‘The Power of Resilience’ is this year’s theme for the Women of Silicon Roundabout conference, launched in 2015 to inspire, unite and shape the careers of women in technology, and the tech industry as a whole.
Ene Goktan, Sangeetha Bheeman and Seena Nair all work in the Production Software Development team, which creates and maintains software for the high-throughput DNA sequencing and genotyping workflows at Sanger.
They’re part of the group making the trip to London to attend the conference. Here, they tell us about their roles at the Institute and why they’re excited to attend the all-women tech event.
What does your role involve?
Seena: I develop Laboratory Information Management Software (LIMS) for the cellular genomics teams here at the Institute. Our team is working on adding new features and supporting the software already rolled out in labs. We use ‘agile’ ways of working which help us to plan releases of an updated version of the software every two weeks. I’m currently working as a front-end developer, on the user interface of the software, and I’m really fascinated by it – it’s very creative.
Ene: I joined Sanger’s new ‘Tech Talent’ scheme, which is great as it combines my interests in tech and biology. I’m currently in the Production Software Development team but will be rotating around different departments at Sanger. The scheme allows me to learn what I wouldn't have learned through university, and put theory into practice.
Sangeetha: I work as a Software Engineer and my role involves taking care of the different applications, like Sequencescape, Limber, Traction and other smaller supporting applications too.
Sangeetha Bheeman, Senior Software Developer
Ene Goktan, Informatics and Digital Associate
What is your favourite thing about your job?
Seena: It's great to see how excited the scientists are by the software, and how they are going to use it. Sometimes there’s a conflict in the way that we see things as software developers, and the way they're using them. That is the best thing about working on the user interface of software – you get to work on different ways to improve people’s experiences.
We’ve seen how the LIMS software has helped improve output, by moving lab teams away from using excel spreadsheets to track and record activities – which is a pain – to using bespoke software, which is much easier. That’s really rewarding.
Ene: I really like the nature of computer science and software engineering - how it's actually quite creative. It’s exploratory, and investigative, which gives you the freedom to do what you want, how you want. There's no one right answer.
What has your experience been like working as a woman in the tech sector?
Sangeetha: I studied Computer Science because I wanted to become a Software Engineer; a sure-fire way to get a good career in India, which is where I studied and lived before arriving in Cambridgeshire a year ago after landing the job here.
In previous companies, it would be typical for there to only be 10 to 20 per cent of women per team – that’s how it was from the beginning for me. I once worked in a team where I was the only woman! But eventually the company I was at started to hire more women as they recognised the issue, but we were always in the minority.
Seena: In the initial period of my career, I worked at a start-up company that was rolling out major scientific software around the world, and we were required to work in different time zones. It was difficult to balance family life and a career; it requires a lot of support from those around you.
I now see more women coming into the sector, but there is still work to do to level things up.
Seena Nair, Senior Software Developer
Tell us more about the Women of Silicon Roundabout conference.
Sangeetha: This will be my first time attending, but a couple of my colleagues attended last year. It’s exciting because we typically see a lot of male speakers at other technology conferences. It will be inspiring to attend a technology conference where it’s all women, and learn about their experiences and how they’ve grown in their careers.
Do you have any advice for people who might be thinking about working in software development or other technical roles?
Ene: It's easy to be discouraged by formal barriers, such as not doing a degree or not having worked in software development before. But once you make that step, and you're in a supportive environment, there are always ways to learn, and there is always someone you can ask.
That’s the great thing about working here - I have a great team, and someone always has the answer. No matter how small or big it is, there's always someone around to help. The environment is collaborative and supportive – which pushes you to want to learn more.