Today we welcome Fran Solo to talk about her experience as a mentor and giving her time to help increase diversity in the tech sector.
What is your background in tech?
I have been working as a Front-End Developer for a number of years, currently working at Zone. Having studied web development at university, I had a brief period of working as a User Interface (UI) designer for a couple of years. Whilst I enjoyed it, I found switching between design and coding quite draining and felt that I would fall behind in emerging technology if I was not coding a lot more than I currently was. Since then, I have mostly worked in digital agency environments – which is great because you get to move between projects and get experience in different types of tech.
Outside of work I do a lot of volunteering to help diversify the industry, which I was recognised for with a TechWomen100 award last year. I have recently become one of the codebar Bristol organisers too, which I’m really excited about!
Why did you want to become a mentor?
I tried mentoring for the first time through codebar back in 2020. The pandemic had just struck the UK and with the world feeling like it was on fire, I thought volunteering my tech skills would be a great way to give back to the community. Another big part of my role that I love is working with other people – so naturally I thought mentoring someone would be a great chance for me to hone in on those skills too!
After I got a year or so of mentoring under my belt, I wanted to commit to mentoring someone long-term so that’s why I joined TechUP!
What attracted you to the TechUP mentoring scheme?
I have followed Prof. Sue Black for a number of years, and having seen her talk about TechUP in the past, I had been aware of the initiative for a while. I eventually saw a tweet by TechUP about an opening for mentors for their 2021/22 Skills Bootcamps so I decided to jump in and apply!
The main reason I wanted to work with TechUP specifically is because you’re able to mentor one person long-term and so you can build up a good working relationship together and also see how they actively grow and improve every single week!
What did you enjoy?
I loved having regular catch ups with my mentee each week – she’s fantastic and a wonderful person. It was really interesting learning about what she was doing at the time and finding out about the tech she was picking up.
I really felt like I was part of something really big and exciting, like I was making a real and direct impact on not only one person’s learning experience but the general mission of helping to diversify the tech industry further. I was even able to see what the other mentees, mentors and alumnae were up to and what they were achieving at the time!
What did you get out of the experience?
The great thing about taking part in this initiative was being able to have another learning experience to talk about and grow from. Participating in weekly sessions meant I was able to learn how to become a better mentor more quickly and efficiently. Mentoring someone through a Skills Bootcamp also meant I was able to get insight into what people are learning currently to enable them to get into tech! It has been a few years since I was studying and attending lectures, so it was really nice to be able to learn from someone else who actually was!
Lastly, I think it enabled me to elevate further in my career. I had a chance to get contacts with more people in the industry, with everyone from the TechUP team, to the mentors and mentees alike. Moreover, it also meant it was something I could add to my LinkedIn and talk about in job interviews!
What did your mentee get from the experience?
I think my mentee really appreciated having someone to support them each week and being able to learn from my knowledge and experience from the industry. Everyone who has learnt to code will know how crucial it is to have someone to help and mentor them through technical challenges. As well as this, I think my mentee found solace in having a safe space to ask for help, advice and having someone to bounce ideas off.
Final thoughts on mentoring/the tech sector…
The representation of people from diverse backgrounds in tech is very sparse. I think if we had more mentoring in the industry to help people progress it would help to bridge this gap, but mostly this work really needs to come from the businesses and people at the top. I’ve learnt that there is a lot of chatter around diversity and inclusion, but what are these businesses actually doing? Do they have Diversity and Inclusion processes in place when hiring and retaining people? Are people given the right amount of support and training to help them progress? Do they train internally about subconscious bias?
If they cared enough about leading the way, they’d be doing all of these things.