Open Data Services Logo

Happy Open Data Day and International Womens Day: making careers in open data work for women

This weekend marks both Open Data Day and International Women’s Day — and according to a 2018 report, only 19% of tech workers in the UK are women.

At Open Data Services, we believe that the open data movement is a public good. To sustain public goods we need strong foundations, including a work environment that suits how people want to work. Having an equal say in how the company is run means we’re all committed to creating a positive work environment, and can prioritise our own wellbeing over profit-seeking. It also means we feel empowered to bring our personal ethical values to the forefront when running the company, like considering the environmental and social impact of our work.

Since we strive to make careers in open data work for people, we wanted to use this weekend to highlight the women in our team, their experiences in tech and their advice for starting out in open data.

Dr Charlie Pinder

Dr Charlie Pinder works on the Open Contracting Data Standard and the Open Contracting for Infrastructure Data Standards Toolkit, supporting data publishers around the world disclosing information about government procurement. After her first degree in Economics and Politics, and a few obligatory random jobs, she worked in digital content roles, including as an online journalist and in editorial roles at the BBC. She taught herself HTML and JavaScript, “and then I became irritated at the lack of power these gave me to wrangle stuff”.

Charlie studied a conversion MSC in Computer Science, and has since worked in various back and front-end developer and tech project roles. After completing a PhD in tech behaviour change, she joined the co-op. “One big plus of working here is that there is definitely no sex-based pay gap — everyone is paid the same. We also have a flat structure with no hierarchy, which removes some opportunities for power imbalances I’ve seen elsewhere.”

Kadie Armstrong

Kadie Armstrong works with OpenOwnership to make data about company ownership and control freely available and interoperable. Previously, she worked at the fringes of the education sector in Scotland, with global and local NGOs, and as a tech freelancer for the voluntary sector. Along the way, she decided to ‘officialise’ her credentials with a second undergraduate degree in Computing and IT at the Open University, which is when she discovered the co-op. “As a workers co-op, we run Open Data Services ourselves. We get to make the decisions that affect us. When we reviewed our parental leave policy last year, we were thinking about what is fair instead of our profit margin.”

Rachel Vint

Rachel Vint works on the Open Contracting Data Standard. She supports publishers with questions about the standard, provides training and promotes the adoption of open data. With a background in Psychology, Psychotherapy and the charity sector, she decided to change career and started studying Maths and Physics part-time with the Open University. From here she became interested in data, working as an analyst before starting with the co-op. “I love the flexibility of being able to work from home and to some extent decide my own schedule for the day. It’s exciting to work for an organisation that can choose to do things differently, that tries to be ethical and that can make choices about its own direction.”

Bibiana Cristòfol

For software developer Bibiana Cristòfol, working in a field that is consistently challenging was a driving factor behind switching to tech. After studying International Business, she worked in various roles mainly in sales and finance departments. “That was reasonably engaging and rewarding in Barcelona and in Ghent, but got me stuck in pretty administrative, repetitive jobs in London. I took the plunge and signed up for an intensive, three-month, coding bootcamp”. She was attracted to software development as an ever changing field, “and one that is largely portable across countries”. Early in her career, tech meet ups for minorities and like-minded people were crucial “they prepared me for challenges, enabled me to meet role models and provided a safe space.”

Dr Amy Guy

Dr Amy Guy is a Python developer who builds tools to support analysts, publishing, validating and using data in the public interest. “I made my first website at the age of ten as a way to avoid doing sport on a primary school residential trip. Through secondary school I spent all of my spare time tinkering with web stuff, teaching myself and learning from online communities. When it came time to decide what to study at university, it was a no-brainer to go with my hobby.”

Amy stayed in academia for many years, though also freelanced as a web developer and took several breaks to work for companies (including Google, the BBC and W3C). “Around then, I got involved in the open data and standards worlds. By the time I graduated with my PhD I was dead-set against working for any unethical, exploitative tech companies and committed to open source code, open standards, and using tech and data for social good.”

To round up, we wanted to share our advice for women starting out in data and tech.

  • Find, join and contribute to supportive networks like Ada’s List and Open Heroines.

  • Trust in your ability to learn new things. If you are looking to change careers, don’t hesitate to reach out for advice, and ask others in the field how they got there. Remember that a job spec is an employer’s wish list and it can be worth applying for roles even if you don’t meet all the requirements.

  • You are not obliged to be a voice or an advocate or an activist for women (or minorities) in tech just because you might fall into one or more of these groups, if that’s not what you actually want to do. Don’t forget to say ‘no’ to stuff. It’s okay to step back from toxic situations, organisations or people. Nobody is entitled to your time or labour if you’d rather be doing something else.

  • Get rid of your imposter syndrome as quick as you can. Nobody really knows what they’re doing, everyone is making it up as they go along; some people are just better actors than others. Easier said than done, we know… so enlist the support and solidarity of other women to do so.