The Women Making a Big Impact in Scotland’s Tech Sector (Part 1)
Scotland’s digital technology sector commands a strong and varied roster of inspiring women.
Ahead of International Women’s Day 2019, DIGIT spoke to inspiring women working in Scotland’s technology sector to find out why and how they came to work in tech, and what their proudest moment in tech was to date.
A number of the women featured here didn’t set out with a role in tech as their career goal but, instead, were drawn into the sector organically via other avenues of opportunity.
Although they all have different interests and work in different roles, it is clear that passion, curiosity, creativity and a desire to keep learning have been key factors in their decision to enter the tech sphere.
It is evident that a career in tech can be challenging, yet very exciting, as it is an ever-evolving sector where there is little risk of development stagnating.
Here are just a few of DIGIT’s top women in Scottish tech.
Dr Amanda Ford, Lecturer at West College Scotland
“I was a mature student and after graduating I continued to study for my PhD, which I have recently achieved,” she explains. “During this time, I sought employment and moved into teaching in further education where I have been now for almost six years.
“I have taught various areas of Computing Science however am now focused on teaching Games Development.
“I worked as a receptionist after having my children and was interested in what the IT person was doing in our place. When he left I was expected to undertake some of those duties and realised that I’d be better going back to study and get properly qualified and better paid for doing so.”
And her proudest achievements? “There are a couple,” she says. “But probably devising a course for out of school care workers – ‘Introduction to Creative Computing’ – and then delivering it to five cohorts of students across Glasgow, Renfrewshire and Aberdeen who have then gone on to deliver the sessions to the children they care for after school.”
Students on this course, Ford explains, are mainly comprised of female care workers who have recently left school – many of whom have little experience in coding.
“For me, I found that more important than teaching about coding was building confidence in my students who, over the 10 sessions, made great strides and were soon making their own games and building new worlds in Minecraft.
“But, most importantly, feeling confident enough to deliver the sessions to the children and their peers as well. Having previously been lacking in confidence myself as a student I understand how important that is to work on with my own students, and make them believe in themselves. Once that happens the work becomes a little easier and they feel more comfortable.”
Anneli Ritari-Stewart, Managing Director, iProspect Edinburgh
Anneli has more than 20 years’ experience in marketing and is regarded as a true digital expert having worked with an abundance of global brands across verticals on both client and agency side.
She joined bigmouthmedia in 2006 as a Senior Strategist and held several different roles before becoming Client Partner in 2013 for the newly formed DigitasLBi.
Following this, she joined iProspect at the end of 2016 as Managing Director, where she is responsible for leading and growing the agency in Scotland.
In 2017, she achieved 800% new business growth and was subsequently awarded ‘MD of the Year’ at the Scottish Women’s Awards in 2018.
Anneli is also a board member of Dentsu Aegis Network Scotland, Non-Executive Board Member of FinTech Scotland and part of the strategy council of the DMA Scotland.
“I joined Jobline, a Swedish internet recruitment company straight out of University,” she says. “This is when the internet industry started booming and it seemed like a fun place to work.
“I was the fifth employee and the company grew to 500+ employees in 12 markets, underwent an IPO and was later acquired by Monster. That’s what led me both into the industry but also to the UK, as I moved to London to set up the company’s UK operations in 1999.
“I’m still very proud of having successfully set up Jobline’s UK arm in my early twenties. I came across to the UK alone with a laptop and left the business when it was fully established with 30+ staff. It was quite a journey for me both professionally and personally.
“Supporting others to develop their careers makes me proud and there have been many proud moments over the years watching people around me excel.
“Winning ‘Agency of the Year’ at ScotlandIS Digital Tech Awards with my extraordinary team at iProspect was a particularly special moment as we had all worked hard together to drive business performance for our clients.
“I am extremely proud to see the brands that we are now attracting. Most recently, we won Dr Martens because of our proven track-record.
“Being appointed a Non-Executive board member at FinTech Scotland was highly fulfilling and I am excited about supporting the FinTech industry’s acceleration in Scotland.”
Eileen McLaren, Chief Operating Officer at Cognitive Geology
Eileen started her career as a developer in local government after obtaining a BSc Information Systems from Glasgow College of Technology.
She then followed a varied career moving from senior developer to programme manager in Financial Services with Standard Life and RBS, before moving into the world of start-ups. She then joined SkyScanner – one of Edinburgh’s unicorn tech companies.
“I was part of the early stage growth there as development manager, and over a period of two years helped the company more than triple in size,” she explains.
After a spell in consultancy with ThoughtWorks she joined another unicorn company, FanDuel, as VP of Engineering.
