In part two of this series on women working in Scotland’s digital technology sector, DIGIT spoke to ten exemplary women working in tech to discover how they came into the industry.
Like the women in part one, their experiences are varied and their career paths unique, however, it is clear from learning about their journeys that each have taken on a variety of roles, proving that you don’t have to be a programmer or data prodigy to work in tech.
One key trait they share in common is a desire to harness the power of tech to help improve the lives of others.
Here are just a few of DIGIT’s top women in Scottish tech.
Maggie Morrison, Client Partner, Public Services Scotland at NTT DATA UK
Maggie has more than 20 years of experience in General Management and 35 years of experience in Information Technology sales and business operations. Quite the globe trotter, she’s lived and worked in France, Germany, Switzerland, The Netherlands and the USA. In 2008, she made the decision to come back to Scotland, spending 18 months on secondment from Cisco to Skills Development Scotland (SDS).
She subsequently served as a Non-Exec Director from 2012 – 2014 at SDS and is currently chair the Employer Equalities Group on the Scottish Apprenticeship Advisory Board. On top of that, she also serves as a Non-Executive Director on the Board of Scottish Chambers of Commerce.
“To go back to the beginning, all my grandparents hail from the Isle of Lewis, so I grew up hearing Gaelic and English. This gave me a life-long passion for languages and learning about different cultures. I went on to study French and German at university – but I wasn’t clear what to do next!
“I graduated in 1983 in an economic depression. Needing work experience, I travelled south and started my career in telephone sales for an electronics company earning all of £4,000 a year! I discovered that I loved selling and that through tough economic times the IT industry kept doing well – it was different, dynamic and literally changing the world. What’s not to love?
“Working in the IT industry has been a perfect fit, giving me the opportunity to travel, live and work all over the world, and at the same time feed my love of languages. During my career I’ve worked in corporate staff roles, sales, business development and general management in world-leading organisations like Cisco, HP, CGI and now NTT DATA. Technology is a vital enabler that can make positive differences for businesses, employees and customers.
“My real passion though is the application of technology in the public sector. I truly believe it’s where tech can have its biggest impact, making citizens’ lives better across the board. It is imperative that we train people for the world of work as it is today, including retraining and upskilling people of all ages and backgrounds for Scotland to remain competitive in a global economy.”
“As such, the fact that in my career I have been able to play a small part in increasing inward investment, promoting diversity, creating jobs in Scotland and working to support the Modern Apprentice programme is a source of great pride for me. I am also grateful for the opportunities to contribute outside of my day job through mentoring and non-exec roles at Skills Development Scotland, The Wise Group and The Scottish Chambers of Commerce.”
Vicky Brock, Founder of Get Market Fit
Vicky Brock is a serial entrepreneur, who recently co-founder her fifth company, the data technology startup Get Market Fit. Vicky and her co-founders have recently developed technology that uses the power of AI and data analytics to predict whether products on sale in online marketplaces are genuine or fake.
For the first time, using data technology her company is highlighting just how at risk consumers are when they buy seemingly harmless bargains online. Vicky was named Scotland’s Most Inspiring Business Person at the 2017 Entrepreneurial Scotland Awards.
She is a Women’s Enterprise Scotland Ambassador and sits on the Board of several non-profits and technology companies, including Open Knowledge International. She won Innovator of the Year at the 2014 FDM Everywoman in Technology Awards, was named by Forbes.com as one of the nine top female tech CEOs to watch, and by Computer Weekly as one of their Top 50 Women in IT.
“Tech found me, despite my lack of confidence. I had a computer as a young child, it was an Acorn Electron, that you had to program yourself. And I loved that, but I didn’t go to a great school, and I have no confidence in my maths, so I did English at University (which was useful in its own way).
“I used my computing skills to make myself a bit of money typing up other people’s handwritten essays on a little Mac computer in the basement. When I got a marketing job in a theatre (as English graduates do) once they realised I knew about computers, they made me responsible for the box office system and data – pretty mission-critical IT – and that is where my love of data technology started.
“Every wall of the theatre was soon covered in charts and statistics I pulled from the systems. And that combination of data and tech experience meant I was well placed when opportunities in digital analytics and later data science started to emerge.”
Rebecca Pick, Chief Executive Officer of Pick Protection
Rebecca graduated with a first-class honours degree in Marketing & Enterprise from the University of Strathclyde in 2015. In her penultimate year, she had an idea for a wearable attack alarm that would provide a police response to an individual’s exact location.
Out of her idea her company Pick Protection was born, which is now disrupting the lone worker market after having received over one million pounds in investment.
“Every 9 minutes in the UK an employee is attacked whilst working alone! As I worked on the idea it evolved into lone worker protection. I won competitions like Santander University’s competition for Best Undergraduate Business in the UK and I pitched for seed investment whilst studying.
I wanted to provide people with a better alternative to the traditional personal attack alarms on the market and I realised technology was the way to do this. By taking advantage of the advances in technology we’ve been able to develop the most robust and reliable lone worker solutions and technology allows us to do this in a very cost-effective way.”
