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Time to Celebrate: Click Start by TechUPWomen 2023

Learners arriving at the registration desk

by Adela Karsznia, TechUP Administrator

Saturday, 16 September

The weather in Durham may already have turned seasonably gloomy, but spirits were high during the Click Start by TechUPWomen 2023 Celebration Event, held at the Radisson Blu hotel on 16 to 17 September. The entire weekend was dedicated to celebrating our learners’ achievements and encouraging their next steps – and the packed agenda provided an exciting mix of career opportunities, talks, demonstrations, games, entertainment, and relaxed networking, with these two key aims in mind.

The event opened late Saturday morning with a Careers Fair. Our newly graduated learners filtered into a room full of potential employers, stopping by stands for an informal chat and to find out about various roles. We were thrilled to see the diverse opportunities available to our current cohort, offered by a range of partners – from long-term programme collaborators Waterstons to local companies and organisations such as Believe Housing, Durham City Council, DurhamWorks, Hire IT! Digital, Sage, and Sunderland Software City.

Attendees exploring job opportunities at the Careers Fair

After the Careers Fair closed, and conversations continued over a Lebanese-inspired lunch, it was time for an official welcome. And with programme leaders Professor Sue Black and Professor Alexandra Cristea unfortunately suffering from Covid-19, Johanna Waite and Yulia Abramova kindly stepped up to take on hosting duties for the weekend.

Rituja Rao talking about no-code roles in tech

The first speaker of the day was Rituja Rao, whose engaging presentation focused on no-code jobs in the tech sector and her own journey from being one of the early TechUPWomen alumnae to becoming an award-winning Technical Delivery Manager at Deliveroo.

Following Rituja’s inspiring story, the attendees were divided into two groups for parallel sessions run by Waterstons and Professor Jacquie Robson from Durham University. Simon Evans and Rhianne Short, accompanied by colleagues from Waterstons, introduced participants to their award-winning cybersecurity game called ‘Avoiding an Udder Disaster’, developed in-house during the first Covid-19 lockdown. In this interactive game, which employs common scenarios in the context of a busy dairy farm, the goal was to successfully navigate the challenges and risks of running a business, while considering opportunities to protect, adapt, and innovate. Cute toy cows for the winning team served as an added motivation (and competition was fierce!).

Meanwhile, in the other room, Professor Robson handed out protective goggles and began her ‘Cool Science’ demonstration to an increasingly awestruck audience. This captivating chemistry lesson showcased some of the properties and uses of nitrogen – and there was no shortage of volunteers, as audience-members were invited to join in and try their hand at smashing cryogenically-frozen flowers into pieces. The experience left many participants wondering what educational and career paths they might have taken had they encountered similarly engaging science lessons earlier in life. (From the reactions, it’s fair to say there would likely have been an uptick of applications to chemistry departments!) The two groups then switched rooms and the sessions were repeated, enabling everyone to engage in fun, competitive teamwork and to fall in love with chemistry.

Learners having a chat before the celebratory dinner

After a few words to sum up the events so far, a longer break was announced to allow local guests to refresh at home and those staying overnight to check in to their hotel rooms and prepare for the formal part of the celebrations.

Now in evening attire, the attendees reconvened a couple of hours later in the foyer for pre-dinner drinks: everyone was free to mingle, chat, and take selfies in front of a beautifully arranged flower wall. At 7pm, the guests were invited to the dining room and seated around their tables. Before a celebratory dinner was served, Dr Shaid Mahmood delivered a heartfelt keynote speech, in which he spoke about his efforts as Durham University’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. His empowering message to the graduating cohort centred on a moving tribute to his mother, who he described as the lynchpin of his family.

After the dinner, it was time for the central part of the event: the certificate awards! Clea Wood and Kim Owen briefly took the stage to speak on behalf of two Click Start partners, the Institute of Coding and Catch22. Next up were the learners themselves – called out by name by their tutors, they crossed the stage wearing TechUP colours, to receive their certificates and have a photo taken. The atmosphere was both jubilant and emotional, some improvised speeches were made, and each learner was enthusiastically received by an audience of their peers, invited guests, and the TechUP and Catch22 teams. At the end, Rebecca Collins, who was a learner on the first fast-track course and became a volunteer on the second, was called back to receive a special certificate of appreciation for her role in the delivery of the programme. We couldn’t be more proud of her and everyone else!

The evening continued on a high when local student band Ivies took to the stage with a set of highly upbeat covers and original songs. After much vigorous dancing, the participants gradually began to gather in groups for a chat or a game of Cards Against Humanity, before retiring for the night.

Sunday, 17 September

Sunday started with Catch22’s Meghan Dyer and Gareth Moore running their Empower Hour: an interactive session that continued on from the one held at the June Welcome Event. Once again, they left everyone energised. Next, the learners joined tutors Banke Adewale, Rebena Sanghera, and Uffa Modey to discuss and reflect on the experiences of the course within their respective groups.

Tinuke Bernard delivering her ‘Finding your Why’ session

After a break for lunch, everyone gathered together again to listen to the final two speakers. First, Tinuke Bernard, a veteran of TechUP events, delivered a session about ‘Finding Your Why’, based on her personal experience of carving out and maintaining a career that balances a daytime job, family life, and her creative passions (writing, blogging, and photography). Nina Ma – another alumna of the first ever TechUPWomen programme and now a Software Engineer at Microsoft – followed up with an exploration of neurodiversity in the tech context, demonstrating how receiving an ADHD diagnosis helped her make adjustments to achieve and thrive in her dream job.

Nina Ma talking about neurodiversity in the tech sector

Finally, after two days full of recognition, empowerment, and inspiration, it was time to say goodbye and to wish our Click Start graduates every success going forward.

With the Celebration Event behind us, the teaching component of the Click Start by TechUPWomen programme came to a close. However, our mentors and career coaches continue to support their learners’ goals – whether these involve an apprenticeship, a further learning opportunity, a desired promotion, or a new job. We can’t wait to hear about what our TechUPWomen graduates do next!

The fabulous graduates of the Click Start by TechUPWomen programme