Karen Beck is a Scrum Master at Sky, a facilitator and coach for one of their software development teams that uses Scrum, a rugby analogy for a development model that allows a team to self-organise, iterate and make changes quickly. The Scrum Master owns the process and is responsible for making sure the team lives by the values and practices of Scrum. Before this she has worked in roles in organisations including WANdisco, HP Enterprise Services and HSBC.
“…Women have more choices and options available to them than ever before and from my experiences more and more organisations are seeking to address this important issue. I can definitely see a shift in mind set for the better towards gender balance in technology, but work to make things better needs to continue…”
Karen, please can you tell us about your career to date and what got you interested in working in tech?
I actually started out my career in IT recruitment, where I got a passion for all things tech, then moved into IT project management, working for some large blue chip companies and mainly focusing on IT infrastructure. I learned about agile by working for a software start-up, and this opened my eyes to how working in an agile way makes a huge difference to software development and delivery, hence I’m now working in a Scrum Master role embracing all things agile!
We love your job title! For readers without a tech background, what does your role involve on a day to day basis?
Facilitating daily standups, removing impediments and protecting the team to enable them to deliver quality software, liaising and collaborating with our numerous stakeholders, organising and facilitating other Scrum ceremonies for the squad, getting involved with the wider Scrum Master Chapter activities within Sky. No day is ever the same!
The term ‘agile’ working is used in several different contexts. What does in mean in the context of what you do and what are the benefits?
One misconception some people have is that agile is a methodology, which is wrong. Agile is a mindset. By working agile we can iterate, constantly inspecting and adapting what we do and how we work. It allows us to respond quickly to change and feedback. We fail fast and deliver frequently. We also have a high level of autonomy that allows us to work in the best way possible in order for us to deliver.
Lots of people conflate the terms ‘flexible’ and ‘agile’ working. What is the crossover?
I feel that to work effectively in an agile way organisations need to allow for some flexibility in order to achieve their goals. Agile is not prescriptive and no one size fits all. It involves choices in how teams work, to essentially define their way of working to achieve what they want to achieve, and this involves a level of flexibility.
The development teams at Sky have a high level of autonomy to give them freedom in how they deliver their work and to make the best possible choices whilst also ensuring alignment with other teams to share ideas and approaches.
Tech has a reputation for male domination – to what extent is this true today and how is this changing, if at all?
It is without a doubt true, but I feel the difference today is that it is finally highlighted and being addressed. Women have more choices and options available to them than ever before and from my experiences more and more organisations are seeking to address this important issue. I can definitely see a shift in mind set for the better towards gender balance in technology, but work to make things better needs to continue.
What is the best career advice you have been given?
‘Consider every opportunity’. Without this advice I wouldn’t be where I am now. Instead of doubting yourself, say ‘yes’ to something that sounds daunting. You never know what you may achieve or where it will take you.
What is a gender balance like at Sky and what initiatives are there is place to support and encourage women in the workplace?
We are working hard to achieve a better gender balance over time and our goal is to achieve a 50/50 split, see here for Sky’s position on this.
We have many exciting initiatives under way to help make this happen. Here in Leeds we are really proud of our regular Women In Tech events that we host as part of our #LeedsTechHub series of community meet-ups. I personally feel that Sky has led the way in Leeds with these events and I love to be involved in them, helping to empower and inspire women across the region sharing our passion for tech and digital.
We have recently launched our Get Into Tech campaign, providing free specialist training for women seeking careers in technology. This initiative is so exciting and is a real step forward to address the gender balance within technology and digital.
In the wider organisation we also have our Women In Leadership programme – it’s a 12-month programme that provides participants with a senior sponsor who advocates for them around the business, helping them to identify and land new opportunities. Alongside this, the scheme offers development and knowledge sessions on topics ranging from self-belief to strategy and finance.
What is coming up next for you and Sky?
I’m really looking forward to being involved in the Get Into Tech initiative and learning a new skill. I’ve always worked in tech and now I want to learn much more about what the developers do and will be learning to code!
Also, our Women In Tech events continue throughout the year and I will be involved in organising these along with our recruitment team. Most importantly though, I’m really excited to working with the existing development team on a new product for Sky and I can’t wait to see the end result!