Woman in Tech of the Month: Sophie Jansz
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 Sophie Jansz, Digital and Agile expert and Women in Tech lead at PA. In this interview, she reflects on her career in tech, shares how she built the Women in Tech network and offers advice for women entering the tech industry.
Tell me about your journey into technology
Technology was never a big part of my early education; I think the most exciting thing I did in IT at school was build a receipt in Excel. I’d never considered tech as a potential career path. I went to university to study English after deciding that I was going to pursue marketing. I began a summer internship at Dulux, where I got a taste for digital marketing and e-commerce, analysing customer relationship management stats, launching a social media presence, and monitoring insights.
After that, I accepted an offer from the government communications service. Walking through 10 Downing Street’s door was surreal, as I was straight out of university. One day, my manager gave me the opportunity to switch to a technical Business Analyst role and work on the design-build of a new system. My first thought was that I was unqualified for this job, but he encouraged me to apply for it.
I worked from discovery through to alpha phases, collaborating with technical security wizards, digital, data and technology teams to bring the system to life. I learnt so much from developers, delivery managers and user researchers who formed a brilliant team. And that’s when I fell in love with technology.
What is it about technology that excites you?
You are always learning new things. When starting new roles, I always have to adapt my skills. What I love about agile technical development more specifically, is the diverse nature of the team. You could be anyone: a Quality Assurance Engineer, a Product Manager, or a Back-End Engineer. It doesn’t matter what rank you are; we all have different specialisms, and they are equally valued.
What are some of the challenges you have faced in your career so far?
As women, we tend to experience a series of micro-aggressions, even if they come from well-intentioned people. I experienced a lot of doubt from others when I wanted to transition into the digital space. A common first response was of surprise: “you don’t look like a technical person, are you sure?” At the time, I didn’t challenge bias, but I have learnt to remind myself that I belong in the digital space and that technology needs to be diverse to enable innovation.
Technology cannot be defined by one stereotype; instead, it’s the coming together of different people with different skillsets that will solve complex problems.
Did you ever feel like you needed help or guidance from others? How did you go about seeking that help?
I could have benefitted from a technical mentor, but I didn’t have one early on in my career. However, I had a mentor who gave me great personal support and coaching to build my confidence, pushing me to apply to roles that I felt I didn’t tick all the boxes. Some key advice from her that has really stuck with me is “don’t take yourself out of the race, let others do that for you, but don’t do it to yourself.” Never be afraid to put yourself out there. Seek out multiple mentors and don’t forget to prioritise time to focus on your development.
What has been your biggest achievement?
One huge achievement for me was expanding a client’s reach by launching a digital product proposition into two markets. The team rallied together behind a common goal, as we all knew how important it was to the client. It was amazing, we didn’t know what would come out as we transitioned to live service, but there were no bugs on the other side. That was special.
What inspired you to launch women in tech?
At the start, some fantastic women at PA were sharing their expertise with many junior women who wanted to get into tech. They started delivering coding courses which had huge demand, but I knew we could take this even further.
I recognised the huge industry challenge to diversify tech and wanted to get stuck in by building a community around this. I wanted to give women a platform to share their struggles and build their confidence, providing a space to talk about issues and overcome them together.
How did you grow the Women in Tech initiative?
To put it simply, I built a great team who have shared fantastic ideas. I think a big part of leadership is about empowering your people to achieve their potential. I have trusted the right people and empowered them, asking what they need, and providing my steer. Women in tech is such an exciting space to be involved in. We’ve launched career changer schemes and developed our own coding courses, teaching over 500 women to code over the past four years.
We’ve also received guidance from our senior sponsors and committed volunteers who support us to go further. I hope that my enthusiasm has encouraged the community to follow their passions and take ownership.
What are your ambitions for women in tech in the future?
I’d love to work more with schools. We are developing an outreach programme which is all about inspiring young women, breaking down stereotypes and showing the cool elements of a STEM career.
I also want to fulfil part of our vision statement which aims to support the wider industry in actively diversifying technology.
What drives your purpose each day?
It’s the people. I love coaching others and seeing them achieve their goals. A big part of what I admire about women in tech is seeing others get involved and developing themselves.
If you were to go back in time, what is one piece of advice you would give yourself?
It would be that your biggest strength is how you collaborate with others. When I was younger, I had to know all the answers and if I didn’t, I would feel uncomfortable. Don’t be afraid to ask, because the best way of learning is exploring. You can learn so much from others, a skill that you need to be successful in tech. There is no such thing as the expert in the room anymore because the room is the expert. That’s the exciting part!