jobs or lives easier, and that's when it's really rewarding." Their most important advice, however, is to keep on going. "Don't let anything make you think you can't do this, or shouldn't do this," says Anne. For her part, Mary highlights the need to stay focused: "You'll come across quite a few challenges along the way and it's easier to pack it in and think it's not for you," she says. "Don't do that. If you love it, carry on and stick with it - don't give up."

1Women in Technology Statistics: Where are We?
2PWC, Women in Tech