Rituja Ravikiran Rao, TechWomen100 award winner!
We have been speaking to Rituja about her experiences, winning the award and developing her creation of an online community for mental health and early careers!
Can you tell us about the industry you’re in and the role you play?
I currently work in a tech consultancy industry. I work for a company called Sparta Global, who are based in London. Through them I work with a client based in Northampton in the financial services industry.
I work in cheque processing and what is really exciting, was the fact that I was a key contributor of their programme about moving away from paper-based cheques to image-based cheques. We work on a lot of IT systems around that. In my role I was a project manager / Scrum master within the company. I delivered a project with a 1-million-pound budget, where I was helping them unlock the cloud capabilities and implementations.
My project worked on delivering the business needs, business goals, cost saving. We helped reduce IT contract staff by 30%. Our build and test cycles became 25% faster. Finally, bringing dev ops, and dev ops frameworks to IPSL. Moving on from that I worked with them as an SME. That project was about a year ago, and since then I have been doing a hybrid role. From project manager to business analyst where I deliver all sorts of client changes for Barclays, Lloyds and HSBC.
I think you can call me a project manager who works in the financial / tech industry! Right now, I’m working on around 7 different projects at the same time! Everyday is a new day.
Winning the award
2020 was really interesting for me. I won two awards actually! The first one was called Future Stars of Tech, and I won the IT manager category. The second award was called Tech Women 100, run by We Are The City. That award identifies 100 amazing women with emerging talents in the UK tech space. I think for me, winning an award is really just about recognition for the work you do, but also makes you feel like you belong in the industry. As much as it’s recognition for you, it’s also about getting to know about a bunch of other women who have done amazing things.
It helps community building and network building. For me personally, I come from a background where I studies journalism. I only graduated in 2018, so it’s only been 2 years since I have been out of university, so winning an award within the first 2 years, makes me feel like I can do this, and that I haven’t made a big mistake changing careers! It helps me identify my potential and helps me fight imposter syndrome, sometimes! Awards are good reminders that I’m on the right track.
Why are awards like TechWomen100 are so important?
I think they are particularly important because they come with benefits, like you meet other women who have won. You get to have conversations, you have masterclasses. Industry speakers come in and speak to you. They are specific, they have a mission and as much as you winning it is great, you have a trophy and the social media; but at the end of the day, it promotes you to the industry.
The two awards that I have won have been part of the industry, so you have access to industry partners as well. For previous award winners, it has led to job offers, interview and podcasts. The awards are the beginning point of promoting yourself even further. I think something it does as well, is it teaches women like myself, to promote our work and talk about it openly. Being able to say I have done this, I have won this award, without feeling like you’re boasting. Which is what you’re taught to do – to be humble. I have had people question how relevant the awards are, but all these awards are relevant and relevant to me. Most importantly they are backed by the industry as a whole. If you see any of the sponsors, they are massive companies who are dedicated to diversity and inclusion.
Are there misconceptions about women in Tech?
Definitely, I think there is always a community of people saying it’s an exaggeration, or it isn’t a problem or you’re blowing it out of proportion. I have had people saying to me that all this ‘women in tech’ is marketing, and that it’s a marketing tool. For me it’s all about paying it forward, and you don’t have to be very successful to do that. I genuinely have things I can do for the industry and my own skillset.
I often talk about something called ‘proximity of inspiration’. For example, you could have somebody who is very successful, and you can look at them and feel great and you can get motivation. But that’s just aspiration, it still isn’t inspiration that you can take away and apply in your own life. At the same time, you look at role models who either look like you, speak like you or come from the same background, or they’re closer to your career stage. These are the people that are more accessible, these people have a bit more time, so they will help you. Most importantly, they will give you the kind of knowledge you need, that you can use to apply to yourself.
The idea is to get mentors who can directly help you. Start getting more and more mentors. The idea is that you need inspiration to come from all life stages, all ages, all backgrounds. That’s what will really make a difference for you.
The misconception about awards, that it’s all about an awards ceremony etc, but it’s a lot more than that for the people who are in that community. You need to have support. You genuinely have women supporting each other, and that’s been a very big part of my journey so far.
What challenges have you faced, if any, in your career?
I am just starting out, so I have fewer I guess! The biggest one was probably, when I was doing journalism, I really enjoyed it, it remains my biggest passion. I know someday that’s what I want to do – to blend technology and media together.
When I was doing journalism, I was getting quite frustrated at how much technology was changing my field. I got my dream job at the BBC, I was working on Panorama. I was an intern there and I was getting frustrated by how much the IT teams could control the editorial. That’s when I thought I’m not going to be as successful as I want to be just being a reporter or a journalist. I knew I probably needed to understand technology, because I want to start my own media firm one day.
