Tech is a changing world, and employers need to keep up

Tech in the 21st century dominates human life, and Ana Gillan says the tech industry needs a new human-focus if it wants to succeed

Hortonworks (now Cloudera) was founded in 2011, and when Ana Gillan joined the EMEA team in 2014 as employee number 27, she was the first woman in a tech-focused role in EMEA. Having faced impostor syndrome in an industry dominated by men, Ana shares why employers in tech need to adapt to new candidates, and the new normal.

Ana, how have you battled impostor syndrome?

Realising that everybody who is successful has suffered from impostor syndrome is incredibly comforting.

If we boil impostor syndrome down to its core, it’s the fear that we don’t know the answer to everything, that we’re not qualified or worthy enough to be in that room. However, always knowing the answer can be a detriment to your job. If you know everything, then you make assumptions, you don’t listen to other people or to requirements. You just assume that you know best.

Having doubt can be a benefit, and we should start seeing it as such.

My role is to talk to customers, to understand what their issues are and come up with a technical solution, but sometimes a customer will ask me a question, and I won’t have the answer. The temptation is to make something up because you feel like it might be the right answer, or spiral and feel like a failure.

Instead of lying or spiralling, I ask myself why they are asking the question. I stop thinking about the answer and begin thinking about the question, which boils it down to the real issue at hand. Then I find something I can discuss with the customer and get the issue resolved.

It’s all about having control over yourself and your emotions. It’s something I’m learning to embrace, as well as recognising that impostor syndrome is completely normal. Plus, I realised it’s OK not to have all the answers all the time.

How has your journey landed you a job in tech?

I always loved studying languages, but technology was always part of my life. Growing up, my dad was heavily into tech, and this meant I was exposed to it from a really early age.  

I believe that we can educate ourselves, and I knew I could teach myself more about tech than languages, so I pursued my formal education in languages. However, it didn’t take long for my interest in tech to blossom into a passion.

Learning both languages and tech skills gave me an advantage when job seeking, it’s a combination of skills and experience that isn’t common in the tech candidate pool.

However, I eventually decided that I wanted more formal qualifications, so I studied for a master’s degree in data science and data analytics at Royal Holloway. Coupled with my experience in languages and technology, I got a job at Hortonworks – becoming their first EMEA based woman in tech.

Should employers open themselves up to non-traditional backgrounds?

Absolutely. Tech moves so quickly, and it’s constantly changing. Only having employees with traditional degrees or qualifications doesn’t cut it anymore, there is a wide range of candidates with incredible skills that the tech industry needs to open itself up to.

In the 21st-century tech is a huge part of human life, and people who have backgrounds in social sciences who have a better understanding of how technology can interact with humans would be great assets to the industry. As technology becomes more intertwined with human life, there needs to be a bigger focus on human behaviour with and around tech.

In terms of diversity and inclusion, not only should a workforce be diverse in thought and background, but they should also understand what diversity and inclusion truly mean. People who have never encountered adversity won’t understand the importance of diversity and inclusion. However, open-minded people who can think critically understand adversity even if they haven’t faced it themselves.

Has working from home helped equality for women in the workplace?

I’m waiting to see how it pans out long-term.

Traditionally, women have taken care of childcare and housework, so wide-spread remote working has prompted an important discussion around the 21st-century family structure, and how equal it really is. At the same time, every day, I see stories of successful women on work calls whose children run through the background, and it’s not seen as unprofessional anymore.

Remote working could be a good move for equality. Most jobs will provide remote working, so women and working mothers have more access to a range of jobs than ever before. Perhaps before they couldn’t commute to the big city every day as they had to pick up the kids from school, whereas now that job is at their doorstep.

Do you want remote working to stay?

I hope it does. I’ve been fortunate enough to work from home for the last six years. I’ve had the flexibility to find a balance for my energy, my health and my well-being that you get with remote working. I can choose to go to the office or stay at home, so I have freedom in my work.

I hope the stigma of remote working and the suspicion that some managers have around people working from home goes away, so people can organise their work around their lives as opposed to organising their lives around their work.

It’s not the ‘new normal’ anymore; it’s the normal. It’s going to be here for a long time.

If cities and transport are less crowded, then future pandemics will be prevented. We may have learned our lesson on exhausting ourselves living a fast-paced life, and we may be finally achieving balance.
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