Categories: Sanger Life18 July 20225.9 min read

Catalysing collaboration: from the commercial sector to Sanger

Julie Hipkiss has recently started at the Sanger Institute as Associate Director of Enterprise Solutions. She joined from the commercial sector, where she’s worked for over 20 years.

She was one of the first female IT Directors in the food service industry and one of the first women on her company’s trading board.  We spoke about the move from London, how the pandemic has affected enterprise solutions, and being a woman in IT.

Why did you make the move away from the commercial sector?

This is quite a departure for me when I've worked in the commercial world for so many years. I've always been scared of approaching a role in academia, as I felt very safe in the commercial world - a known entity for me, supported by extensive experience. This role felt like an opportunity to deploy my knowledge, and there would be new learning for me too, hopefully a win-win.

Plus, the nature of what we do here at the Sanger Institute - that we're trying to improve the health of the world through innovative research – this is so, so attractive. I can absolutely relate what I'm doing in my role to why I’m doing it. This is not always that easy. I can see I will be able to associate myself and the team with the delivery of the research here and its results.

Also, I liked the new Informatics and Digital Solutions strategy and approach. This is very carefully and appropriately tailored – we are really developing something special for Sanger. And I think that's important.

Seeing the fantastic facilities sealed the deal for me. I've never worked in such beautiful surroundings, I've been crammed in offices in London for most of my life.

“I like the new Informatics and Digital Solutions strategy... we are really developing something special for Sanger.”

Your role is a new one at the Sanger Institute – what triggered it?

When we’re talking about enterprise solutions we mean any solution that is critical to the Institute, an Institute-wide system, or that we rely on for interacting with other organisations. This ranges from communication tools like email, video calling software and collaboration / messaging apps, to finance and HR enterprise tools. We’ve now reached a critical mass of these diverse solutions across the Institute, and we need a new approach to managing them to meet the current and future needs. It is also part of our new Informatics and Digital Solutions strategy.

Remote work and the pandemic have triggered some of it as well. People have demanded and needed collaboration tools more than ever. These must be able to scale up and down with demand, as people work flexibly from the office or home.

Within enterprise solutions, we want to ensure that the software, apps or websites we have are modern and intuitive to use.  We want to make it easy for staff to access what they need within a secure environment.

Our team aims to partner with the users of enterprise solutions – they have the business process expertise – as well as the vendors. We bring IT expertise and a technical lens to complement both, and we hope to deliver an end-to-end robust solution!

Can you tell us about your experiences as a woman working in IT?

My first role in IT was head of business systems, there had never been a woman in that role in that organisation before, and the team was all men. They presumed I had no IT knowledge or skills, and being blonde only added to the discrimination.  I’ve had challenges such as ‘Why do you think you can do this job?’  and I was often told I had stopped a man from getting a role. Others questioned giving me a job as I might go on maternity leave. Thankfully, those days are long gone and we are moving forward. I would say these challenges made me more determined to prove people wrong, and get roles on merit, regardless of gender.

I studied and gained the qualifications I needed to get an IT director position. But I always felt I had to be better than the men around me. Though actually, I think that was a good thing, as I strive to be the best I can be, in whichever role I am in. And, I ensure I create and support opportunities for talent around me. In reality, I don't need to be better, just equal.

There have been huge changes over the years and have not seen the issues I faced arise recently. Gender isn’t the barrier it once was, but if we do see discrimination, we must address it. I think being open about things helps to take barriers away and ensure our colleagues don’t fail. I think people should be judged on their work and celebrated for their successes.

Before I started in IT, I have to admit I had some stereotypes in my head too; I thought everyone in IT was hidden in a back room somewhere developing code and working with servers. But it’s not like that at all, it’s about service and customer experience - and this is why I enjoy working in Informatics and Digital Solutions at Sanger.

“I strive to be the best I can be ... and ensure I create and support opportunities for talent around me.”

Working with people

People skills are really important for working in Informatics and Digital Solutions. Yes, it is about technology, technical expertise and data too, but not in isolation. You can have technology, but that is nothing without processes or people. You need all these things in proportion and interacting for the overall result.

We want to partner with the staff across the Institute and engage with their goals, so we can be successful by delivering together as one.

I think there are a lot of similarities between different types of roles. Sometimes it’s just the language that is used that is different. In IT we budget, we purchase, we test, we recruit, we have a pipeline of work - well that’s the same as a sales director, isn’t it?

I conduct voluntary work with school students who are selecting their subject options, providing them with career advice in relation to IT. When talking to them I don’t want them to dismiss IT. Many have said to me that it isn’t gaming and ’it’s just development’. This isn’t true, IT has many facets, so once we understand what someone might want from a job, or what might put them off, the discussion is then more about matching that. Many of the skills are transferrable within IT and beyond, and it’s not just limited to business analysis and project management.

I do encourage all the students to understand the IT of today is a great career option.

Find out more

You can view all current IT vacancies or all jobs available at the Sanger Institute on our careers website.