Talking tech careers for International Women’s Day
At O2 we recognise the importance of having a diverse, balanced and inclusive workforce, and are proud of our involvement in initiatives such as Step into STEM, that encourage more women to work in technology roles in the UK.
Vinnett Taylor, Head of IoT at O2, has worked in a number of high profile technology roles and has a long and successful track record of first to market launches. Where did this love of technology start? And what made her choose a technology career?
Tell us about your career journey? What inspired you to pursue a career in tech?
I’ve always enjoyed engineering and technology. As one of five children, with both parents working full-time, we learned to fix anything we broke. We could change a light bulb, wire a plug or replace a fuse younger than most children. Nowadays we live in a throwaway society. Everything comes hard wired and sealed and when something breaks, we replace it.
I’m interested in all technology, from the design of hardware to integrated software. But my childhood experience meant the electrical and engineering side of technology always fascinated me the most.
I have worked since I was thirteen. I had paper rounds, did bar work, and even worked at the local bingo hall. I was still a teenager when I got my first full-time job as a data entry administrator for what is now Halifax. Although it involved computers, it wasn’t until I became part of the Symantec sales team in my early twenties that technology took a defining role in my life.
Back then Symantec was a startup, with just a handful of permanent staff and a focus on projects relating to artificial intelligence. The flagship product was Q&A, a Question and Answer relational database. I was one of the first full-time permanent sales employees, and helped to deliver several ‘first to market’ services, including the first ever global site licence in the late 1990’s.
After Symantec I worked for a number of technology companies including Toshiba, where we delivered the first out-of-the-box hotspot, designed to prove the commercial viability of wireless public spaces. I ran my own technology management consultancy for a while, before joining O2 in 2014.
What do you love about working in tech?
I love the way that people and technology can work together to enhance and transform all of our lives for the better.
The NHS is a great example. My son recently underwent keyhole surgery for his shoulder. It took over three hours, yet he was discharged a few hours later and was back at university after a couple of days. A few years ago, the procedure would have been a lot more invasive and he would have been out of action for months.
Just imagine the day when someone writes a piece of software code with an algorithm that finds a cure for cancer. That could happen one day and that’s why I love technology.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve experienced?
Convincing people that change can be good or worthwhile. When Toshiba first launched a ‘hotspot in a box’, several key industry players told us it couldn’t be done and it wasn’t the right thing for a company like Toshiba to do. Look where we are now. Can you imagine a world without public wi-fi?
What do you think is stopping more women coming into the tech industry? What change needs to happen to address this?
Although only around 15% of employees working in STEM roles in the UK are female, there are some encouraging signs of improvement. In education, for example, the number of girls studying STEM-related subjects at A-level has risen steadily over the past five years. Although the numbers are improving, there is still a long way to go.
I think computing and technology training needs to be a core component of any employee onboarding process.
And what’s more, I think reviewing return to work policies and training for women would help across the wider technology industry. In recent years, we’ve implemented our Career Returners programme at O2, something we spoke about with Channel 4 at the end of last year. Designed to bring female and male talent back into the workplace, giving those that have had a career break, typically to care for their family, the confidence to return, supported through one-on-one mentoring and regular training sessions which focus on enhancing their existing skill set. Now in its third year, we’re proud that 100% of our latest cohort took on roles within O2.
Research also shows that diverse teams perform better. People from different genders, races, backgrounds and experiences bring different perspectives that can lead to innovative solutions. So diversity and equality are key to getting more women into the tech industry.
What are you, and O2, doing to promote women in tech?
O2 have supported women in tech for many years, with a focus on development, networking, family, inspiration, and health and wellbeing. We’re very proud to support Step into STEM, a seven-month programme that provides mentoring and work experience for girls studying STEM subjects at sixth form.
Increasingly, I am working with more women in technology, supporting people like Sarah Turner, co-founder & CEO of Angel Academe, a fast-growing and award-winning angel network. Most members are women, who back ambitious tech startups with at least one woman on the founding team.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to pursue a tech? Anything you wish you knew?
You need to keep your mind open because technology never stands still and there is always something new to learn. A successful career in tech involves demonstrating a passion for what you can do.
If I could meet my younger self, I would encourage her to believe in herself and not to put others on pedestals. I’d implore her never to stop learning and not to be afraid to make mistakes because that is the best way to learn.
I think it’s important for anyone pursuing a career in technology to build a strong network of friends, colleagues, influencers and entrepreneurs from across the sector. I have learned something new from so many people I have met and worked with, even if I didn’t realise it at the time.
Successful women in tech have learned to be a bit assertive. So don’t be afraid to ask for what you want, but be grateful when you get it. And remember to say thank you.
Have you considered a job in tech? At O2 we believe that the solutions we provide are only as good as the people that help you make the most of them.
If you want to know more about what working at O2 might be like, read what Ann Pickering, Head of HR at O2, says about O2’s culture.