Q&A with Version 1’s Honeybell Oke

  • Sync NI sat down with Honeybell Oke, Test Lead at Version 1, to discuss her journey at the company. 

    Can you tell us about your career pathway and what brought you to your current role as Test Lead for Version 1 in Belfast? 

    Everyone dreams of doing something they love, right? As a kid I had this dream of being an astronaut and going into space because I love geography and I thought that is all you needed to know and off you go. My father wanted me to become a medical doctor. Back then, growing up in a traditional African household, there was a lot of emphasis on education and following a traditional career path like Doctor, Lawyer, Accountant etc (unlike my son telling me he wants to be a ‘YouTuber’). I always smile when I imagine how that same conversation would have gone with my dad, but the world has changed and technology plays a significant role with so many career paths available.  

    I soon realised that to be an astronaut you needed to be good at physics, chemistry, and maths etc and I thought ‘What? No! I am not interested in that.’ So instead, I went to university and studied accounting and then completed a MBA in finance. Obviously, the next big thing was to get a job and just do something that you liked so I worked in an accountancy firm for a bit before moving on to work in a bank.  

    It was while working in the bank I stumbled into the world of IT when I tried to resolve issues that customers were having with their online banking. If I could not resolve them then I had to pass it to the back office. However, I am naturally a very curious person and so I wanted to understand how everything worked. I am the leader of asking stupid questions and I carry that with pride. I wanted to know how the back office worked, about their standards, and how they went about fixing things and getting things sorted. I got to know that there was something called software testing and it just went from there and eventually I decided that testing and trying to break things would be the next career for me and I have never looked back.  

    I have been with Version 1 for almost five years now starting as a Technical Consultant, then moved to leading a team of testers within one of our pharmaceutical clients. Then progressed into being a test lead for other large accounts while supporting our quality engineering practice. 

    Version 1 placed a fantastic 7th of 61 large organisations for the Best Workplaces for Women 2022 by Great Place to Work UK. What do you think are the main reasons Version 1 scored so well? 

    I would say it is mostly because Version 1 really listens to its employees. As part of our Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging (DIB) one of the things that resonates with me is the aspect of belonging. While a company cannot fix the entire world, being able to understand the things that we can change and how to add value is one of the things that Version 1 does very well through its core values and strengths. We survey our staff quarterly and change and adapt how we do things based on employee feedback.  

    One of the main things we did was to set up the ESG (Environment, Social and Governance) team. ESG in Version 1 has 7 pillars (Environmental Sustainability; Community First; Diversity Inclusion & Belonging; Women in Tech; Health & Wellbeing; Social Value and Education Collaboration). This year we recruited a Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging Manager who was able to steer us in the right direction and put things into perspective as to where we wanted to go. Also, having a company-wide Women in Tech network where women can help, empower, and encourage each other within and outside the company. The group also supports and the DIB team when implementing changes in company policies. 

    We also had to look at our recruitment policies to ensure that they were inclusive and resonated with everyone regardless of their gender and it’s important for our people to know they participated in making that change happen. Diversity & inclusion is important, but it is that sense of belonging that makes you stay, grow, and feel that you are part of a company that has your best interests.  

    You lead the Global Women in Tech network. What does this involve and what do you hope to achieve? 

    How we first started the Women in Tech network stems from a group event we had some years ago. One of the ladies turned to me and said she felt lonely, I asked her to elaborate and she said “I am the only one here as my team is based elsewhere and you all have your own thing.” This really struck me because I had never realised that gap because I’m part of a big team based in Belfast with about 20 people. A wonderful team with a strong bond, people that I have coffee with every morning, so I do not feel that way. We needed to have this group where we can communicate with each other as women. where we can empower each other, share our stories, develop each other and make an impact for the next generation of women. 

    We started the Women in Tech network back in 2019 using Northern Ireland as a pilot group. One thing that we did not want was a group where we have fun without making a difference or impact. We wanted both, to make an impact while having the feeling of togetherness and collaboration. We wanted to see if we were able to achieve our objectives and create a space for us to develop, to let everybody know that we meant business. We signed up with Diversity Mark NI, they helped us create a framework and a structure and this helped to ensure we were moving towards a common goal. One of the first targets we were given was around gender balance, which was a good start.  

