Helen Milner
CEO, Tinder Foundation

I remember reading Bryan Glick's foreword in the Women in IT: Inspiring the next generation e-book from 2014 and agreeing with what he said about it being a shame that we're even having to talk about women in technology, because if we didn't it would mean we have "a truly diverse workforce in IT, one that reflects the technology users it serves and took advantage of the range of skills available from employees of every age, gender, race or creed in the UK."

I fully intend to keep talking about women in technology (anyone who knows me will tell you I'm very good at banging-on about issues I care about), because it's so important for us to be inspiring and supporting female pioneers of the future, and it's something I would have benefited from when I first started my career. This is my 30th year working with the internet. Honestly, I have no idea where the time has gone! I am, however, as passionate as I've ever been about the work I do.

My career began in the private sector, developing online educational services for schools, and I went on to work in both Australia and Japan. After returning back to the UK I ran the IPPR and University of Sunderland 'University for Industry (UfI)' pilot in 1997 that informed the creation of learndirect. In 1999 I joined the newly formed Ufi and helped to create and lead the learndirect learning network.

I then setup Tinder Foundation, a not-for-profit social enterprise in 2011 and established it as a staff-owned mutual by spinning it out of its previous parent company. I'm proud that I was one of the first women to successfully do this, and I couldn't have done it without my brilliant team, which is made up of many talented women.

Jessica Scott joined the team in 2013; she was originally on an internship but has since become our Junior Web Developer. She is also in the process of completing her degree in Applied Computing with Digital Media at Sheffield Hallam University, and I admire her Wonder Woman ability to manage both roles so well.

Jessica told me that when she tells people what she does for a living, they're almost always surprised, with one person even saying "I wasn't expecting you to say that, you're the wrong gender for a start!". Out of around 70 students on her course, less than 10 are women and she has experienced (varying forms) of sexism over the last few years. What I find really inspiring is that it doesn't phase her; she is constantly inspired by the women she meets who are doing great things in IT, including Alison House from Dropbox and the web developer Jenn Schiffer, and clearly nothing - and no one - is going to stop Jessica from doing what she loves; creating tools that can help people to learn new skills.

Whilst writing this I was asked to think about why a woman or a young girl might consider a career in technology. Well, take a moment to think about a moment of your day when you're not using, or coming into contact with technology, whether that's checking your emails, scrolling through Twitter on your phone, listening to music or something on YouTube - the list goes on! With the digital landscape constantly evolving you can be the one that creates the technology that transforms people's lives.

It's an exciting thought and it's why I do what I do, because technology enriches lives and as the world becomes more digital I'm conscious of not leaving anyone behind. I would encourage anyone reading this that has even the slightest interest, and the means and opportunity to use technology (because there are millions that can't), to embrace it with both arms.

You really do have the power to turn those thoughts into reality, and I, along with every other woman involved with Women in IT is right behind you. I'd love to carry on the conversation, so tweet me @helenmilner.

Jessica Scott
Junior Web Developer, Tinder Foundation

What made you want to study IT and for it to become your career?
When I was a child there wasn't really an internet, and it wasn't until 2001 onwards that the internet started to become mainstream. When I was a teenager everyone was using the internet to chat and develop a profile online (on sites like Piczo and Myspace) and these sites let you use HTML and CSS to customise the look. This sparked my interest and I started to look into what you can do with HTML and CSS and taught myself how to build simple websites.

When I was about 17 I put a website together for my aunt to advertise student accommodation, and I think that was the point where I thought "I could do this as a job". I then started looking into university courses that taught web development.

While at university I used the free time I had to become a freelance web developer, creating websites for friends and people I met through university. I thought freelancing was what I wanted to do as a career until I started working at Tinder Foundation. Here I realised that there is much more to web development than just building blog websites for friends; I can use my experience to create tools that can help people learn new skills.

Do any of your female friends also want to pursue a career in IT?
Only the women I've met through my course at university. I don't have any female friends (that I haven't met at tech conferences) outside of university that work in the tech industry. I am just in the process of completing my final year at university, and out of 70 students on my course less than 10 are female.

Which women inspire you?
My mum and my aunt, who are both very strong women that seem to never let anything phase them. In terms of work, there are so many women - I'm always hearing about a project that a woman has helped to build and that inspires me to build the best products I can.

I really admire Alison House, who is a designer at Dropbox as well as Jenn Shiffer who is a web developer. I'd love to meet them someday! There are also a few female collectives that I think are great TechMums founded by Dr Sue Black, gives mums the chance to take part in the digital revolution.

And of course, Helen Milner Tinder Foundation's Chief Executive, who started an organisation dedicated to changing people's lives through tech who I am proud to work for. She's a positive role model and there are lots of women who are being employed and promoted by the organisation.

Have there been any challenging moments in your career as a web developer so far?
During the first part of my degree there was another student that made the women in the class feel very uncomfortable. He would comment on our clothes and say things like "so when are you going to let me take you out?". He would also snigger or roll his eyes when one of us asked a question, but I never saw him do it when a guy asked a question.

There has only been one occasion whilst working at Tinder Foundation when I've been aware of being the 'female developer'. This was during a project with a contractor, and it was just subtle differences between the way he would speak to me and my male colleagues - and to be honest I don't even know if he realised he was doing it.

People are generally surprised when I tell them I'm a developer, but I don't mind surprising them!

What advice would you give to a young woman wanting to progress a career in IT?

  • Put yourself out there. Look for conferences you can attend and local meet-ups you can join to learn more and get to know other people. They're a great way to see what other people are building, what tech they're using and I always come away feeling inspired.
  • Stay positive! Even if you do experience sexism in one form or another, don't let it stop you from achieving your goals. An advantage of working in the tech industry is that you can let the products you build speak for you.
  • Don't be afraid to support other women. The more women support each other, the more we'll see women getting promoted into lead positions and (hopefully) hiring new women themselves, eventually increasing the number of women in the industry.

Biographies

Helen Milner is the Chief Executive of Tinder Foundation. Since starting her career in the online industry 30 years ago, Helen has paved the way for the development of online education, both in the UK and abroad, making it her ambition to ensure that no-one is left behind as the world becomes increasingly reliant on digital technology. In 2012 Helen was included in the Digital Hall of Fame for the 20 most influential Britons in digital, and in 2014 Computer Weekly named her the as the 25th most influential person in UK IT. Most recently she was a Commissioner for the House of Commons Speaker's Commission for Digital Democracy. Helen was awarded an OBE for services to digital inclusion in the Queen's Birthday Honours List in June 2015.

Jessica Scott is a Junior Web Developer at Tinder Foundation, a not-for-profit social enterprise that makes good things happen with digital technology. Jessica started Tinder Foundation in 2013 as part of a work placement through Sheffield Hallam University, where she is completing her degree in Applied Computing with Digital Media, and has recently been appointed in a permanent role as Junior Web Developer as soon as she finishes her exams.