During her time at FanDuel, she played a major part in the firm’s highest ever growth period. Three years later she joined Cognitive Geology as VP of Engineering before moving into the role of COO and became a Board member in 2018.
“I am all about the people, and really enjoy helping teams and individuals to grow and develop. My coaching skills help in that and I like to keep them as up to date as I can with CPD sessions.
“As an advocate for increasing the number of females working in IT and tackling the technology sectors diversity problems, I have been involved in a number of initiatives in this area, and for the past two years have been a judge on the SWiT awards.
“I am a member of the Digital Skills Partnership Industry Advisory Group, providing CPD and advice to College and University lecturers to help improve the curriculum of courses with current industry needs.”
“It’s very hard to pick one proudest moment. If I was forced, I would say leading the programme in Standard Life that launched the first internet bank offering.
“Closely followed by my first foray into coaching and helping one of my team move successfully from analyst to project manager. And building the development teams in Skyscanner and FanDuel.”
Frances O’Neill, Founder, Global Treasure Trails
Frances is an experienced school teacher, writer and filmmaker. She has produced a series of ‘edutainment apps’ for the cultural tourist and has established a digital workshop for young people to co-create content.
She has designed apps for three global authors, F Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Alexander McCall Smith.
It was her desire to engage with young people outside of the classroom that led her to design a Game-Based Learning on Location app that combined EdTech with Cultural Tourism. Frances’ company has a unique business model, whereby young people research and publish content to a series of tourism apps.
“When young people create their own walking trails, they gain a sense of ownership which leads to appreciation and sustainability of their local area/tourism destination,” she says. “They gain qualifications as well as a sense of custodianship.
And her proudest moment? “Being recognised as a leader in the field of Game-Based Learning on Location,” she explains. “We have recently been nominated for two national and international awards in Tourism and Education – The British Youth Travel Award Best Leisure Product 2018 and the GESS Dubai Best Free Educational Software Product Award 2019.”
Jessica Mullen, Founder & Managing Director of CreateFuture
Jessica has successfully run multi-million-pound digital and technology projects, accounts and agencies during her 18-year career.
As Client Services Director at digital agency Realise, she led the account and project management teams through significant growth and transformation.
She then joined the Service Design consultancy Nile before leaving her role as MD to start CreateFuture in 2016.
“In a different life, I trained to be a chemistry teacher but soon discovered that I was more interested in tech and ‘new media’, as it was called back then!
“e-Learning was an opportunity to bring both together, designing and building online courses and learning management platforms. It was a natural transition to the world of digital marketing.
“I started CreateFuture to prove that the agency/client model was broken, convinced that there was a better way to deliver innovation and value faster.
“We use design thinking, working in a fun, fast and collaborative way. As we approach CreateFuture’s third birthday, transitioning from start-up to scale-up, I’m really proud – and relieved – that it worked!
“On a more personal level, it’s been the realisation that I have a platform, through my profile, to support and inspire other women.
“Be that through Girl Geek Scotland, BIMA, Ladies Wine Design, Creative Edinburgh or through the amazing team we’re building at CreateFuture.
“I’d like to think that, directly or indirectly, I’m helping to give women the same opportunities and encouragement I’ve been lucky enough to have from the influential women in my life.”
Pooja Jain, CEO & Co-founder of CogniHealth
Pooja graduated with a masters degree in Neuroscience (MSc Integrative Neuroscience) from the University of Edinburgh. She has worked as a professional carer for people affected by dementia, gaining first-hand experience of the difficulties carers face.
Due to her experiences as a carer, she believes that technological innovation can address the challenges of dementia care.
She says that supportive healthcare technologies need to be accessible for the families who use them, so her company’s tech and solutions can be accessed through an app as well as via Alexa.
She says: “My proudest moment within the sector is being endorsed by Alzheimer Scotland – the biggest body in Scotland that provides post-diagnostic support for dementia.
“I am so pleased that my company is contributing significantly to bettering the lives of those living with dementia.”
Sarah Stenhouse, CEO and Founder of Oodls
Sarah graduated from Dundee University in 2012 after studying BSc Biology. After this time, she spent some time in the retail sector before going back to university to study MSc Marketing at Edinburgh Napier University.
After studying, she moved into Digital Marketing where she worked with clients to build various bespoke software solutions – her first taste of working with technology.
“I have always had a love for science and technology. Although I didn’t want to move into biology, I wanted a career that would allow me to use the creative side of my brain as well as the analytical side. So tech was the right path for me.
“I am so proud of the amazing team that I have built. In fact, 70% of our team is actually female!”