“I’m really proud of the cloud-based platform the team has developed that enables our tech to work. It was highly commended at the Safety & Health Excellence Awards for Security Innovation of the Year.”
Elaine Maddison, Chief Executive Officer at Brightsolid
Before joining Brightsolid earlier this year, Elaine spent 20 years in the UK financial services industry and has experience across a range of disciplines including IT, operations, risk management, strategy and M&A activities.
“Having gained experience across multiple disciplines within Financial Services, I always knew that I wanted to move into a general management role.
“The technology industry is an incredibly exciting industry to be part of, and one where I felt I could add real value from a people and operational perspective. When the Brightsolid opportunity came up, it felt like the perfect fit for me.
“I think it’s a little early for me to claim any achievements at this point, but I’m excited about what the future holds for our business and I’m looking forward to leading Brightsolid through the next stage of its development.”
Sally Kerr, Digital Innovation Manager, The City of Edinburgh Council
Sally has worked at The City of Edinburgh Council for over 28 years. Having always had a passion for technology, she got directly involved with an early role in Public in Public Libraries for the council. Working in a time pre-web, she was involved in important new electronic services, providing citizens with access to information, which included 75 touchscreens around the city. It was Sally’s team that built the first websites for the Council at a time when not every Council had a website.
She set up the Scottish Web Teams Forum, to provide advice and support for public sector officers also setting establishing their digital presence. She has worked in the Council’s Corporate department influencing the quality and approach to web services and social media development.
Sally has also shared her knowledge via mentoring programmes such as SCOITM. Most recently, she has been working with the Scottish Local Government Digital Office Partnership on Open Innovation with the ambition of scaling solutions across Councils in Scotland. She also represents Edinburgh in Eurocities as vice-chairs of their Data Group and Urban Digital Task Force.
“I could see the massive potential of the web when it started to take off in the Public Sector and became an advocate for its expansion and growth as a natural progression of access to information and data.
“I love the opportunities offered by new technologies. My aim is always to understand how it will improve citizens’ lives and the opportunities it offers Scotland to be a leader in digital. I am very proud of the fact that I created and led an open innovation civic challenge programme called EdinburghApps, which started in 2013, within a very small budget.”
“It was the first in the UK Public Sector, and in three years it delivered a range of city and Council products – 8 products, over 15 prototypes and helped get new businesses off the ground. It marked Edinburgh as a successful public sector early adopter in these fields, collaborating with a range of external partners and sectors.
“It was great to see the impact the solutions delivered for services. It was a fantastic opportunity and learning experience, and a great foundation for my current post.”
Talat Yaqoob, Director at Equate Scotland
Talat is the Director of Equate Scotland, which is the leading national organisation working on the recruitment, retention and progression of women in science, engineering, technology and the built environment.
Before this role, she worked in equalities research, training and development, public affairs and campaigning. She is a public speaker, writer and provides media commentary on a range of equalities issues.
“Increasing the number of women and increasing the diversity of the tech sector is critical to meeting skills shortages as well as ensuring Scotland is a global competitor. Having women involved in product design, development and testing makes for better products and more inclusive innovation.
“A brief search into the history of STEM-related innovation reveals the reputational and economic cost of ignoring women’s needs and voices. The majority of the jobs of the future will require digital technology-related skills, if we don’t do something about gender inequality in tech, we risk locking women out of the jobs of tomorrow.
“My years of work on equalities bought me to Equate Scotland, and I hope the organisation continues to make a real difference to the tech sector. There are many things Equate Scotland has achieved which I am immensely proud of, but at the top of the list is always the women we work with.
“Since our launch in 2006, we have worked with 100s of women; through one to one support, returnships, summer placements and workshops. We have seen women return to the sector, progress in the sector to senior positions and even take on global tech projects.
“In my opinion it is wonderful to see real change happen, especially when we get heartfelt messages from them reflecting the positive impact and need for our work”.
Dr Sandra Cairncross, Assistant Principal (Widening Participation & Community), Edinburgh Napier University
Dr Sandra Cairncross is currently Assistant Principal (Widening Participation & Community) at Edinburgh Napier University. Her first degree is in Electrical and Electronic Engineering.
She initially worked as a research assistant before joining Edinburgh Napier as a lecturer. She set up one of the first Masters in Multimedia Technology in the early 1990s.
Her doctorate focused on Multimedia and Learning, and Interaction Design became her main specialism. She draws upon this in her current role when contributing to projects using technology to enhance teaching and learning. In 2008 Sandra was appointed Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, Computing and Creative Industries, and became Assistant Principal four years ago.
Throughout her academic career, Sandra has championed women in technology. She helped establish Edinburgh Napier’s Connect Forum for female STEM students in 2007, a forum that continues to this day. Sandra chairs the Advisory Board for Equate Scotland, who strive to make a positive difference for women in science, engineering and technology.
Sandra is Edinburgh Napier’s Athena SWAN Champion (a gender equality charter) and sponsors their Women’s Network. She was delighted to receive the Scottish Women in Technology Gender Diversity Champion last year.
