My journey as a woman working in tech – Elea
Tell us about your current role at Checkatrade and what your team do?
I'm a Senior Engineer with a specialty in the back-end systems, which essentially means I primarily work on the stuff that happens behind the scenes that you don't directly interact with in the app or website. I'm part of the Member Value Team and we focus on features that add extra value to the Checkatrade membership, over and above the core product (such as leads, profile and search). Just recently we've been building the new Quoting & Invoicing feature that has just launched.
We understand you worked for Checkatrade previously, briefly moved on but decided to return earlier this year. Tell us a bit more about this…
I worked for Checkatrade for about three years before moving on to work for a small startup FinTech company in London, giving me experience of working in a small team and creating new systems from scratch. I got the opportunity to work on some cool projects and complex problems to solve, as well as working with technologies I'd not worked with before like Azure, Protobuf, gRPC and more. But after 18 months I was starting to miss working at Checkatrade and I was thinking about coming back - although I hadn't yet made up my mind. Meanwhile the cost of living and financial situation across the world were worsening and ultimately that means investors are more cautious with their investments. The knock-on effect is that startups like the company I was working for must reduce risk and that means cutting costs. As a result, one third of the staff were made redundant, including myself. Having already been thinking about returning to Checkatrade, I reached out to one of my previous Team Leaders straight away and was very happy to be able to come back. I've only been back since January, but I already feel like I'm part of the family again!
What are the best things about working for Checkatrade?
First and foremost, the people are the best thing about Checkatrade. I know people say this a lot, but it is true. The people here are hard working with a positive attitude and have a desire to do the right thing! There are often differing opinions about how things should be done, but people are open to professional discussions, coming up with ideas and moving forward as a team. On top of the professionalism, people genuinely care about each other on a personal level, there are people here that I have grown to consider friends. And on top of this, we also get some pretty nice benefits, flexibility to work from home three days a week and lovely offices to work in too - plus Checkafest – our very own company summer festival!
Women in Tech is a hot topic at Checkatrade but also in the wider world of tech and diversity & inclusivity. Any top tips or recommended resources from you for women looking to kick start their career?
This is always a really hard question to answer because 'Tech' is such a broad area, there are so many different career paths from IT Support to Software Engineering to Data Sciences, even Hardware Engineering and more. When I decided I wanted to get into Software Engineering I had no idea where to start, so my advice to anyone in the same boat is to pick one technology and have a go. It's easy to get hung up on choosing the ‘right’ language or technology, but just starting somewhere is more important. In my experience, there will be tons of opportunities to learn and expand into other areas throughout your career. I started by learning SQL (a language used to query databases) and after a few months of using it to write some reports, I got my first job as a Junior Database Administrator and from there it snowballed into learning other languages. These days I very rarely use SQL, but it was enough to get me started.
For those wanting to get into Software Engineering here are some good places to start, and for all these there are tons of learning materials on the internet, plus I have provided some suggestions:
● C# .NET - this is a very popular language and is what we use for our backend systems. Here is a video tutorial course provided by Microsoft: https://learn.microsoft.com/en-us/shows/c-sharp-fundamentals-development-for-absolute-beginners/
● React (for websites) and React Native (for mobile apps) - these are also very popular, and we use React Native to build our frontend apps such as the Trade App and the website. Here is an article about some of the best courses out there for React Native: https://medium.com/javarevisited/top-5-react-native-courses-for-mobile-application-developers-b82febdf8a46
● Python - this is a language that is often recommended for beginners and it's a good option if you have an interest in AI/Machine Learning. Here is an article about some of the best courses for learning Python: https://medium.com/javarevisited/7-best-python-online-courses-for-beginners-to-learn-programming-abe12cecb1ad
● RaspberryPi - a RaspberryPi is a tiny computer that is very versatile and a low-cost way to learn. There are lots of cool projects you can do and it's a fun way to learn to code as well as learn about the Linux operating system. Here are the RaspberryPi products: https://www.raspberrypi.com/products/ and here are some cool projects you can do with it, you can even get the kids involved: https://projects.raspberrypi.org/en
On top of this there are some other resources worth mentioning:
● freeCodeCamp is another learning platform, that is a little more hands on than some other courses: https://www.freecodecamp.org/
● Udemy has a lot of really good courses that you can buy individually rather than buying a subscription. Most of the time there are sales and discount codes you can use that make these course pretty cheap (I don't think I've ever paid more than £20 for a course): https://www.udemy.com
● CodeinGame turns coding into a game and it's a fun way to practice your coding skills: https://www.codingame.com/start
● Lego Robot programming is aimed at kids but is great for adults too, it is expensive but I can speak from experience that it's a really fun way to learn: https://www.lego.com/en-gb/categories/coding-for-kids
The next step once you've had time to learn and play is to get your first job. Finding a junior role can be quite daunting, recruiters often don't understand the roles they're hiring for, and job descriptions are sometimes vague or are written in a way that makes you think you need to know every technology. Without work-based experience or a degree it can seem like you've got no chance, but I've often found that employers are more interested in your attitude and desire to learn and grow, than the number of languages and technologies you know. It's still important to gain as much knowledge and experience as you can, but don't be put off applying for a job even when you don't tick all the boxes. The worst-case scenario is they say no, and you can ask for feedback. That all being said, here are some things you can do that can help you get that first job:
● Look for opportunities within Checkatrade. We are very fortunate to work for a company that supports our career growth. There have been a number of success stories of people moving from other areas of the business into the Engineering department. I recommend talking to your Line Manager about your career goals and keeping an eye on the roles that come up in Engineering, also feel free to reach out to me or others in the Engineering department.
