As a part of International Women in Engineering Day, Riskaware wants to play its part by showcasing the roles and experience of the women who bring their software engineering skills to the company. Riskaware relies on employees with a diverse set of skills to support its consultancy business. This includes a range of experience from undergraduate degrees to PhDs, across an assortment of subjects, including natural sciences, mathematics and physics.
Here we ask some of the women at Riskaware about their roles at Riskaware, their engineering experience, what lead them into the field and what advice they’d give to aspiring young women. Featured are:
• Helen Adams who studied maths and physics at the University of Bath and has been working as a software engineer at Riskaware since 2013. She is now also a line manager and a project manager, whilst continuing with her technical work.
• Jenny Seaborne who studied mathematics at University of Oxford and has been at Riskaware since 2020, specialising in Cyber Security.
• Melissa Cutler who studied an integrated master’s degree in physics at Aberystwyth University then worked as a materials scientist for 9 years before a career change into software engineering six years ago. She started working for Riskaware earlier this year.
• Emily Tyler who has recently joined Riskaware after studying natural sciences at the University of Cambridge and completing a PhD in Astrophysics at the University of Nottingham.
• Siân Jenkins who studied mathematics at the University of Bath for 10 years, including a PhD in engineering and mathematics and a postdoc, has worked for Riskaware since 2016.
What did you study at university and how do you think this prepared you for working for Riskaware?
Jenny: “I studied Maths at Oxford which is where I had my first experience with writing code in a computational mathematics module in my first year. I realised I really liked the logical, problem solving side of coding and from there decided I wanted to do it as a career. Generally, my degree prepared me for working at Riskaware by teaching me how to approach challenging work where the answer might not me obvious and you need to explore deeper to reach a solution.”
Helen: “I studied a joint degree in Maths and Physics at Bath University. In my third year I did some computational physics modules which involved writing mathematical models in C and MATLAB. I realised I much preferred solving physics problems using code rather than being in a lab! I also did a summer placement at a company that supplied environmental modelling solutions where I did some coding (in Perl and C++…), which solidified my choice.”
Emily: “I studied Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge and a PhD in astrophysics at the University of Nottingham. In my first year at Cambridge I took a Computer Science course in which I learned how to program in Java. Later in my degree I specialised into physics and developed strong problem-solving skills. My PhD involved developing code in Python and C++. This combination of scientific thinking, problem-solving, and programming was great preparation for working at Riskaware.“
What made you choose to work for Riskaware?
Melissa: “For me, the work that Riskaware does seems to somewhat unite my original physics career and my newer career as a software engineer, giving me opportunities to draw from the skills I have acquired in both areas.”
Siân: “Riskaware appeared to give me the perfect balance between academia and industry. It offered me the opportunity to conduct in depth research in an industrial setting and expand my knowledge of solving inverse problems.”
What kind of technical work do you participate in?
Melissa: “When I first joined Riskaware I was working on the CrystalCast project (a web platform for modelling the COVID-19 pandemic). More recently I have begun designing an algorithm to model and predict the radiation hazards posed by contaminated areas of ground.”
Siân: “I’ve worked on several research projects developing technical solutions to real-world problems, making use of technologies such as neural networks, Bayesian networks and particle filters. In particular, the biosurveillance and data fusion and forecasting system used to detect and forecast disease outbreaks and an algorithm used to identify possible sources of oil spills.“
Emily: “I am working on software for predicting the impact of a dangerous chemical released in a city. This software is used by the emergency services and the military to keep people safe.”
What do you find most interesting about the work?
Emily: “All of my background knowledge is useful and there’s not necessarily one correct way of doing things. Everyone is able to contribute new and interesting ideas from their skillsets.”
Helen: “The variety and the opportunity to get involved in many different areas that you get working in a smaller company – from programming to DevOps to technical writing.”
Melissa: “I feel that the work at Riskaware makes an important contribution to the world. I also love the interesting maths, and physics problems to solve.”