Samantha Rhynas, Head of Operations at Stochastic Solutions
With more than 20 years experience of working in the tech industry, Samantha has worked across roles in Software, Engineering, QA, Operations and Data Analysis. In her current role, she works with clients to integrate Data Science into their business process, helping them see it as a tool to enable innovation and improvement.
Her previous roles included heading up the Release & Quality operations group at Aridhia, a healthcare analytics start-up, and Quadstone, leading the global team responsible for QA & Release of interactive tools for data analysis.
Coaching and mentoring across these roles led her to become involved with the group, Girl Geek Scotland, running events to help enable women working in the tech sector. She has now taken on leadership of this group – one of three amazing women and many more volunteers who make it possible.
At the start of 2018, Samantha and three other women started the Edinburgh chapter of PyData, a global community for users of data analysis tools to share & learn from each other.
“With no computing education at school, it wasn’t until my first job that I saw the potential of computers,” she says. “When an opportunity to take redundancy came, I leapt at the chance to study Computer Science – a topic I would never have chosen from the knowledge I had from school.
“For me, it highlights the importance of role models and work experience during that time. I didn’t know jobs like this existed, let alone that I could do them. My first job with an innovative tech company in Edinburgh was an eye-opener on what the industry was really all about – and gave me a fantastic introduction to tech and the variety of roles that make it work.
“There are many points along the way – from graduating as a mature student, my first promotion, to seeing other women I’ve mentored grow and make amazing contributions to the tech industry.
“The first birthday of PyData Edinburgh was a fantastic point to reach, and the numerous times I’ve stood up and represented Girl Geek Scotland – each time I feel immensely proud of what I have achieved in my own career and what I hope I can share with others to help them succeed too.”
Sharon Hamilton, Managing Director of Edge Testing Solutions Limited (part of Eurofins Group)
After graduating in Business Studies in London, Sharon moved into software testing. As a hands-on practitioner of testing, she performed all roles from test analyst to senior test programme manager, working for large organisations within the Finance Sector in London.
After relocating to Scotland in 2004, Sharon spent the next few years delivering Account Management for Software Testing Consultancies.
After a career break to have children and having previously worked for the founders of Edge Testing, Sharon joined the company in 2011, initially performing Service Delivery but quickly moving into Operation Management, before joining the Senior Management Team in 2013. After running the business day-to-day for a few years, Sharon was appointed as Managing Director in April 2018.
“As part of my degree, I worked for Unisys UK for one year and I returned to work for them in the finance department the summer after I graduated.
“During that summer I was approached by one of the managers to move into IT to become a Software Tester. I carefully considered the offers of staying within finance or moving to IT. I decided to become a trainee software tester – one of the best decisions of my life!
“I am very proud of having a senior management team that is gender equal. I ensure that the narrative around all different types of caring responsibilities is gender neutral so the company can create an environment where everyone can succeed.”
Susanne Mitschke, Founder & CEO of MindMate
Susanne is the co-founder and CEO of MindMate (Techstars ’16), an app to support the brain health of baby boomers – ranked #1 free health app in several App Stores worldwide.
Before founding MindMate, Susanne worked in Consulting for PwC and uniforce and was part of the business development and monetisation team at Austrian startup Novigo.
She was named in the ’30 under 30′ by Forbes magazine, as well as Alumna of the Year 2018 by the University of Glasgow.
She holds a Bachelor of Science in Business, Economics and Social Science from the Vienna University of Economics and Business, and a Masters in International Management & Leadership from the University of Glasgow, Adam Smith Business School.
“I was always intrigued by new tech developments and gadgets and focused as a consultant heavily on the technology sector,” she says. “I was really hooked by this industry when I joined the Austrian start-up, Novigo, and experienced for the first time what it means to work in a tech startup.
“The tech industry is full of pioneers who want to make a difference, make things easier, better and more efficient. There are still so many areas that haven’t been explored yet. I understand that some people are scared of this industry because they’re not ‘techies’, but the faster this industry grows, the more non-tech people are actually needed in this industry.
“I think there are really two achievements I’m really proud of. First, building a fantastic and international team. Especially in times of Brexit, it is a good thing to emphasise that the MindMate team holds passports from nine different nationalities!
“We wouldn’t be where we are now if Scotland would not attract talent from all over Europe!
“Secondly, I’m really proud to have found a sustainable business model that is not only focused on ‘making money’, but is very mission-driven: we connect patients to clinical trials and hope to find a cure for Alzheimer’s sooner rather than later.
“This is also only possible because we have a fantastic team that takes integrity and social responsibility very seriously, and because we’re backed by fantastic investors who believe in us, and gave us a chance.”