● Create a portfolio of all the things you've built and played with as you've been learning. I recommend GitHub for this; it will make it easy to share your code publicly for prospective employers to see. You will need to learn about Git before you do this, but this is another valuable feather in your cap.
● Upload your CV to recruitment websites like Monster and LinkedIn, technical people are always in demand, so recruiters regularly search these sites when they're looking to fill a role. Recruiters are likely to come to you if they think you're suited to an open role.
What influenced you to choose a career in tech?
There are a couple of things that steered me to the tech industry, one of them was my parents. My Mum was a Software Engineer and my Dad was a Computer Hardware/Electrical Engineer. From a young age they encouraged me to do all sorts of things like building flat pack furniture and DIY, rewiring plugs and even discussing things like the theory of relativity (although I still don't really understand it). My Mum was a significant role model for me, she showed me firsthand that women can do things that are stereotypically a man's job. I grew up not even knowing there was such a thing as sexism, instead I grew up with the mindset that success comes from the hard work and determination I put in, and this attitude really shaped my mentality to not even consider that being a woman would hold me back. It also helps that I'm quite stubborn, something else I got from my Mum.
Another big driver for me to get into tech was my curiosity about how things work, combined with a flair for creativity. Computers and software were a bit of a mystery to me, and I wanted to know how it all worked. The idea of being able to create cool stuff looked like a lot of fun to me and I wasn't wrong.
In hindsight, is there anything you would have done differently in your career to date?
I wish I had had more confidence in myself and felt I could stick up for myself. There have been a few situations that I look back on and realise I should have spoken up and asked for more opportunities and responsibilities. If I had been more forward and took more control of my own growth, I think I would have got to where I am much faster.
What’s the coolest product/ innovation you’ve worked on at Checkatrade over the course of your career?
It's been good to come back to Checkatrade and jump straight into the Quoting & Invoicing tool project, but the project that sticks in my head the most is the Reviews Auto Publisher which is also known as RAP. I got to work with people from other parts of the business, I got to see natural language processing applied within our business and in the end, it had a huge impact on the reviews team, significantly reducing their workload and allowing them to focus on the reviews that needed their attention. Seeing your work have a positive impact is one of the most rewarding parts of the job.
What do you get up to outside of work?
I love to play airsoft, which is like paintball but with BB guns. I don't get to play as much as I would like due to back problems but when I do get to play it's a lot of fun. I also like to make things - I've recently got into leather craft and so far, I've made a watch strap, a couple of small pouches and some suitcase tags. Beyond this I’m a bit of sci-fi and fantasy geek and I love listening to audiobooks, here are a few of my favorites:
● Expeditionary Force book series by Craig Alanson, read by R. C. Bray
● Dungeon Crawler Carl book series by Matt Dinniman, read by Jeff Hays
● Harry Potter book series by J. K. Rowling, read by Stephen Fry
A huge thanks to Elea for sharing her journey and advice with us. We are so glad you decided to return to Checkatrade and look forward to working with you on all the cool projects that will continue to make our platform the best it can be for homeowners and trades alike!