Tech Trailblazers

Tech Trailblazers: Marie-therese McCann

  • Name: Marie-therese McCann

    Role: UX Lead, Fathom


    Marie–therese (MT) has over 14 years of industry experience in digital and has held various roles within the digital sector. After a university placement in Intel Dublin, she was a front–end designer and developer with Eyekiller and MadebyMint, and progressed on to senior UX designer in Etain and head of digital creative in Mammoth.

    MT leads the delivery team at Fathom and is passionate about helping her team do their best work to create inclusive products and services, while ensuring projects are properly structured and delivered on time and to budget. She has extensive experience shaping UX projects for clients such as AIB, Translink, BBC NI, Land and Property Services, Firmus and Tesco Mobile.

    MT also organises and hosts the local meet up Ladies that UX Belfast, a part of the global group that encourages women within the industry. Outside of Fathom, MT is a keen ‘Mothers and Others’ Gaelic footballer, and GAA youth coach for hurling and camogie. She is a passionate supporter of Antrim Hurling, travelling the length and breadth of Ireland throughout the year.

    What does your typical day look like?

    I get up most mornings at 7am and get ready for the day ahead with my 2 daughters. I drop my youngest to breakfast club before primary school and my eldest to her school bus for 8am and then I begin my commute into Belfast with Translink. I love the bus into work as I get to sit back, start my day early and let the driver worry about the traffic. I usually open slack and start reading emails on the way in to the office or pick up on tasks from the day before.

    We have flexibility on our start and end times in Fathom but officially our team all meet at stand-up (in-person or via the web) every morning at 10am when our core hours start. We all align on schedules and have a bit of morning banter and then I spend most days in a mixture of recruitment nurturing, supporting business development opportunities, checking in on projects to support my team or working on some senior team tasks before finishing up for the day just after 5pm.

    The bus journey home again out of the city is spent listening to David McWilliams podcast or getting caught up on family whatsapps, before heading home to get dinner with my partner and taxi my daughters to their various sports.

    What are you currently working on?

    We have a wide variety of projects live in the office at the moment which have equally interesting and challenging problems to solve. We spent a large part of the summer working closely with Belfast city council on a service design project which has now progressed to re-design their website as one of the main channels for service delivery.

    One of the biggest items in my team’s schedules in 2019 was the re-development of a web app for an International Registry of Mobile assets for aviation. It was a mammoth beast of highly regulated data for the safe leasing of aircraft throughout the world, which required a lot of in-depth contextual research into law firms, paralegals, their tasks and their environments.

    Understanding the problems these users faced and their current behaviours to get around those constraints, enabled our team to craft a future state experience which reduces support queries by allowing solicitors and aircraft firms to use a once complex system with ease and confidence.

    Other projects we are currently working on are:
    - User and market research in Rep. of Ireland within the property market
    - Web app development for a Global e-Learning platform
    - Discovery research for a travel startup

    What inspired you to join this company in particular?

    I was highly motivated by Fathom’s reputation and their clear focus on user centered design. When I first met both our CEO Gareth Dunlop and Rick Monro (who was our UX Director in 2015) I was blown away by their unwavering approach to experience design, ensuring they made evidence based design decisions every time.

    Their personal work ethic was also extremely inspiring and I was excited by the really high bar I felt they both set professionally in our industry. I had worked in a few agencies before and UX had been counted as a ‘nice to have’ far too often rather than a strategic differentiator.

    Fathom’s approach to driving efficiency and performance for their clients by putting the customer and users at the heart of everything really appealed to my motivations as I take immense pride knowing that we are making a difference both in commercial projects for our clients and also across our society with some of the service design projects we have been part of.

    Did you always want to work in this industry (tech)?

    I didn’t not want to work in it as such, but my early love as a teenager was playing sport, art and playing the playstation so with those combined I initially felt my calling was in game design. I was a naturally curious child / teenager and I was always really interested how we as human’s process information and make decisions. I loved figuring out the root problems of things, if the VHS player broke down or the printer got jammed, why and how could I fix it?

