Rachel Pattinson, TechWomen100 award winner
Can you tell us about the industry you’re in and the role you play?
I manage digital research and social innovation programmes at Open Lab, which is a research group in the School of Computing at Newcastle University. We are quite a large research group, there are about 100 of us. Our focus is on human-computer interaction, interaction design and ubiquitous computing.
I manage three research programmes at Open Lab, including the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Digital Civics which is training 50 PHD students. I am also managing two research centres, the Digital Economy Research centre and the Centre for Digital Citizens.
These programmes are looking at lots of different types of digital technologies, from older technologies like radio, right through to cutting-edge machine learning. We think about technology through a human-centred and civic lens. We’re always thinking about the interaction between people and technology.
Tell us about your award win, when did you hear and what does it mean to you?
I won a TechWomen100 award, late last year, from We Are The City. it was amazing because I had only been working in a technology role for about 18 months before winning the award! I still feel like I’m very new to technology really, so to win an award like that so soon, was just amazing.
It’s a list of 100 women who are making an impact on technology with the work that they are doing, the other winners are incredible. I felt really honoured to be part of that list.
Why do you think awards like TechWomen100 are so important?
I wish they weren’t! I wish women had more of a say in technology and the industry. I hope eventually that awards like this will become not as important as they are now. I think the reason why they are important is because of the gender balance that we see in technology.
I think awards like this help to promote women in the industry. And hopefully shout about all the great work that women are doing in technology.
Do you think people have any misconceptions about women in Tech?
I don’t like to generalise, I can’t speak for all women, but I think sometimes (and this is true of women in other industries as well) women’s contributions aren’t recognised in quite the same way.
I think there is sometimes a view in technology that women’s skills are less technical, and ‘softer’. That’s certainly true for me, as I don’t have a technical background, but I don’t think that those skills are any less valuable in the digital industry.
What challenges have you faced, if any, in your career?
One of my challenges is that I keep jumping careers! It does give me a breadth of experience, but I don’t have background in technology. I’m gaining in knowledge and understanding all the time, but sometimes my understanding of the digital sector is something I struggle with.
Even if I move out of the technology field into something else in the future, I’m definitely going to take this experience with me.
What do you think would encourage more women to work in the tech industry?
I think all industries are becoming more digital – every business is kind of a digital business. And you can get into technology through lots of different routes, including by working in businesses that are not traditionally seen as tech businesses. There are lots of ways in through companies that you wouldn’t necessarily see as technology companies.
I think understanding how it all connects is important. One way of encouraging women into technology is the schools pipeline. Not very many girls take computing science at GCSE or A-Levels. So, I think there is something that needs to be done much earlier in terms of how we talk to young girls, about careers in technology or STEM subjects.
What advice would you give to other women looking to begin or further their career in the industry?
I would say give it a try! It can be a bit of a risk, moving into technology from another sector, but I think it could surprise you. You can always pivot and you can always try something new.
What were you working on prior to this?
I was managing partnerships in a museum, so I was working in the arts and culture. Prior to that I worked in communications and marketing, and prior to that I was a librarian! I have worked on projects around the Magna Carta, to children’s picture books to A.I. Broadly, I have always been working in information environments.
What piece of advice would you give yourself at the start of your career?
I would give myself the advice that where you start, isn’t where you will end up! Everything is a stepping stone to something else, even if you’re not quite sure what that something else is.
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