Amber Marshall: My TechUPWomen Journey
by Amber Marshall, TechUPWomen Alumna
The Story So Far
My TechUPWomen journey began with a tweet by Jess Phillips MP.
It was a retweet of Prof. Sue Black encouraging people to apply to the scheme, and Jess wrote simply ‘Apply for this people. Sue is always to be followed in my opinion’. Of course, as always seems to be the way with me, the deadline was midnight, and I saw it at 11:30pm!
I stayed up late into the night cobbling together a CV and a whispered application video. I don’t think I really expected to be accepted. Yes, I’ve been interested in tech since I coded on Commodore 64s and BBC micros (computers of the 1980s) as a kid, but I didn’t have any formal tech experience or training. I’ve just always been the person in the office who believed tech could and should work, somehow, and I’ve done a lot of googling over the years!
I’m not even sure I knew what I wanted to get out of TechUP. All I knew was that since being made redundant from the NHS, a career in a field I’d adored for the 15 years, I was a bit directionless. This was an opportunity to try something completely different.
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t at a loose end! I’ve got two kids, I do admin and accounts for my husband’s business, I’ve run an information and support website (BigBirthas.co.uk) since 2010, I volunteer for the Real Junk Food Project, I’m an active school governor, I write comedy which I occasionally get paid for, I make jewellery, and I’ve no idea where I thought I was going to find 12 hours a week to study from… But I did. And I’m very glad I did. The journey has been incredible.
It all kicked off with the first residential in Durham, and what an experience that was!
If I’m honest, my initial thoughts were that it would be awkward. I didn’t know anyone! Secondly, surely it was just a ‘jolly’? I mean, how much could we realistically learn in that time? But I was soon to realise I’d completely underestimated their purpose, and how important those four weekends would be.
The residentials, it transpired, were absolutely essential in bringing us together as a group. For setting the scene, for giving us a common goal, for nurturing our spirits and telling us that this really was possible, in a way that made us believe it too. The residentials made TechUPWomen happen in a quite amazing way.
Yes, the course content we studied at home was excellent, and well curated, and the support from the TechUP Team was second to none, but what really made the TechUP scheme exceptional was how we all supported each other and cheered each other on in between. This didn’t come from nowhere.
It kicked off with Sue telling us ‘If I can do it, so can you’, setting the scene. The residential programmes were full of motivational speakers telling us to have faith, take that leap, believe in ourselves, unleash our inner super sheroes, and pull the next woman up to stand with you. We regularly heard from programme partners telling us this wasn’t just an opportunity for us; our voices and talents and brains are sorely needed right now, and our diversity is our superpower.
I don’t think I’d ever been in the company of so many intelligent, inspirational women, and just being in that hall in Durham so full of potential and nervous energy was electric.
My initial fears that I didn’t have enough experience or knowledge soon melted away as, one by one, each module plugged a gap.
Some of the early modules, Python in particular, fried my brain in ways I was not expecting! For someone who hadn’t done much complex maths since A Levels, some modules required shaking and waking a few synapses back into life! But while challenging, it was also exhilarating and rewarding, and we were all working through it together, so there was always someone to turn to.
As the course continued, the pathways diverged. I’d enjoyed the programming (eventually!) but I knew a less technical route was more my style.
I’d begun to notice that the stuff I found ‘easy’ and ‘obvious’ wasn’t so for everyone, and maybe I had a natural aptitude for User Experience (UX) and communication? So I gravitated to the Business Analyst pathway. I’ve now completed all the modules and am due to take my final exam next week.
My only frustration is that opportunities for people like me who don’t want to commit to full-time working are still few. Do part-time Business Analyst posts exist for someone new to an organisation and with no real-world experience? Could I be a UX designer/workshop facilitator on a freelance basis in Birmingham? I’m not sure yet. I am doing plenty of freelance UX testing work, at least, so I am able to get some relevant experience in the field and we’ll see where it leads.
The best thing about taking part in TechUP, apart from the 99 other amazing participants, and the TechUP Team, is that it has given me a whole new world of options. I have a few ideas for what to do next, it’s all down to what I choose to focus on. One thing I do know is that TechUP has given me courage and confidence to shoot for opportunities even more than I did before.
So what has changed? I honestly still don’t know where exactly I’m going! I’m still trying to achieve everything, and juggling too many things all at once to do any of them justice in a reasonable timeframe! But what I do know is whatever I do, doors are opening, and there are 99 other amazing women stood right behind me, encouraging and supporting me every time I choose to walk through one, wherever it might lead…