Navigating Your Tech Career With SThree Bristol

Navigating Your Tech Career With SThree Bristol

Written by WWC Team

Career Navigation

Varinder Kandola, Manager of the SThree Bristol Permanent division across Computer Futures, CF Salesforce, and Huxley Engineering brands, facilitates a “Navigating Your Tech Career” discussion with Rachael Cahill, Rayhana Rahman, and Kriste Worland. Rachael is a motivated, energetic manager who successfully delivers a wide range of IT and business change projects. Rayhana is a change management innovation technologist. She encourages and supports talented people to become their best through coaching and team management. Kirste is an experienced and highly motivated strategic leader, delivering services within the NHS Business Services Authority with a proven track record of delivery and a passion and drive for people development. They share their experiences with career transitions and advise on steps to take and perspectives when dealing with change. 

VK: I have spent the best part of 13 years supporting people in making either a career change or career decisions that have been important to them through SThree as part of our service or as a business leader. I’m extremely passionate about supporting women to achieve their full potential in the workplace. 

Rachael, what would you suggest or recommend is the best place to start when you’re looking to take a new step in a new direction? 

RC: I completed a linguistics and social science degree with minimal technology content within that degree 23 years ago. I found a little spark of something interesting in technology and wanted to progress. Transferable skills are so important. Don’t be overwhelmed that maybe you don’t know a lot of tech speak. Technology involves communication, sharing requirements, organizing people, and pulling people together. It’s translating very detailed technical information and imparting that to a business.

Think about what you are good at and what your skills are. What do you enjoy doing, not just from a technology perspective, but in life? It’s equally as important to think about what you don’t like to do. Take time to think, write down, and speak to some people to give you feedback about what they see your transferable skills being. 

VK: Rayhana, You were with the company for a very long time and then had to take a step to change direction and change roles completely. Is there any insight you had about the approach you took and anything that people can learn from your personal experience?

RR: I’d been working with my previous organization for 15 years. I have gone through many changes in roles within the organization. I realized that if I wanted to take the next step, it wouldn’t be in the company. I hadn’t looked outside and didn’t know what the sector was like. I didn’t know if the job description title I had matched anything that was out there. I contacted people that I’d known in previous jobs.

I saw an advert for a recruitment agency that was all about people. They were B Corp and wanted to do the best for the individual. I didn’t even know B Corp companies were offering that service. I know I’m good at managing people. I love building, creating, and developing them, but my technical skills aren’t strong. I can advise, but I’m not a hands-on coder or developer. 

I thought those jobs probably didn’t even exist. It was nice to feel that someone was listening to what I was talking about and reassuring me that these jobs are out there. There are B Corp companies that are putting people first. It’s not just about profit. It was raising my confidence that I could take my skills and do something somewhere else. Recruitment companies are out there, and they want to support and take you along on the journey.

VK: Kirste, in navigating different opportunities within organizations or moving into new positions, is there any insight you would like to share?

KW: I’ve just migrated from the NHS Business Services Authority into an IT director role for Newcastle Building Society. I was in a fortunate position where I’d recently undertaken a master’s degree. As part of that, there’s self-reflection around your skills and capabilities. You need to be able to self-advocate on your skills and capabilities and be confident about owning them. I did not start in IT at all.

I got kicked out of school at 18 because I was pregnant. I’m happy to share that publicly because what happens throughout your career doesn’t always go according to plan. It’s about having determination and resilience. It does help if somebody is willing to take a chance on you. The other side of it is I always try to, if I see potential in somebody, help them keep that door open to help them through that journey. 

VK: Can you share the impact that mentors, sponsors, or peers have had in your experience in terms of navigating your career? How do you go about sourcing a mentor or a sponsor? Some come naturally, but it’d be great to hear your experiences.

KW: I’ve had three main mentors and sponsors across my career. I attribute the start of my career to one, John. We’d worked together on a piece of a project, and he saw potential. We’d had a conversation, and he gave me my first opportunity 20 years ago in IT. We’re still friends 20 years later, and I call on him for advice.

Within the NHS, I reached out through LinkedIn to somebody who’d come in and presented a talk. They’d been talking about leadership. That person inspired me. In a moment of bravery, I thought, I’m just going to message them. They agreed to be my mentor. That was for a short term because I was having a little confidence issue. The third person was a trusted colleague. She had some amazing skills and qualities in the way she conducted business and was able to influence others.

RR: In my previous organization, when I was interested in progressing, I approached my CIO, and she helped me identify ways to improve. She’d give me an action or a task to go away with. She also opened the doors by seeing opportunities I wouldn’t necessarily have. That built my confidence to look for opportunities because I created a bigger network within the organization to see what else was there. I joined and led the committee for our Black and minority ethnic group within the university. I felt I was making a difference, which was wider than just having that technical role I started with.