“I enjoyed maths and physics at school. I wanted a career in which I could develop my technical understanding and apply that to solving problems, making a qualitative and quantitative difference to improve people’s lives.
“Studying engineering at university was the perfect choice. It gave me the enthusiasm and skills to understand the end user and overcome the limitations of individual components, to make systems and products that are useful and usable.
“I am proud of the holistic culture we have created at Edinburgh Napier, to create a more level playing field for all, and to focus on technology benefits rather than features. EQUATE Scotland makes a positive difference for women in science, engineering, technology and the built environment.
“We have pioneered routes to use HND and HNC to articulate efficiently into the advanced stages of a degree programme. I’m constantly inspired by my colleagues’ application of technology to improve lives – for example, in Smart Cities, Cybersecurity, or new treatments to cure the common cold”.
Carole Rennie Logan, Development Team Lead, Equator
Carole is a development team lead, developer, conference speaker and community meetup organiser at digital transformation agency, Equator. She is also a mentor at Coder Dojo a global network of free, volunteer-led, community-based programming clubs for young people. She is also the chapter leader of Ladies of Code.
After graduating in Computing Science, Carole became a Java developer before switching to .Net stack. She enjoys continual learning, which is a requirement of working in tech, making this the right industry for her to flourish.
“For the last few years, I have been organising several local tech community events including Ladies of Code Glasgow, Glasgow Umbraco meetup and DDD Scotland. Through this connection to development communities, I have been invited to speak at events both here in Scotland and in Europe sharing knowledge on IOT, Umbraco and my experiences in career so far.
“As well as software development, I am really interested in the “people” side of tech: how we can make the industry an inclusive & welcoming place for everyone. I have always been interested in technology since as long as I remember, I was lucky enough to have a computer really young and was encouraged to explore how it worked. I really love the logical thinking aspect of programming and maths!
“So when it came to picking courses for university, computing science was a natural choice. I always considered being a teacher when I was younger, so I think this is where the community knowledge sharing and mentoring side of my career has come from!
“I love working in tech as it’s ever-changing, there are always new technologies to learn and chances to innovate. I am really proud of some of the large technical projects I have helped deliver for clients over the years, I always love seeing these launch and the “I built that!” feeling. However, I think the thing I am most proud of is being able to, even in a small way, help other women in tech sector.
“We all know the challenges this industry can bring, but being able to help create a space for women to gain confidence and support each other has been amazing. Hearing how it has helped people just makes all the hard work worth it and this being acknowledged with a SWiT award last year was really lovely. I am super proud to be a part of this amazingly supportive community of Scottish techies and look forward to seeing it get even stronger.”
Sheryl Newman, Founder and Managing Director of Appetite for Business
Sheryl founded her award-winning Office 365 & SharePoint Consultancy in 2016. Her business offers bespoke end to end planning and consultancy, development, user adoption and support services. As a language graduate, Sheryl never expected to end up working the tech sector. Initially, she worked as a management consultant for a large US IT provider and then a small start-up.
It was during this time she identified a gap in the market to provide expertise to SME’s who struggled to find good support and advice in what Office 365 and SharePoint could do for their business.
“At the start of my career, I just took whatever seemed the next step whenever the opportunity arose. I just love how faced paced the industry is and if implemented correctly how amazing technology and good processes with good people can be to support a business to grow and improve profitability.
“I am very proud of the launch and growth my company, especially considering that I started the business with only £1000 in the bank during one of the biggest recessions in the Energy sector and with only one client.
“They say ignorance is bliss and I certainly might not have been so ambitious about what we could create had I known more about how challenging the economy would be. But now I recognise that I thrive when facing a challenge and am at my best when I am a wee bit terrified!
“I have managed to build a credible business with a talented team and client partners that I love working with. We exceeded our year 4 target already, a year ahead of schedule. I’m proud of this achievement and know that there’s much more to come!
“I’m also hugely proud of winning Leader of the Year at the SWIT awards. To be recognised by my peers was incredible and a proud moment.”
Loral and Eishel Quinn co-founders of Sustainably
Loral and Eishel Quinn are mother and daughter co-founders of Sustainably, a fintech for social good platform that makes doing good frictionless for consumers and brands as part of everyday life.
Loral was head of digital strategy and marketing for a FTSE100 investment company, where she set up the global digital team and helped scale the business from 6 to 30 countries in 10 years. Her daughter created the Sustainably brand and the UX for the product, Eishel has a strong background in ethical and organic retail, most recently working with Neal’s Yard remedies.
According to Loral one of her proudest moments was getting their product to market with challenger bank Monzo.
“Winning amazing awards like Finovate in NYC, meeting Richard Branson, getting awesome investors inc Gareth Williams co-founder of Skyscanner, Con Gorner previously of Warner Bros films, and WeWork.
“Pitching on stage at the WeWork Creator Awards in London in front of thousands of people including Ashton Kutcher and winning was an amazing feeling”.