by Dr Sarah Dempsey, R&D Manager, Peratech Holdco Ltd
How did you make contact, why did you get involved with TechUP?
Peratech has long-established links with Durham University—both myself and many of our staff are Durham Alumni. Over the last few years, we’ve built a mutually beneficial partnership through internships, running undergraduate team projects, providing training courses, and taking part in careers open days.
The technology industry (and STEM generally) suffers from a lack of diversity in its workforce. At Peratech, we believe that only a diverse, inclusive workforce can produce the best team environment. From our experience, collaborating with people from all walks of life and experiences enables us to solve complicated challenges in the most efficient and innovative ways. Because of this, Peratech is eager to shift the paradigm and get more under-represented groups interested in a STEM career.
When we heard about Professor Sue Black’s (Professor of Computer Science and Technology Evangelist at Durham University) award-winning TechUP campaign, with its ethos of supporting under-served and over-looked groups, we were immediately keen to get involved.
Who became a TechUP mentor and why?
Throughout my career, I have had many excellent role models and mentors who have supported, encouraged, and advised me. They’ve been key in growing my skills as both a researcher and a leader. When I heard TechUP needed industry-based mentors, I jumped at the chance to be involved and share what I’ve learnt in my career so far. My colleague, Dr Dan Whiting, also volunteered to be a mentor, to give something back to the technology community. Additionally, both our CEO Jon Stark, and Dr Tim Wiles (Principal Scientist) delivered guest speaker sessions during the curriculum.
What did the mentoring involve?
Mentoring the TechUP learners had different aspects to it. First, we needed to help guide the learners through the course so they got the most benefit from it. Second, and probably more important, we needed to be able to offer career advice and guidance on what working in a technology company is really like. To enable us to be effective mentors, the wonderful Donna Herdsman gave us some fantastic training. This really set us up for success and the skills I learnt will be useful for the future. When it came to pairing mentors with mentees, we were matched with people who may have had similar life experiences to us. This had the benefit of us being able to relate well to each other and for the mentee to see how their background can lead to a successful STEM career.
What lessons were learnt by the mentors and mentees?
Whilst the mentoring sessions did sometimes focus on the course content, it was also about strengthening confidence and self-belief, or giving encouragement to try something outside of their comfort zone. With my mentee, we focussed on interview practice for an upcoming job opportunity, and overcoming personal insecurities and self-doubt in order to promote their abilities and values. I found the mentorship was really two-way – I learned so much from the experience. In the past, I had a tendency to want to jump in and fix a problem for someone directly, now I see that the value in mentorship is all about giving people the skills and confidence to be able to help themselves and drive their own decisions. Mentoring also helped me to overcome some doubts of my own, as I had worried that, still being early in my career, I may not be wise enough to offer advice!
What did you get out of being a TechUP Industry Partner
Throughout our interaction with the learners, we experienced their dedication, quick learning, and problem-solving capabilities, which never failed to impress us. Personally, I gained a great deal of satisfaction from being part of the learners’ journey.
Peratech has also benefitted from the TechUP program. Each year, we run an internship program. We were delighted to offer two of the TechUP candidates an internship position which will let them utilise their newly learned skills in coding. Our interns have recently started their positions, and we are excited to see what they can achieve during their time with us.
For more information on becoming an industry partner