Tanika Patel is a user experience designer and STEM ambassador at PA. She’s part of the team that teaches PA-hosted Code First: Girls (CFG) courses, designed to encourage more women into traditionally male-dominated digital careers. Here, she explains how completing a CFG course challenged her perceptions of digital careers and set her on a successful new path.
Before I began to pursue a career in tech, I had a perception that many others shared – that to work in tech you had to be an experienced programmer or engineer. And when you’re deciding what degree or training to do, it can seem like you’ll be stuck with the decision forever.
That’s why I studied film at university, something I knew that I enjoyed and had an interest in.
I wanted to be a writer or director, two very popular jobs in an industry full of barriers. I felt these jobs would let me do what I enjoyed – tell stories and create characters that connect with audiences by using different technical and creative methods.
But after a brief time in the industry, I became less sure of what career I wanted to pursue. Then I found CFG. This non-profit organisation challenged my assumptions about tech and fixed career paths. It introduced me to the whole range of roles and skills in tech, and how my goals matched.
When I took the CFG course, I found there was a lot more to programming than I once thought – there was storytelling, design, psychology etc. These were all the areas that had drawn me to film and they were skills I had fostered during my degree.
Then, at the CFG annual conference, I found out about user experience (UX). Working as a UX researcher and designer seemed a lot like being a filmmaker – you need to tell a story using certain techniques. If you want to create a film for kids, you would find out what they like, the colours, characters, music and so on. Similarly, if you wanted to create an app for kids, you would conduct user research with them to find their needs and what features to include.
I decided to follow the lead of many of the women I’d seen speak at the CFG conference and switch to a career as a UX designer. So, I started searching for relevant master’s degrees. Although UX designer and researcher roles have been around for a while, there were few relevant graduate programmes. But I found one here at PA.
The rest, as the cliché goes, is history. I enjoyed bringing my own ideas to the table and seeing them become part of a final product. And I enjoyed working with a growing and diverse team. I’m currently working as a user researcher for the public service, where I get to be part of a large-scale digital reform. I get to conduct research with a wide variety of people and turn that research into insights. It’s exciting to be working on something that will help people in their everyday lives and to see our research turn into tangible services.
But what I’ve enjoyed most is being able to share my newfound knowledge and passion for UX with a new generation of women learning digital skills. I now have the chance to work on the CFG course that started me on the path to an exciting career in tech.
PA regularly works with Code First: Girls to host courses at our London office. We believe the best work comes from diverse teams of experts, which is why we work on a variety of programmes to give new experiences to those who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity.