Emily Driscoll — Test Engineer at BBC

From linguistics to tech, we sit down with Emily to discuss her journey into tech, why your degree shouldn’t determine your future and life as a woman working in tech.

We meet at Grindsmith Coffee in Media City close to Emily’s office at the BBC.
Media City is testament to the growth of Manchester in recent years, now home to the BBC, ITV and Salford University. Academy was founded in Manchester and speaking to a fellow northerner in Emily is a pleasure.

Emily is a mid-level Test Engineer at the BBC after a recent promotion. “I actually wanted to be a research lecturer!”. Emily studied Linguistics at Manchester University graduating in 2017. She continued her journey at the University working on a Widening Participation initiative promoting the career options available to young people, options they might not have thought possible before.

“I worked from primary all the way to sixth form to try and illuminate doors that people didn’t think were open to them.” However, it wasn’t only other people that Emily was helping. “I was actually educating myself. During this time I spoke to a lot of people working in STEM. For many people this is a career path they think is closed to them — they don’t know what STEM jobs are and how varied they can be.”

This self-edification combined with exposure to tech in her degree set Emily on her journey into tech. “I did a computational linguistics module where I did some coding — I got a flavour of it there.”

“Having that creativity you get from an arts or humanities degree is really important especially working in an industry like television.”

This non-traditional route into tech is reassuringly common in Emily’s team at the BBC. “Thinking of my team, only one of us did a Computer Science degree. I don’t know many people who have done that degree! We have a real diversity of background.”

Emily celebrates the benefits of coming from a non-tech background. “Having that creativity you get from an arts or humanities degree is really important especially working in an industry like television.”

Emily is also an accessibility champion working to promote awareness of neurodiversity in the industry. Emily has cared for children with autism and speaks openly about the challenges they can face. “There is a matrix of skills. Where some people will excel in one area, for example, coding, they might be limited in their people skills. If you can’t get through an interview, people will never know the skills you have and the insights you can bring.”

Emily noted the work of Nomensa who develop inclusive UI and UX as well as offer guidance for recruitment teams.

We moved on to discuss the startling gender imbalance in UK Tech and Emily’s experience of that. From 2016 – 2019 the percentage of women making up the UK’s tech workforce has dropped from 18% – 16% while the pool of male workers has jumped by 60,000 — equivalent to a third of the entire female workforce.

“When I started I was the only woman in a team of 8 people. It was really inclusive, however, everyone made a conscious effort to ensure my voice was heard and valued — it was great.”

While Emily’s experience at the BBC is a great one it is potentially an outlier in an industry known for not offering an inclusive environment, something Emily saw at her previous employer.

“I have seen the other side of it — at my previous company, it was totally different. It was your stereotypical boy’s club. I had a really hard time getting developers to work with me and take my inputs seriously.”

Emily goes further. “It can be on your mind (being a woman in tech). Nobody is overtly against women but I would say there are still some microaggressions especially from those who have been in the industry a while.”

Emily talked about what has helped her deal with some of the issues women face in the industry as well as advice for how we can drive change. “Having a thick skin and not being too proud is very helpful. I accept that there is a long way to go for women in tech but you’re not going to change things by shouting at people.”

The new Chief Product Officer that Emily works under is promoting healthy attitudes that we can all take inspiration from. “She reached out and offered her time to everyone. It was great, it encourages people to reach out and talk to one another no matter your position.”

“Don’t be afraid to look stupid and ask questions! Focus on problem-solving skills, developers are really good Googlers — get good at that! It’s ok to say I don’t the answer but I know where to find it.”

I want to understand what helped Emily with her transition from a non-technical degree into a career in tech. “I have a really good manager and I’ve sought out mentors. Talking to people who have been around longer than I have and people who know the industry I’m working in, nurturing those relationships is really valuable.”

Beyond this Emily stresses the importance of listening, something that is easily forgotten as people fight to have their voices heard. “Listening is such an important skill. Technical knowledge and knowing how to communicate are vital but being able to listen and understand is something people take for granted. Great active listening is a common trait that I’ve found in people I look up to — you can give much better insights if you listen better.

I ask for any final advice Emily has for people making the move into tech. “Don’t be afraid to look stupid and ask questions! Focus on problem-solving skills, developers are really good Googlers — get good at that! It’s ok to say I don’t know the answer but I know where to find it.

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