RC: Across my career, there’ve been almost two support groups from a mentor or sponsor perspective. The first is those mentors who have lifted me and given me confidence. Conversely, I’ve had some great mentors who have also become good friends. They have helped me find new roles when the time has come for change. Those have been people I can trust to go to and have fragile conversations. The ones exposing yourself to somebody you trust to say, “Please help me. I want to do something a bit different.” I’ve had mentors and sponsors and found those the most powerful relationships. They are the ones who have helped build me with confidence. 

KW: One of the things that I found is having a network of colleagues who I trust and can have those open dialogues, not just in the roles of mentors, has been incredible. I’ve valued that.

VK: Is there anything that you can give to people in terms of advice on how best to advocate for themselves when stepping into a new career or a new direction? 

KW: I’m neurodivergent. About six years ago, I started to share my neurodivergence. Up until then, I hid that completely. I was working ridiculous amounts of hours to try and cover up some of the characteristics associated with that. I come from a family who are all neurodivergent. I’ve got autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia, and ADHD across my family.

It struck me that if I am not brave and advocate for myself, how will my children navigate the world of employment? By being honest, I was terrified in the first instance, but advocating for myself, I was then able to advocate for others as well. I was able to raise awareness and start conversations. It’s about taking a deep breath and just saying it. Once you’ve said it the first time and then the second time, regardless of what that advocacy looks like, it gets a little bit easier. Then, you can also advocate for others, and people trust you. 

RR: When I started in tech, it was rare to see women in tech. I remember studying, and we had over 100 students on the course, but there were single figures of women. Obviously, as someone of color, you also stand out. Only a few years ago, I started wearing a hijab because I was very conscious that I’ve got to be authentic and bring myself into the room. You then bring all those representations and say, “If I can do it, you can do it.” I’ve tried to grow very diverse teams and demonstrate that if you have patience and you give people support, they will show you that they are capable. You see their strengths, then work on them and bring them into the team because that makes a successful team. 

RC: I consider myself very lucky in that where I work diversity is one of our key drivers. It is understood that diversity brings new skills, thoughts, feelings, and experiences that can help push a company and a team forward. 

VK: Any advice on how people can stay resilient when facing challenges?

KW: Resilience comes from within and from knowing that you’ve got some sort of support network regardless of whether that’s at work, home, or in general life. My supportive family gave me resilience. The other thing is I did keep an eye on and focus on what I wanted to achieve. I got kicked out of school for being pregnant. I was out of work for a long time. I got a part-time job. I put the time in because I knew it was a step towards what I wanted. I wanted a better life for me and my son. As life has gone by, I’ve not tried to think about the end goal. I’ve thought, let me see if I can do the next step. If I can do it, that’s great. If I can’t, I’ll take a side step over here and work that out. 

RR: Journaling is a really good way of building resilience. Also, keep going. Your age doesn’t matter; you keep going, and you’ll get to where you want. Life might sometimes lead you off a different path, and then you go in that direction. Don’t ever think if your heart’s set on something and you don’t get it, that is the end. It’s not. Some other door will open, and you look back and think, it was such a better role or path that I’ve taken, but I didn’t know that then. Believe that if one door closes, a better door is opening.

RC: I had an experience where my role, which I loved at the time in a company, was made redundant. I was devastated. I had just turned 30, which was also a milestone event for me. I genuinely think that was a turning point in my career. I was forced to reconsider what I wanted rather than just sitting there and waiting for something to happen. I got to speak to some great recruitment companies, which helped me look for the next role. I do not think I would be the manager in the company that I am today if that hadn’t happened to me. It felt like the worst thing that had happened in my life, but now it was probably the best. 

VK: Do you have any recommendations for resources in self-development that you would like to share? 

KW: I  read a fair bit. Well, I listen while I’m doing other things. I listen to people like Michelle Obama or Brene Brown. I like books about those types of leadership styles. It gives you that reflection upon yourself and your leadership journey. I’ve just finished a master’s degree. That was fascinating because it was about strategic leadership, but there were many different strands. It gave me a different perspective and breadth. 

RC: Two things have stuck with me. The first one is the Chimp Paradox, with Professor Steve Peters. I found it interesting to help understand confidence, success, behaviors, and how people respond. The other, probably more recent, is Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. It is about shining a light on women in leadership and a fascinating story. 

RR: I read several books, but I like TEDx Talks. If your company’s good, they get LinkedIn Learning and do many courses. They can be short, one or two-hour courses. You can listen to strategic thinking or whatever you want to know more about. There are lots of free things that you can search for on Google.