When I was trying to break into tech, it was difficult, it wasn’t easy. I would get to the next stages of interviews, I did make it to final interviews where it was between me and another person, and I felt like having a degree (in tech) came in handy for those other people. Me not having one, meant I didn’t get things easily. I did find a job though, so I’m very grateful for that. Sometimes it felt too far away to come true, but now that it has come true, I’m really glad to be in technology.
I’ve been lucky that I haven’t faced a lot of challenges at my workplace. I’ve always had people who promote me, and I’ve had a lot of exposure. In the 2 years since I started working, I can see how much I’ve done. I’ve heard people say ‘you’re too young’ for something, or that you’ll burn out if you work this hard, ‘don’t be too ambitious’ – that’s the kind of challenges I’ve faced. Quite often I think they were more ageist.
What do you think would encourage more women to work in the tech industry?
Seeing more female role models who look like them, do things like them, talk like them. I currently mentor three women and really enjoy that relationship with them. I think it has to be mentoring, because when I look back on my journey, I think about it and I realise that almost everything that has happened to me has come through a mentor.
My first mentor was somebody very successful in the tech industry. I could identify with her, and she gave me advice on how to deal with the stigma on age and having success quite early. Or how to handle having success quite early, and how to accelerate your career. I had another mentor who helped me understand project management. Another one literally opened doors for me and got me into places, interviews etc. Another helps me promote myself better, gets me speaking events etc. So, when you really think about it, I have 6 people who I can lean on, ask them questions. They open doors for me everywhere.
It’s really useful to have that in your own organisation, because they will speak up for you when you’re not around; they’ll speak up for you on your behalf. I think as a young girl, if you feel like its difficult to do something, then having somebody who is a bit senior to you, who is committed to your growth, means you always have that to fall back on.
Encouraging girls into STEM
Something else I talk about a lot, is we talk about educating young girls and encouraging them to get into STEM. We must do this, but for this to come into effect, will be a whole generation away. We just can’t wait for a whole generation to come into effect.
There’s a bracket of women between 16-21 years of age who have not studied STEM subjects, but they have an interest. You can let them know that there is a space for them in technology. You can’t always attract certain groups with coding or AI because they might not be interested in that, but you could attract them with things like project management, digital marketing etc. This is not to say that they wouldn’t be interested in coding, but its important to change the definition of ‘techy’. We are all techies; we all do something in the tech industry. If I didn’t do my job, that piece of code wouldn’t see light. It’s very important to broaden the definition of technology, this will automatically attract more people.
From my own example, I came from journalism, and someone gave me the opportunity to look at something, and that made me decide I want to do tech now. They gave me that opportunity, and I’m here now. My role is project management, but within two years, I’ve gone from business project management to technical management, and I do cloud and dev ops now. I love it and want to move onto AI and machine learning. I didn’t know I was interested in technical skills, but I am now, and I can learn it. Anyone can learn technology.
What piece of advice would you give yourself at the start of your career?
I’m very proud of myself for having followed advice people have given me. I think the one piece of advice I would give myself would be to say yes to opportunities. You never know what something might lead to.
In Uni I was very focused on journalism. But then somebody offered me a role as a business development manager at a tech firm doing animation. I’m so glad I said yes. Because even though I was a business development manager, I got so much exposure to tech work and what they were actually doing in the background. That’s what inspired me to do more and more of it.
I think young people face a very difficult time right now where because education is so expensive, they feel like they have to do that. I think that they feel like if they try something else, they will have betrayed all that money they spent on their Uni subject. All this causes a lot of mental turmoil. You feel like you have a path set out for you and you have to follow that.
Saying yes to different opportunities will get you through different doors, and it won’t be a linear career path; but you don’t want it to be linear – you want to explore different things and you want to keep moving off the path.
Helping younger people
I wish we were all doing more for young people, letting them know that the future is probably not as bleak as it looks!
I’m very active in the diversity and inclusion space. One of my biggest missions is to talk about skills diversity. I think it’s young people who need to know more about skills diversity. And letting them know that they bring transferrable skills that can be applied to a verity of careers. If they choose to change that path at any given point in time – it’s ok! It’s not important to stick to one thing.
Building an online community
I’m working on starting a new community for young people. It’s all about skills diversity and mental health for early careers. I wouldn’t say it’s for ‘millennials’ because you can be aged 50 and starting a new career. It’s for your early career – and your early career is any career regardless of your age. It runs side by side with a You Tube channel I will start. The idea is to have a video about a certain topic, such as imposter syndrome. Then once the video is out, I would arrange for a virtual meeting where the idea is to have a community forum. You can network and have conversations about that topic. It would be an outlet that a lot of us need. I hope to launch it later in the year.
If you would like to be featured in our series of interviews, contact Harriet at [email protected]