On Thursday 2nd May 2019, Women in Leeds Digital (WiLD)‘s inaugural conference took place here on campus at Nexus Leeds, as part of Leeds Digital Festival 2019. Our Assistant Head of Careers Jess Henderson attended, and provides this summary.
I was so glad to be able to attend this event. The digital sector in Leeds is massive and growing rapidly. The sector is diverse, dynamic and exciting. We know lots of Leeds students wish to stay in or near Leeds after university and this conference provided an excellent showcase of the range of careers in digital, alongside debunking many myths or assumptions people make about getting into the digital sector:
Spoiler; you don’t need a IT related degree or background to work in digital.
What is the WiLD Conference?
Organised by Sarah Tulip & Deb Hetherington, the two women behind Women in Leeds Digital, the day was split into two halves; the morning was aimed at students or those interested in getting into digital, whilst the afternoon was aimed at those already in the sector. I only attended the morning, so this post only relates to that. Here is co-founder Sarah talking about the aim of the conference:
What was it about?
The conference was fantastic for the range and breadth of presenters; both in terms of their jobs and their backgrounds. Presenters gave a brief overview of their job and their route into it. Sessions ran concurrently, so I only saw about half the presenters, but that was still 14 different people.
Job roles represented were Content Designer, Business Analysts, Marketing & Events, Digital Threat Researcher, Data Engineers, Data Scientist, Biddable Media Lead, Penetration Tester, Head of Service Management, User Experience Researcher, Head of Product and Digital Strategist.
Of these 14 people, only two had computing related degrees; others came from a range of subjects including Languages (various, 3), Maths (3), Psychology (2), Philosophy (1), Humanities (1), Marketing (1) and one who studied an Apprenticeship. Two women had studied as mature students and one graduate did a coding bootcamp to get into the industry.
Here’s one Leeds student talking about what she got from attending:
What were the take-aways?
Whilst the presenters represented diverse careers and backgrounds, there were some common themes and messages which really stood out for me.
The importance of community-building
Many of the presenters talked about the role of mentors, supporters and other individuals in supporting them on their journeys. They mentioned the value of attending events, conferences and making new connections. To quote one speaker
“The best thing about conferences is you meet people – fight the anxiety and do it, they are so beneficial”
Another presenter spoke about fighting her social anxiety and pushing herself to go out and meet people at events whilst at university, and it being one such meeting which ultimately led to her first job after graduation.
The importance of challenging yourself
Following from the quote above, every single speaker talked about getting out of their comfort zone at least once. This manifested itself in many different ways, but it was clear that among many of the speakers, their most valued learning or connections often resulted from them doing something that was outside of their usual comfort zone. One presenter discussed taking an elective module outside her main subject of study (and being one of only a couple of women on the whole module), and this being what triggered her interest in the digital sector. Many mentioned the value of attending events.
One presenter said “Don’t be afraid to approach companies who you know will challenge you”, another spoke about how she’d become aware of her current employer at a conference and became interested in working for them. At another event, she approached their CEO and asked her what she’d have to do to get a job at her company.
Be yourself and find your tribe
All of the presenters spoke incredibly passionately about their roles, colleagues and the organisations they work for. It was clear that presenters found a great deal of satisfaction and motivation from working with inspiring colleagues and on projects they felt enthusiastically about. To quote one presenter ;
“If you are interested in something, pursue it, and be yourself; this is not the industry to leave your personality at the door”
Overall, I left the conference feeling energised, excited and inspired (not to mention with a whole new range of coveted careers!). It was inspiring to hear so many women talking passionately about their roles and about building a supportive and collaborative community in the Leeds digital sector. For me, it also really underlined the fact there is so much more to the digital sector than ‘technical’ roles, that curiosity, problem solving, communication & collaboration are just as (if not often more) important than technical skills. As one presenter put it;
“Digital is not just programming and coding – digital is everything”
Check out #WILDigital on Twitter to see what others are saying about the event.
Remember, we are here to support you with all things careers or related to your next steps after university, whether you’ve absolutely no ideas, or just need a bit of help fine-tuning your interview technique. Find out more about help available on our website