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Meet REPL’s Rising Star – Emily Lawton
What do you get when you cross an interest in tech with a degree in Russian and linguistics? REPL’s latest award-winning programmer, Emily Lawton.
As one of REPL’s rising stars – and the winner of the Midlands Women in Tech Rising Star award – we decided to lift the lid on Emily’s interesting career path and her contribution to REPL’s programming team.
How Gender Stereotyping Led to a Career False Start
Logical. Detail focussed. Analytical. These are the kinds of words usually associated with computer programmers. Risk taking? Not so much. However, there’s always an exception to every rule.
Despite taking A-levels in maths and physics, Emily wasn’t encouraged to consider tech as a career. “If I’d known these subjects would have stood me in good stead for a job in tech I would have gone down that route,” says Emily. “I went to an all girls’ school and I think people thought girls should do arts or languages, not technology.”
This set Emily off on a path towards a degree in Russian and linguistics which led to a career in the civil service in the department for work and pensions (DWP).
After several years, Emily pursued a role in higher education working in a technology institute where she got to know some of the lecturers. Emily received regular feedback about her logical mindset and how she would be a great fit for a career in tech.
Having worked on a software project at the DWP, Emily knew that tech was an area she enjoyed working in, with a particular focus on one specific job: “Although I’d enjoyed the work, what I really wanted to do was to work on the coding,” she said.
A restructure at work was the push Emily needed. She decided it was “now or never” and applied for a conversion degree in computer science.
A Risk That Paid Off
As part of her course, Emily learned the basics of Java and in less than a year built a prototype interactive chatbot for the university to use during clearing. It was clear this was an area that played to her skills and Emily received a distinction and a prize for the highest marks across all MSc programmes in the department.
As she neared the end of her time at university, Emily attended a careers fair where she first met REPL. “I really liked REPL because they were interested in me and my story as well as what I could do,” says Emily. “They also valued the fact that I’d worked before and had experience in the workplace as an employee and manager.”
Living the Programming Dream at REPL
After a decade long career false start, Emily joined REPL as an Associate Software Engineer in October 2018.
“During the recruitment process, REPL seemed keen to get me working on real projects from the start within a safe and supportive environment.” says Emily. “And this was borne out after I joined as I was quickly working on a variety of client projects.”
Emily works across a wide range of projects on both REPL-owned products and bespoke client work including working with big data, web application development and automated testing. Emily notes that: “This approach has been perfect for me because I’ve been on a massive learning curve using lots of different programming languages, technology and techniques in a supported environment where I’m also making a meaningful contribution.”
In less than a year, Emily has:
- Delivered a new technology stack for one client involving C# and web development
- Been nominated for an “Outstanding Contribution to Society” award at the annual REPL awards for her work on a silent auction app for the charity Molly Olly’s Wishes
- Developed REPL’s graduate scheme by writing a training package for new software engineers to close the gaps Emily felt existed in the existing graduate programme
- Started mentoring a new female employee on the REPL graduate scheme to help her colleague settle into the company and her role and to encourage her to pursue the career path she wants within the tech industry
Wide-Ranging Skills Bring Additional Benefits
At times it has been frustrating for Emily to be just one year into her tech career when different advice could have set on the right path ten years ago. However, Emily believes her pre-technology work has given her an additional skill set that she brings to the role: “Sometimes it’s easy to become consumed by the technical aspects of development work so you forget the need to communicate effectively,” she says. “However, having been the client in previous roles, I can see REPL’s projects from both perspectives which helps me to ask the right questions and provide insight to issues our clients haven’t considered.”
Emily’s approach to her work is highly independent which has impressed managers and clients: “Although support is always available, I’m also given the time and space to learn for myself,” says Emily. “I tend to go away, try to solve the problem, then take the solution to a colleague, ask for their feedback and apply it to improve the solution.”
It’s this mix of so-called ‘soft’ skills plus technical know-how and some spectacular client project results that lead to Emily’s nomination for a prestigious industry award.
The Women in Tech Rising Star Award is awarded to a woman who’s three years or less into her technology career and is excelling while making a valuable contribution to her organisation.
Nominated by REPL’s chief executive officer, Cerys Johnson, Emily was “absolutely flabbergasted” to have been put forward. “I was invited to a black tie awards ceremony in Birmingham. Having read the other nominees’ bios, I genuinely rocked up thinking it would be a great night but that I wouldn’t win. So when they said I was the winner, I burst into tears!”
With so many inspiring women in the room, Emily believes these women-only awards are a necessary part of the tech landscape: “For people like me, who weren’t encouraged to go into tech, it was really powerful to meet so many incredible people much further on in their careers who’d achieved so many amazing things,” says Emily.
“And I think this lack of encouragement still goes on in education today. It might not be deliberate but I think sometimes women feel like they’re not good enough or tech’s not really for them or that it’s too male dominated and that can sometimes be intimidating.”
Bringing more women into the tech industry isn’t just beneficial for women’s careers, says Emily: “I believe teams work better when they’re diverse and people can see problems from different points of view. Inevitably, a mix of men and women will achieve better outcomes.”
Where Next for REPL’s Rising Star?
Now firmly on a tech career path, Emily feels she’s finally where she needs to be.
With a wide variety of problem solving challenges and the opportunity to use logical thinking skills, Emily gains great satisfaction from the work she carries out at REPL: “There’s so much that’s possible, especially with so many new technologies coming to the table,” said Emily. “You’re constantly on a journey. You can’t conquer and know everything – you’re always learning and challenging yourself.”
Thinking about a career in tech? Not sure and want to know more? Take a look at our graduate web page to take your tech career forward.