What’s the most challenging aspect of your work?
Jenny: “I think what’s most challenging is the varied nature of the work, which is also what I love. Sometimes there isn’t time or need to get as deep into a topic or technology as I’d like and I just want to explore it further but have to move on to the next thing.”
Siân: “Some of the cutting edge technology we work with requires in depth technical understanding. This can be challenging as there may not be much literature on the subject to help you.”
How does Riskaware support your work?
Jenny: “My team are just the nicest people and everyone is so supportive and helpful. You never feel like you’re working on a problem on your own as we’re always checking in with each other. On top of that, there’s a great sense of work-life balance and the flexi-time and hybrid working is perfect for that – I often go climbing and leave early one afternoon at week which is totally supported and encouraged!”
Emily: “There is a friendly culture where you can ask anyone for help and they’re always happy to give you some of their time or point you towards someone else who can help you more effectively.”
Helen: “There’s a great collaborative atmosphere at Riskaware and help from colleagues makes it a very supportive environment – I very rarely feel like I’m alone with a problem and there’s always someone I can ask about any issue I have.”
Melissa: “Riskaware has a fantastic friendly and supportive culture. I have had reoccurring problems with fatigue for many years and when it became apparent that this was causing my problems in my new job at Riskaware I was allowed to reduce my hours to 6 hours per day. I also find that flexi-time makes it much easier to plan my work and my life around each other.”
What activities outside of work does Riskaware support?
Helen: “There’s a great social aspect to Riskaware which is supported by the company encouraging company socials, and I’ve made a lot of good friends here over the years. We’ve also had some board gaming sessions in the office, and Riskaware climbing was great fun as well!”
Jenny: “Whilst working at Riskaware I’ve had the opportunity to participate in outreach and community events – including teaching Machine Learning at a local primary school and speaking on a panel event for a local cyber group. As well, over lockdown I co-founded and am now chapter lead of the Ladies of Cheltenham Hacking Society – a non-profit aiming to support women in cyber security through technical meet ups and networking. My team have been so supportive and interested in what I’ve been up to in this role as well as coming along to events (after making sure boys were invited too!)”
Did you have any uncertainties about pursuing your chosen career?
Jenny: “I had insecurities about having not done a computer science degree and then entering software. However, I’ve had no issues with this at all – I’ve built up a strong knowledge of programming through work, and I can also then add my scientific, mathematical knowledge on top of that.”
Emily: “I didn’t exactly pursue a career. I applied for a PhD because all my friends were and I didn’t really know what else to do. During my PhD I found that I really enjoyed coding and that I wanted to pursue a career that would actively help people. I found Riskaware when I was searching for jobs and it meets these requirements perfectly.”
Helen: “Yes – I didn’t know anyone who worked as a software developer before I moved to Bristol, and I didn’t have a lot of coding experience outside of what I’d done in university and on my placement. So it was a bit of an unknown.”
Siân: “I had many uncertainties after completing my degree, so I did a MSc to see if I liked research enough to do a PhD. It turned out that I loved it, so did a PhD. After that, I had no uncertainties about what I wanted to do for a job, it was just finding somewhere to work where I could pursue research topics of interest.”
What advice do you have for women in engineering?
Jenny: “Find the people that support you and bring the best out in you. Be that an employer, a mentor, colleagues, or friends. Having a network around you to boost you up makes all the difference.”
Helen: “Have confidence in your abilities and try not to feel intimidated by a role or environment because you may be the only person you know applying or it’s uncharted territory for you – that doesn’t mean you can’t thrive there.”
Siân: “Having the right people around you can make the world of difference. Make sure when you’re being interviewed, that you interview them too. You need a supportive work environment, where you can comfortably voice your opinions. Also, imposter syndrome is something to be mindful of when evaluating yourself. Be kind to yourself, you’re not super human.”
You can learn more about the Riskaware team, here.