    I had 3 UCAS options after my A-levels which were a BSc in Psychology in Queens, BSc in Information in Business in Coleraine or BSc Interactive Multimedia Design (IMD) in UUJ. I narrowly selected IMD as it felt exciting at the time and the internet was just starting to present opportunities in 2001. IMD was fantastic, but it was my placement year that I spent in Intel in Maynooth during my 3rd year which I feel helped cement my career path.

    I had brilliant mentors who took us (there was a number of UUJ and QUB students on placement) under their wing, giving us confidence and autonomy within the team to make an impact. We were working on future tech at the time which was animated educational content for schools displayed on PDAs, built using Flash. I then came back to UUJ in Final year truly inspired for my major project.

    I designed and built a mobile app using Flash Lite for a Nokia Smartphone (pre-iPhone days) for house buyers to use as an interactive handheld brochure as they visited the property. Getting that amazing placement experience opened my eyes to the possibilities working in tech could bring and I have loved it ever since.

    What’s your favourite part about your work?

    There are so many things, firstly working with an extremely talented bunch of lovely people, who have fun and respect and challenge each other making each working day a joy. I also adore solving problems and creating value through good design for all of our clients and in particular ensuring our products and services are inclusively designed so that technology empowers everyone in society and leaves no one behind.

    What would you say to other people considering a job in this industry (tech)?

    Don’t consider it, go for it. The forth industrial revolution is upon us and there are so many exciting opportunities to work in IT across any sector or industry. It’s challenging yet rewarding and no two days are the same. IT office environments are increasingly state of the art, with a focus on creating malleable and highly functional yet fun places to spend your time which help us all feel at home so we can be ourselves and do our best work.

    You get to work with a diverse range of super smart people to create purposeful tech that makes people’s lives easier and helps businesses reach their goals. It’s also a very family friendly industry, many IT companies offer flexible working hours and the ability to work remotely when home life needs you.

    How do you see this technology impacting on our lives?

    It will continue to impact everything we do in life as more products and services are digitized. Job roles will and are changing and we have to embrace it as there is no going back. Across society we have to be open to change and be adaptable while focusing on honing the soft human skills we have which computers can’t replicate or automate. It will be increasingly obvious that successful technology is built from a human centered point of view, ensuring it augments us as humans, empowering our capabilities not eliminating them.

    Who inspired you to work in this field?

    My parents for sure. As the eldest child from a working class family in a little lough shore community called Creggan just outside Randalstown, both my parents taught me the importance of getting a good education, working hard, having pride in your craft, helping others, being personable and that family is everything. They seemed to hook in really early in my teenager years that there was lots of ‘computers jobs in Belfast’

    My mammy always encouraged me to strive for the stars (quite literally she wanted me to be a scientist first and foremost) but her second piece of advice was that she felt ‘computers’ were the future. Both her and my daddy made sure that we had a computer at home (with Encarta CDs) as soon as they could afford it when I was a teenager and without a doubt, had it not been for their support – I would not be in this career today.

    What do you consider to be the most important tech innovation or development in recent years?

    It is impossible to look past 1. The internet and 2. The mobile phone. That may not be the flashy or ‘trendy’ answer, but they have been the defining innovations of my generation. They have both enabled millions of marginalized people around the world to gain inclusive and unprecedented access to services and opportunities that were once only for the privileged.

    They have gave people a voice who had been suppressed, and enabled remote access to services like banking. In my life time, Africa women can now create a bank account from their mobile, allowing them to manage their finances to set up enterprises and earn their own money to provide for their families.

    The internet and the mobile phone have helped customers demand more from businesses / governments and organisations, as customers can now scrutinize, research and switch providers easily when businesses or orgs fail them. In my eyes, it’s not Alexa, VR or smart meters that have been transformational, but it’s the tech that has empowered people to enhance their lives and capabilities to be more human – that has been the real winner.

    What tech gadget could you not live without?

    My iPhone and Airpods. As anyone who works in tech will attest to, earphones are a necessity when you need to focus on a problem in a busy team environment. I resisted buying Apple Airpods until recently as I thought they were crazily overpriced and looked geeky as hell. They are still very expensive but I eat my words now as the experience is unrivalled. I have tried a range of wireless headphones through the years but the sound quality and seamless ability to connect between devices is worth it.

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