    Now we have created this bond within the ladies in the NI group even extending to some of our clients and in late 2021 we knew we were at the stage where we could expand to the rest of the women within Version 1. It is a Women in Tech network, but it is open to everybody. Our objectives and our commitments are centred towards women but the way I see it if we can get it right for women, we can get it right for everybody.  

    The group that started with 20 has now expanded to over 600 in the network across the company and is committed to making sure that Version 1 is a great place to work for women. Getting women into tech and developing our women through mentorship, networking, career progression, confidence and empowerment. We do that through inclusive recruitment, learning sessions, networking events, external partnership at a location/group level and making sure that we have women progressing to senior roles because that is one of the things that the tech industry struggles with.  

    Version 1 recently hosted an event ‘Embracing the 21st Century Women in Technology.’ What were your main takeaways from this event that you would like to share with other women? 

    What I took away from it was that we are still far from where we need to be to achieve gender equality in the workplace. One thing that resonates with me is that the global gender gap is not expected to close for another 136 years, we were 100 years away before COVID-19, but the pandemic has increased the gap, which is a revelation. Much has happened with the COVID-19 pandemic including a lot of people being made redundant. Women had to leave their jobs for a number of reasons such as childcare responsibilities. Yes, men as well but we know traditionally, women tend to carry more family responsibilities.  

    Another key area that was talked about was imposter syndrome and building our confidence. As individuals, we are responsible for challenging and pushing ourselves, for getting to where we want to be and challenging the status quo. Your company/organisation/mentor can only help you so far, you need to bring yourself to the table and if that means developing yourself then do that. A lot of women, myself included, go through imposter syndrome where we feel we need to check every box before applying for a role or progressing in our career. When you are confident you should not be afraid to fail, there is no such thing as failure because it has created an opportunity to learn and enlighten your mind. So that was my takeaway from it. We are responsible for our own growth, but at the same time, companies, employers and even the education system still have a lot of work to do. 

    How can we get greater numbers of women into technology and what advice would you give to young women considering a career in technology? 

    I would say to companies to listen to their staff. Are they being paid fairly? What are the engagements that they get within the company? What benefits are you providing for them and are these benefits useful? Do these benefits cover the changing phases of the employee’s life journey such as maternity, menopause and childcare? 

    Listen to what your employees are saying and then let your policies be developed from their feedback. At the same time look at market trends and compare your data. Do you have effective tools to measure gender balance, equality, diversity, inclusion and belonging? There are a lot of data and resources out there to help understand where the trends are going and companies should already have tools in place to monitor and plan. If the market trend is saying that more women are leaving due to equal pay opportunities or family responsibilities, then perhaps having a more flexible working policy, such as job sharing could help with that. Reviewing your gender pay gap and support system for career progression, whilst offering things that people would not necessarily think about, for example, out-of-the-box benefits tailored to suit different phases of life. After all, we spend half, if not more, of our life span in the workplace. 

    For ladies considering a career in tech, go for it- regardless of your age or experience go there are endless opportunities in tech. For the younger generation, one of the main fears a lot of people have is that they think they need to be very technical. However, the reality is that tech is so much more. When we attend open days, we find that even teachers think children need coding to get into IT. We need to educate the schools and mentors that yes, it is brilliant if you have students who love coding but at the same time don’t put them in a box. To say you only have to know coding or be technical to have a successful career in tech is wrong. The IT world has evolved and there are a lot of other opportunities out there, both technical and non-technical. 

    I tell people if the opportunity presents itself, just give it a go and see how you get on. You might like it, or you might not, but the beauty is that it’s all about skills and mindset. For interviews, I’m not only looking for someone who can test well, I’m looking for someone who is great at problem-solving- meticulous, attentive to detail, with people skills who realises the importance of asking questions and isn’t afraid to say ‘can you repeat that again?’ At the end of the day, you might be an awesome tester but if you aren’t a good communicator then you may find it difficult.  

    Finally, we need to shift the narrative when it comes to getting young girls working in our industry. Changing the narrative regarding career routes in our education system where everyone should be given an equal playing field with the resources to support the younger generation. Thinking one gender is more suited for a particular career path than the other is wrong. There’s a lot of education and unlearning that needs to happen and companies need to come together to break this cycle. 

    About the author

    Aoife is a Sync NI writer with a previous background working in print, online and broadcast media. She has a keen interest in all things tech related. To connect with Aoife feel free to send her an email or connect on LinkedIn.

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