Woman in tech of the month: Lizi Jenkins
Woman in Tech of the Month is our series exploring the achievements of women who are breaking gender stereotypes to build technology-based careers. This month, we’re celebrating Lizi Jenkins, group innovation and product development director at Rentokil. In our interview, she reflects on her career in tech, shares tips on entering the industry and offers advice to women as they progress through their careers.
How did you get first get exposed to the world of technology?
I have always been intrigued by technology. One of my core memories from my childhood is buying a magazine which came with its own make-your-bedroom-door-alarm to stop your siblings coming in. I thought this was the coolest thing ever because I never wanted my sister in my room! I built the alarm out of tin foil. It didn’t work, but I was fascinated by the process of building something and having a product at the end of it.
My mum and dad were scientists, so I had everything explained to me through a scientific lens. At primary school, I was lucky to have an incredible teacher who inspired me and built that passion, so I knew I always loved science. I went on to do a degree in microbiology and had my first two jobs in science.
This taught me a structured way of thinking and how to go through a method, completing each task step-by-step and to persevere until you get an answer to your hypothesis. My first role at Hive was where my science brain was exposed to the world of tech and really lit up. The same principles apply across all of STEM, you walk through prototypes, customer experience and fixing things until you achieve an outcome.
What is it that you love about tech?
I love the instant gratification when you build something. If you go wrong, it is easy to see what is broken and you are always working towards a finite end point which I find so satisfying. I’ve had roles in strategy and higher level management but never found anything that gives me that satisfaction of building something that works.
What are you working on in your current role?
I genuinely claim I have the most fun job out there, I get to combine primary scientific research on ants, cockroaches and creepy crawlies, to IoT [Internet of Things] devices. I get to explore some big questions about insects and disease. For example, what does being able to detect the wing beat frequency of a mosquito mean? Can you tell what species it is? Can you tell if its infected? Can you tell if it’s fed on a human? We are helping to answer these fundamental questions that are fascinating to work on.
After I joined, I remember writing an email to my boss saying I cannot believe this job actually exists! The role had been open 18 months before they found me, so it really is the perfect fit.
Why is diversity so important in innovation and technology?
Its hugely important, I find having a diverse team makes conversations so much more exciting. If you get groupthink and people have the same experiences and view of the world, then one person voices their opinion and others sit and nod. I know the discussions I enjoy the most are ones where people have had completely different experiences around the same topic and you have so many different opinions and better ideas.
The longer-term side of that is actually you get a much wider variety of ideas and differing ways to execute those ideas, so ultimately you’re going to come out with stronger plan. The ideas diverse teams come up with are just fascinating. A great way to build a diverse workforce, is through graduates. I love our graduates, they come up with fantastic ideas and bring energy to every team,
What challenges have you faced in your career?
I am a single mum, my daughter is a teenager now but at one time she was small and I had to figure out how to balance my work life with being a mum. You have to make sure you’ve got a support network around you to help deal with those day-to-day challenges.
Secondly, working in technology means you need very specific knowledge. I often struggled to find the time to keep up tech skills and learn new things to develop your career, balancing that continuous development while you’re also managing teams is pretty tricky. What really helps is if your work will afford you flexibility. Having understanding managers who trust you to get your work done at a time that best suits you makes a huge difference.
What is your biggest achievement?
My first foray into technology was programme managing the design and build of the Hive camera. My team made this beautiful product and we had an absolute blast together delivering it.
Then, I was awarded the 35 under 35 from Management Today, which was an honour especially because they took a holistic view of me. At the time I had just passed army officer selection, I was a single mum and also progressing in my tech career. It is always nice to celebrate your achievements and get that stamp of approval.
But I would say the thing that has made me the proudest is that I’ve made it here. I am now in a position to help other women develop their careers in technology. It’s great I have a camera I can show and a banner to put on my LinkedIn profile, but actually, I get the most satisfaction from helping the graduates develop and building diverse teams.
What is your advice for other women who are looking to get into technology?
Just go for it! Learn what you need to afterwards. Say yes, and figure the rest out later.
Also get a Raspberry Pi, as I started my tech career at Hive, someone had mentioned one and I had no idea what it was. I went out to buy one when I was doing my day job and that’s how I learned the background tech I needed. My boss couldn’t believe I did that in my own time. I had simultaneously gained the trust of my manager while learning vital tech skills that helped to me progress further. So go the extra mile when you can and use your initiative to start learning!