Becky Tsao | ITV
Meet Becky, an Engineering Manager at ITV who is shaping the future of technology and the workplace. Becky is an influencer - not the type you'll find endorsing protein, standing in tree-pose on the top of a mountain...oh no! Instead, she is a leader who wields influence to build thoughtful, high-performing, and inclusive teams and workplaces, knocking down the barriers that she has come across far too often as a woman and ethnic minority.
Becky's thoughts and views on ED&I in tech are so insightful and Just. Make. Sense. From why women can be more susceptible to motion sickness- while using VR, to how CVs are reviewed which could lead to someone getting or not getting a job interview - she reminds us all that "diversity in tech is important because there's diversity in humanity"
Get your mind blown this morning and read Becky's story...
PLEASE COULD YOU START BY TELLING US ABOUT YOUR TECH JOURNEY?
I started my career as a graduate technical consultant after graduating in Computer & Information Engineering for BAE Systems in its financial services department. I spent a few years working to deliver social network analytics solutions in spaces such as insurance and trade finance for various clients. Eventually, I was a technical lead, leading implementation teams. I wanted a new and meaningful challenge, so then moved into the law enforcement side of the business, where I worked on projects including a proof of concept for early detection of child abuse which was featured in the New Scientist and building bespoke data engineering solutions. During my time as a consultant technical lead for various projects, I found that I needed to wear different hats, ranging from coaching people to technical design. I loved all of these things, but wanted to see what engineering was like in the commercial sector as well as explore my passion for people development - I'm at a point in my career where I want to learn more about people and organisations; the variety and depth that different people bring can be so unique. I'm now working as an Engineering Manager at ITV (working on the ITVX streaming app!) managing two teams.
YOU’VE MOVED FROM CONSULTANCY INTO A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT INDUSTRY. CAN YOU TELL ME WHAT IMPACT (ED&I OR IN THE INDUSTRY IN GENERAL) YOU WOULD LIKE TO MAKE?
One of the reasons I really enjoy being an Engineering Manager is the opportunity to influence the shape of teams and workplaces. I want this shape to be a thoughtful, high-performing, and inclusive one, as I don't believe that these qualities are mutually exclusive. I also want it to be one where women and other minorities in tech aren't unusual.
WHY IS DIVERSITY IN TECH SO IMPORTANT?
As a society, we are becoming more and more reliant on technology to augment or create shortcuts in our lives. You can have a small team working on something that could impact thousands of lives. You are ultimately designing products for humans to use (directly or indirectly), and if you have a limited worldview within that team, you are likely to build something that doesn't handle all the cases it needs to. Something like name field validation can look very small on a project plan or as a ticket but can lead to people being told that their name isn't valid because it's not long enough, doesn't have a vowel, or has "unexpected" punctuation. Women can be more susceptible to motion sickness after using a Virtual Reality headset - not because of biology, but because headsets are often designed for male heads by default. Humans can be biased, so we need to be careful about training that unnecessary bias into our machine learning algorithms, especially if they're being used to, such as sifting CVs which could lead to someone getting or not getting a job interview, or whether social services should visit that child or not.
Ultimately, diversity in tech is important because there's diversity in humanity. If we're not aware of that in what we build, then it's just not going to be truly fit for purpose.
CAN YOU SHARE WHAT BARRIERS YOU HAVE FACED DURING YOUR CAREER TO DATE AND WHAT HAS HELPED YOU OVERCOME SOME OF THESE BARRIERS?
Throughout my career, I have often been either the only woman or ethnic minority in the room - or both! There is that saying about "having to work twice as hard to get half as far" and without getting into too many specifics I have definitely had that experience. I've had the stereotype of suggesting something where it wasn't taken on board until a white man re-suggested it, and I've also had experiences where I felt like I was being held to a different standard to my colleagues. Studies have shown that women and ethnic minorities are more likely to be penalised more heavily for making the same mistake compared to their peers, and I feel like I can relate to that. That pressure of being the sole representation of a certain group can get a bit heavy. I have found that a combination of being clear on expectations as well as seeking out more inclusive teams to be really beneficial for my professional and mental wellbeing. I also love my role as an Engineering Manager at ITV because I can help to change processes to dismantle some of these barriers for other people.
HOW HAS MENTORSHIP OR SUPPORT FROM OTHERS IMPACTED YOUR JOURNEY OR SUCCESS?
So much! I owe a lot to my previous manager at BAE Systems, Clare Cornforth, who is an extremely accomplished architect. I could be so confident that she cared about my development and wellbeing, and that she trusted me, but she also didn't hesitate to call me out on mistakes. I also had a fantastic mentor at BAE Systems a few years ago in Jo Massey who is just such an inspiring and insightful leader. Being exposed to great role models really shows you the art of the possible sometimes. I'm also very fortunate to be surrounded by a strong cohort of Engineering Managers where I'm not the only woman or ethnic minority, and we're all very good at supporting each other with various issues that come up at work.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHERS STARTING IN THE INDUSTRY?
Be ready to learn, find the learning opportunity in everything you do, and don't specialise too early. Role models are amazing but remember that you're your own person with your own brain, and that you don't have to be exactly like the senior people in your company. Also, get used to the idea of networking - even if it's just the ability to small-talk with a stranger - and ask questions; the sooner you build these skills the easier they are to maintain.
IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE THAT INSPIRES YOU OR WOULD YOU LIKE TO TALK ABOUT?
I think inspiration can be found in all sorts of situations and people; you just need to be open to seeing it. I really love seeing a 'spark' in people when they're engaging in problem-solving and coming up with ideas, so a big motivation for me at work is enabling people to showcase their skills.
SOMETHING FUN TO ROUND THE INTERVIEW OFF - WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE QUOTE OR MANTRA YOU LIVE BY?
I'm not really a quote or mantra person but I do like these two words: "Be Brave!". Sometimes they're just what you need to hear before you go and do something a bit scary. :)
Thanks Becky, you rock 🤘
Interview by Gracie Sparks