Women in Tech: “Having more women in tech opens up the door to a more equal world”
Women are underrepresented in the tech sector —myth or reality? Two years ago, we launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Rebecca Simmonds, Senior Software Engineer at Red Hat.
A research study by The National Center for Women & Information Technology showed that “gender diversity has specific benefits in technology settings,” which could explain why tech companies have started to invest in initiatives that aim to boost the number of female applicants, recruit them in a more effective way, retain them for longer, and give them the opportunity to advance. But is it enough?
Two years ago, we launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Rebecca Simmonds, Senior Software Engineer at Red Hat.
Today’s Woman in Tech: Rebecca Simmonds
In her role as Senior Software Engineer at Red Hat, Rebecca works in a cross disciplinary team with data scientists and developers to help community work into making intelligent applications. Her research focuses on new insights in machine learning and artificial intelligence to support the development of intelligent applications.
Rebecca has a PhD in Computing Science from the University of Newcastle.
What first got you interested in tech?
I first became interested in technology at a young age when we got our first computer and dial-up modem. The first time I thought of it as a career was when an inspirational IT teacher I had gave me the confidence and the push to achieve my goals in tech. From here I decided that I wanted to do a BSc in computing science even though I would be one of the only females (which felt daunting at the time) and I had never programmed in the course’s chosen language before. However, this push meant that I am still driving my ambition and career within technology.
How did you end up in your career path?
I started my journey as an undergraduate at Newcastle University doing computing science, and then continued to complete a PhD in scalable geospatial Twitter analysis. This gave me the skills and the confidence to continue into a career in tech. I then went to a startup which helped young people make better career decisions using a data analytics platform. This allowed me to make an impact on young people in the North East of England by attending STEM events to help support more women in tech. I then moved to another Java EE company for housing and, after this, ended up in Red Hat. Red Hat has given me a chance to improve my data science skills and work on projects that I feel passionate about. I am now hoping to change over from my individual contributor role into management to enable other people to create a great career in tech.
What obstacles did you have to overcome?
I found that when meeting other people for the first time there is a stigma behind being female – that you will not know as much as a male counterpart.
An obstacle I had to overcome was having to prove myself more than men within the sector when you first meet people. I found that when meeting other people for the first time there is a stigma behind being female – that you will not know as much as a male counterpart. I have also found the stereotype of “a ditzy blonde” hard to overcome, as this is ingrained in people’s minds. However, having said this, it made me want to try all the more and help support women in tech in any way I can to get rid of these stereotypes. Also, not everyone is like this and I have had many male counterparts as mentors who have helped me to further my career.
Did you receive support from your family and friends?
I have always been very lucky to receive support from family and friends, especially my parents and sister who helped fund me through university as well as always giving me the drive to reach for the stars. My role model would be my grandma who tirelessly fought for more equality in the places she worked. She inspired me to have drive and ambition, and that gender was not a flaw or something that would hold me back.
Did someone ever try to stop you from learning and advancing in your professional life?
I have faced challenges in bias against women in tech and have been told I could never be as good as men in tech. However, I feel it is always important to try and enlighten these people and support women in tech and how we benefit the industry. This has not always worked, though, and walking away from people like this is the last resort, but works.
A day in Rebecca’s life
I currently work for Red Hat, an enterprise software company with an open source development model. I am moving into a management role to help enable other people in an AI project within the company. This work will help to enable explainable AI within the company so that we can help customers automate routine tasks in their work day to improve productivity. A typical work day for me currently involves some new hire interviews, which will turn into orientation and then management. I also programme and research around the aforementioned new incentive the company has for this cutting-edge research.
What are you most proud of in your career?
I am most proud of all the STEM events and work I have tried to do to help young people and especially women get into tech.
I am most proud of all the STEM events and work I have tried to do to help young people and especially women get into tech. At Red Hat, we take our involvement in STEM very seriously, and lead initiatives like the annual Open Schools Coding Competition, which helps girls and boys aged 11 to 14 to build apps for their favourite charities. The competition aims to excite students about computer science, and engages them ahead of making their subject choices for GCSE. I have found the students and young women inspiring and a great motivator to continue the good work as well as helping keep my ambition in my current career.
Why aren’t there more women in tech?
I think it is a lack of education and the fear of the unknown. I have spoken to girls before who have been told by parents that they would need to pursue careers in nursing or hairdressing – this stereotype is saddening. However, I think this is a lack of education and can be stopped by STEM events and getting people involved in them, as well as showing off women who are in the sector now (with conferences, etc). We also need to see more companies take the lead in supporting diversity and inclusion initiatives and embracing truly inclusive environments. At Red Hat, the culture is rooted in open source values, fostering inclusion of ideas from everyone, regardless of background, job title or seniority.
Could you name a few challenges women in tech face?
Overcoming stereotypes which can undermine a women’s credibility in the workplace and having to work harder for the respect of my peers.
Would our world be different if more women worked in STEM?
Having more women in tech opens up the door to a more equal world. This could help to increase equality for other minorities as well.
More women being able to research and get funding for different projects helps to add to the diversity of the work being done and could help improve research into important topic areas.
Don’t miss our Women in Tech profiles:
- Women in Tech: Alyssa Simpson Rochwerger – “Accept opportunities, know your worth, and find mentors”
- Women in Tech: Hanna Stacey – “Diversity drives innovation.”
- Women in tech: Danuta Florczyk – “Professional competence against inequality — a perfect tool”
- Women in tech: Lina Zubyte – “We are building so many biases into technology”
- Women in tech: Reema Poddar – “Women MUST promote and support their fellow women.”
- Women in tech: Sivan Nir – “You need to have passion and a thirst for learning.”
- Women in tech: Karen Hoyos – “Diversity should be represented at every level”