In Conversation with an Associate Systems Engineer

Written by: on December 11, 2018
Tags: Day in the life of, Interviews, Role Model, Women in Tech

Rachael Crosby is an Associate Systems Engineer at online fashion retailer Shop Direct. She is employed by one of our proud partners, Doris IT, which means she gets loads of training and development opportunities and is mentored by their team.

Rachel Crosby

Rachael started her career working in a Livery yard, looking after horses. We wanted to find out how she went from horse management to working in a technical role at one of Liverpool’s largest digital employers. This is Herstory…

Can you share any interesting facts about yourself?

My house is a bit of a zoo! I currently have 5 snakes, two of which are cornsnakes and three royal pythons. Most of the snakes are rescues and have come to me when their previous owners can no longer look after them. I also have three bearded dragons, two of which I incubated and hatched myself.


Were you interested in tech at school?

I didn’t do well at my studies during GCSE. I was convinced up until that point I was going to be a barrister. Our careers advice in school was pretty terrible – apart from being told that I needed to go to college and University there wasn’t much specific guidance. My absolute passion in life was horses and I’d been riding since I was little. So I studied horse management for 12 months and got a job in a livery yard, looking after 16 horses. I absolutely loved the job, but it wasn’t a career. I began to realise I needed something more.

When did your journey into tech start?

Rob Barker, one of the tutors at St. Helen’s college really helped me out and he remains one of my mentors today. I studied a Level 3 BTec Diploma in I.T. at the college. We did a mixture of modules which really helped us to prepare for the real world. Rob encouraged us to research the industry online to help us decide where we wanted to go next. I decided that I wanted to study Computer Forensics at Liverpool John Moores. However, upon graduating I realised that it is one of the toughest sectors to get a job in! So I applied for any job I could find within digital.

My first job was test engineer with ICC solutions testing chip and pin software. My speciality was American Express, which meant I got to work in the States for a short while. It was a great first opportunity and I learned loads about working in different cultures. When I started there were 15 people in the team which grew to around 50 in the two years I was there, so I also got an insight into how a small business grows.

Later I moved to a company which shall remain unnamed! I was working within a much larger testing team, it was multinational. Before I joined it sounded amazing, they seemed so forward thinking. But I had around 6 months of just sitting around not doing very much, despite asking for work. There was a lack of support and bullying was common. In fact women were the worst behaved within the company, they didn’t support each other and could be hostile. I reported it to my manager every two weeks but nothing was done about it. In the end I was signed off by my doctor with stress, which helped me gain some perspective.

“Within a male dominated sector like tech, women need to be kinder to each other and less hostile. Men should also appreciate that it is difficult for women to operate in the sector at times, as a minority.”

I’ve learnt a lot from that negative experience and it has developed me as a person. I would never treat anyone that way in work, I respect my colleagues. The best decision I made was to walk away, for my own sanity’s sake!

So tell us about your exciting new role at Shop Direct?

I didn’t want to go into another testing job, I wanted a fresh challenge. I started teaching myself coding in my spare time to enable me to apply for development jobs. But I got a little disheartened when I did some research and realised that all the development jobs required twelve months experience. It’s so difficult to get that first break.

A friend who works at Amaze forwarded me a link to a meet up ran by the InnovateHer team. I registered for it straight away, but then I decided to email you to see if you also offered careers advice! Chelsea replied to me and suggested that I contact Doris IT, she said they are great at matching you to a work placement and you will get a mentor alongside training and development opportunities. I was put in touch with my current mentor, Claire. I sent over my CV and was invited to an initial interview, then a week later a second Skype interview. I was told that I was a great fit for Doris, which was a real confidence boost.

The placement at Shop Direct came up a couple of weeks later and I was invited to interview with the Head of E-commerce and Head of Data. I was so nervous because I REALLY wanted this job. But Doris were fantastic and gave me loads of interview coaching and support. They told me at interview that they thought I would fit in at the company and I was over the moon. A few weeks later I was invited to a meeting with my new manager and Claire from Doris. My manager is very open to new ideas and is good at encouraging me to develop in my role. I’ve been here since May and I’m learning lots, including a programming language, Scala. My current title is ‘Associate Systems Engineer.’

It’s a real contrast going from a place where there is no support to this environment where there is genuine concern for my development. At the moment I’m working on understanding the language and the architecture of the systems. I’m also getting to grips with who everyone is. There is an initiative here called ‘coffee with a stranger’ which I’ve been taking advantage of. I’ve recently met with Andy Wolf, who is our CIO. I don’t agree with putting people on pedestals, they are just humans after all! It’s good to have a relationship with the senior team as you can approach them with new ideas or feedback. Otherwise you end up out of touch with one another and that’s not good for business.

I strongly believe that you need a mix of experience with the business and you need the new ideas coming in to the business, otherwise you will stagnate. The degree apprenticeships we are now offering alongside the graduate schemes will really drive the company forward.

What’s the best thing?

Definitely the learning. There is so much to explore, I want to make the most of every opportunity here.

Who is your role model or who has inspired you?

I’m inspired by people who want to make a difference and to make things better for other people. The people who don’t just sit back but really put themselves out there and try to change things.

Any top tips for those starting?

Do not let people tell you that you can’t do something. If you are not happy with where you are, make a change. Just go for it!

“I think that society raises young women in the wrong way. We don’t raise them to be risk takers or fighters. It’s really important for us to encourage young women to be curious and give it a go.”

If you’d like to find out more about Doris IT, visit their website.

Interview by Jo Morfee

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