'Coding was a culture shock at first, but I have fallen in love with it,' says Hayley Rice, winner of ‘One to Watch in the Future’ at the prestigious Women in Tech awards

  • Photo: Hayley Rice, Robotics Developer at Danske Bank

    Hayley Rice, Robotics Developer at Danske Bank, is the recent winner of ‘One to Watch in the Future’ at this year’s vibrant Women in Tech awards, held at the landmark Europa Hotel, Belfast.

    Kathryn McKenna speaks with Hayley following the dynamic awards ceremony, during which Hayley voices her pride at being nominated for such an important award; how she got into a career in robotics; and how honored she feels every day to be surrounded by such inspirational women in tech.

    “To be nominated in the first place for this award was enough for me,” enthuses Hayley, when asked how it felt to win ‘One to Watch in the Future.’

    “I was chuffed because it's not only the recognition for my own work, but it's also recognition from the likes of Laurie Montgomery (Senior Transformation Manager) and senior management, who are so supportive. When I found out that I had won, I felt really overwhelmed. I was not expecting it whatsoever, but I was absolutely delighted.”

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    Hayley truly believes in supporting other women and works hard to remove barriers and change perceptions. In keeping with this, Hayley has helped and supported many local programmes aimed at young girls in the community in particular, including: the Kainos Code Academy, internally with the Women in Tech Affinity Network and the recent local CyberFirst EmPower Girls event.

    Young girls have previously cited more young female leaders in the tech industry as one reason why they may be inspired into pursuing a career in tech in the future, making Hayley’s work all the more important.

    And speaking on the meaning behind the awards, which aims to celebrate women in Northern Ireland’s burgeoning tech sector, inspirational Hayley explains: “The Women in Tech awards are such a great platform for recognition of women in this industry where women are still underrepresented.

    “It is so important to work with fantastic female role models who inspire me every day. Without that, I wouldn't be where I am today in my career. For example, in my first job straight after university, I was the only female in the office at one time. So coming to Danske Bank and having so many amazing female role models to surround myself with has really propelled me and given me the confidence to keep pushing on." 

    Having studied at Queen’s University, Belfast, at one stage Hayley briefly considered moving to Liverpool for university, before deciding to study and pursue a career in Northern Ireland: “I decided that Belfast is such a tech hub and it would be a mistake to leave,” Hayley explains.

    After graduating from university in 2020, “a hard time to graduate” due to the pandemic, Hayley started off her career working in a small consultancy firm in Belfast with headquarters in London.

    Hayley worked here for a year before making the move to Danske Bank’s Technology & Digital Development team: “I have just been over the moon and really happy here,” she reveals, before outlining: “Part of my daily role involves taking administrative, repetitive tasks away from rest of the workforce and letting them use their time and energy for more productive things where they can add more business value. We automate them so they can use their time elsewhere.”

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    And whilst Hayley is thriving in her role as a robotics developer now, her career pathway was unique in that she initially studied both business and computing: “I wasn’t sure at one stage if I wanted to pursue business or computing,” says Hayley. “I originally did my placement in accountancy and soon realised I missed coding too much, so I was very happy in my final year of university to get back to coding. A career in robotics then came about very organically.

    “My first graduate role was in robotics and it's quite a low-code environment. So, although I did have that coding experience from university, robotics is quite robust. You don't have to have code experience to get into it. I also thought robotics was a great way to branch the gap between business and computing to see what I liked. Coding was a culture shock at first but then I absolutely fell in love with it, and have been enjoying it ever since.”

    Hayley adds for young people interested in tech, there are many local groups which can help you learn new things as well as build up your own community:

    “Girls Who Code and Women Who Code and these types of groups are fantastic because they give you a platform to learn new things that aren't necessarily on your curriculum.

    “They are also a great way of forging new friendships. The courses usually last five to six weeks and your final project is usually a group project. They are a fantastic way of meeting new like-minded people in the flourishing tech industry here in Northern Ireland.”

    As a young woman in tech herself, Hayley has the following words of encouragement for a young girl who might be considering a career in the industry but might be feeling disheartened by the current statistics of just 23 per cent of females working in the tech industry in Northern Ireland.

    “If you're interested in it, just go for it. Don't be afraid to try new things. For instance, I did my work experience in an accountancy firm but I realised I didn't enjoy it and instead, I had a passion for coding.

    “It is so important to advocate for yourself. Don’t feel like there is ever anything holding you back. Women can very much suffer from that feeling of imposter syndrome, I definitely do. But don’t be afraid to ask for things that you feel you deserve. Mentoring is so important as well, as is surrounding yourself with inspiring female role models.”

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    Specifically, Hayley praises her close-knit team: “My manager Laurie has been a huge source of inspiration for me, she is such a supportive manager and to have another female supporting you is fantastic. Our Solutions Architect, Jacqueline Swann, is also amazing and has provided so much support for me.”

    Hayley also points to Vicky Davies as an inspiring female leader. Vicky joined the Board of Danske Bank UK in 2016 and was appointed Deputy CEO in 2019. In September 2021 she became the first female chief executive in the bank’s 200-year history and one of the few women to hold such a senior role across Northern Ireland’s banking sector.

    “Our CEO, Vicky Davies is a massive source of inspiration. She’s also a mum to four boys and she's just absolutely smashing it. She is a very inspirational woman.”

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