Two orange chairs and a spotlight
A conversation with our Public Safety Group's Chief Technology Officer

Women in Tech: In conversation with Tessa Hughes

Having completed her master's at Sopra Steria, Tessa is passionate about personal development and how this can open new opportunities within your career. This discussion will showcase her thoughts on supporting the development of female talent and how being in a minority doesn’t always have to put you at a disadvantage.

Tell us a bit about yourself and what your day-to-day looks like

I’m Chief Technology Officer (CTO) for our Public Safety Group. I’m the technical lead, working with various stakeholders to support the design, development, and implementation of our products and services to help bring added value to our customers and solve their problems.
My day-to-day tasks include:
  • Undertaking technical reviews of systems to address issues.
  • Completing technical design specifications.
  • Resolving complex development tasks.
  • Estimating the size of a development task.
  • Providing support to and mentoring other team members.
  • Looking at future development opportunities and our technology roadmap.

Tell us a bit about your experience and pathway into the technology sector

My journey was quite standard to start with, in that I did a technical based degree, and then joined Sopra Steria as a Junior Software Developer on a graduate scheme back in 2006 after doing a year at Sopra Steria during my year in industry at university.

I progressed through various levels over the years, but during this time my career stood still for a few years, due to a mixture of family life, and not knowing what options were available. In 2020, the Aerospace, Defence and Security business gave people the opportunity to sign up to do a Digital and Technology Specialist Masters (MSc) – and I enrolled! This decision changed my career. I gained a mentor, and both my visibility of opportunities and profile within the business expanded.

Completing my MSc with a distinction enabled me to believe in myself, and since then I have moved from a Senior Developer to the CTO role. I’m now a line manager, the business unit Social Value representative, and I won a Sopra Steria Women in Technology award. With my progression and the award win, I feel both fulfilled and valued within my role.

From my experience, even if you start in the technology sector, it is difficult, as a female, to have the confidence to progress in your career. I’m so glad I took the massive leap of faith to complete my MSc – as I would not be where I am now without doing that. My advice to others is to always develop and learn – and you do not know what opportunities and pathways the learning will open up.

Why do you think it is important for more women to join the tech industry?

For a long time, I was one of the few women within our development team and this can be quite daunting. However, over the past few years I have realised that being in the minority can enable you to bring a fresh perspective to the situation. My mentor for many years retired in 2022, and I took over his role within the team. He was extremely well thought of and had over 30 years of experience, so I was very anxious about taking over his role, as trying to fill his shoes was near impossible. Then I had a light bulb moment – and realised that I did not have to fill his shoes, I could bring my own pair along with me! Embracing that I can bring a different skillset has been a challenge, however, I believe it's the reason my confidence is growing.

It’s important that women join the tech industry because their perspective is vital. Women can often look at problems and tasks from a holistic viewpoint, seeing differing perspectives and factors. This can be hugely beneficial within tech projects and tasks.

What do you see as the main challenges facing women in technology today, and how do you propose overcoming them?

I think a big challenge that women face is around confidence. The confidence to apply for roles that they don’t believe they’re good enough for. If you can do every single thing on the job description to a high level, you have probably already outgrown that role. Don’t be afraid to develop and learn new skills. And as employers we need to look at how we word job descriptions, to ensure that women are empowered to apply.

You don’t have to be a software developer to have a career within the tech industry. In my role as CTO, I now spend a great deal of my time solving customer problems, and understanding requirements, rather than writing actual code.

What initiatives have you been a part of to support the progression of women in the tech industry and break gender bias in the workplace, in terms of equal opportunity?

I’m part of the Sopra Steria Women's Inclusive Network, which is a network that supports women across the business. This network shares resources on women specific topics, organises networking events, and showcases female talent. I also attend a Women’s Group within my business sector which creates a safe space to talk and share experiences. I’d encourage everyone to become a member of at least one inclusive network. It’s incredibly important to support these initiatives to break down bias and create a more inclusive and diverse workplace.

I’m also the Social Value representative for our business unit. This role enables me to play a part in the objectives and initiatives that we, as a sector, are focused on. Some objectives include increasing our female recruitment and looking at promotions and career paths for women within Sopra Steria.

What is your vision for the future, and how would you like to shape the experience for women in tech?

We need to give women opportunities to develop themselves and understand where their skills sit within the tech industry. There are so many different roles – we just need to ensure that those roles and career paths are visible to them. Mentoring is key to this – enabling discussions and understanding where skills (both hard and soft) can lead you.

We need to allow for flexible working, as this will help balance all different aspects of home and work life – which can sometimes be a blocker for applying for certain roles.

My hope for the future is that inclusive networks are not required, and that when I explain my job role, people are not surprised due to my gender.

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