10 Career Lessons for Women in Tech

10 Career Lessons for Women in Tech

I was lucky enough to attend the 2016 Everywoman Forum: Advancing Women in Technology (2017 event page is here) recently. Together with 600 other women, I piled into Hilton hotel for an inspiring day of talks and workshops. The organizers did an amazing job of pulling together inspiring women who also happen to be great speakers. But like with any event like this, you always walk away with a favourite. For me, this was Emer Timmons’ talk. She is the president of BT Global Services in the UK, and has an impressive career trajectory behind her.

Some of Emer’s top tips for women in tech

  1. Always set career goals. what makes you stand out, different, unique. know where you want to end up, and then understand what will be required to get there working backwards.
  2. Listen. She was the first female president in 170 years of BT. In five years there had been 6 male leaders. Emer credits her ability to listen to people who are smarter than her, and says listening enables you to lead. When you are part of a leadership team it is important to understand psychology. Deliver the same message differently to different people. This helps you get the best out of your people.
  3. Be curious. Constantly ask questions.
  4. Work hard. Cliche, but true. Emer said the harder she worked, the luckier she became.
  5. Turn your mentors into sponsors. Identify who may be able to help you, but with specific tangible things
  6. Be passionate and love what you do.
  7. Negotiate. Not many people put up their hands when Emer asked how many in the room negotiated a pay rise this year. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
  8. Delegate. When you take on more responsibility, learn to delegate. Knowing when to delegate is critical, and Emer used the perfect example. She compared delegating tasks to holding two balls. One is made of rubber, and one made of glass. Always delegate the rubber ball, because it can bounce. Do not delegate the glass ball, because if it drops and smashes, you have a bigger problem. An obvious observation but the simplification can help translate real world problems. When delegating a task, ask yourself whether it is something that can go wrong to the point of no return, or does it have some bounce in it, just in case?
  9. Be courageous and…
  10. Never give up.

The career tips that spoke to me

Emer’s talk was hands down the most inspiring of the entire event. While some of the career tips on her list could read as a bit cliché on the surface (you can argue that anyone can say “work hard”), it was the thoughts her stories provoked that made it so valuable.

There were a few specific career tips Emer had for women in tech that spoke to me the most.

Set career goals

I will admit that I have not been the strongest in this particular skill. I pursued a PhD with the interest of becoming an expert in a particular field. I also thought a PhD would help my career, and when I started my graduate school journey I very much thought I would end up in R&D or pharma. Instead, I ended up in a career in technology (and could not be happier for it). Even today, I need to sit down and rethink my path and set some new career goals. It’s daunting when you don’t know where you can end up. However, perhaps also time to shift that thinking and see it as liberating because anything is possible. Even when people say something cannot or should not be done, don’t be afraid to do it anyways. You are your own change agent, and there are very few things that you can do that will forever end your career. This type of fear mongering goes on a lot in academia though, where people considering leaving the academic track are told not to because they can never come back. Any career change is hard, but it is never impossible to come back to academia. In fact, I’ve seen quite a number of people do it recently. One person’s career isn’t the other and this may or may not be easier in certain disciplines, but at the end of the day you need to carve your path. If that path leads away from your current career choice (e.g. trying something new after 5 post-docs and having no prospect of a tenure track position at this time), then go carve out that path! I’ve had so many people approach me and tell me that it is precisely the fact that I’ve worked in different industries and gathered a variety of experience that makes me interesting. Doing something different is not giving up, it is finding your way.

Work hard

This one is of course amongst the cliché candidates of the list, but the value in this comment is recognizing where “luck” comes from. Emer also said the harder she worked in her career, the luckier she got. I can add to this by saying that the more people you meet and speak to, the more likely it is you find that one connection that becomes a mentor/best friend/business partner. Whatever the relationship, business or personal, they don’t typically come knocking on your door. You have to put in the leg work. I’ve often thought that I got incredibly lucky (and still think I did… not taking anything for granted), but I can trace back my success to date to specific actions and long nights up working. If I had not taken on that extra project 8 years ago, I may not be where I am today. If I had not written that one email at 11pm on a Friday night, instead of being out with friends, I may never have worked for Papers. It is important to try and have a life, but if you love what you do and you are passionate about your work, then it becomes a lot easier to balance the two, and working hard is actually exciting.

Ask yourself, do you love what you do right now? Really love it? And if not, what would be your dream job? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!


Christine Buske is a former academic who left science at the bench, and now considers herself a woman in tech. She is a frequently invited speaker, and enjoys talking about career transformation (particularly leaving academia for the business world), tech, issues around women in tech, product management, agile, and outreach. She is a proud Canadian resident, and qualifies as a "serial expat".


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