Whilst modern technology is paving the way for a multitude of advancements and constantly changing the way we work and live, the people behind the scenes are often not at the forefront of our minds. Behind every app we use, every piece of kit we utilise and every website we visit, there are people responsible for the design, maintenance and upkeep of continuously evolving tech, keeping up with the needs and demands of a modern society.

Technology has changed the way we live every day, whether this regards the deep implementation of smart phones, watches or tablets into our daily routines, developments of new and better vehicles, or something as seemingly simple as self service checkouts and contactless payments in stores. Ultimately, technology has had some impact on all of our daily lives. With this in mind, the skills team at Sunderland Software City have spoken to some of the people behind the tech, working in digital careers in the North East to find out about what they do, what life is like in the digital sector and the routes taken and opportunities available to those with the hope of pursuing careers in the field.

Working in Digital

The field of digital or tech is enormous and changes on a daily basis. This means that the day to day working lives of those working in this industry can vary massively, and the duties, roles and responsibilities of different people can be very diverse. This ever-evolving nature inspires innovation and makes for an exciting and interesting working life.

Paul McMurray – Fullstack Software Engineer at Accenture spends his day conducting business analysis, producing tickets, creating sprints and writing code in order to satisfy customer tickets, which can be different every day.

The concept of a varied work like and having new and exciting challenges every day is a common theme amongst those working in tech and digital, with lots of people seeing this as a positive aspect of their role.

Elena Gorman -  Assistant Project Manager for the TechUP Programme at Durham University stated “My role as a Project Manager for digital/tech projects is extremely varied, and never boring! In the TechUP Team, I work alongside the Programme Manager to manage all aspects of an online tech retraining course for adults who want to develop their tech skills and start careers in tech. I get   involved in everything and anything! … Sometimes I attend national or regional events and training sessions. I also get to see some truly inspirational speakers at our own events.”

Often the social aspect of a career in tech is overlooked, with the perception that a career in tech involved mostly working alone, at a computer. But this is not always the case.

Dave Hall – Lead Delivery Manager at DWP Delivery Group talked about his day to day duties, including the social aspects and said “Currently I’m running a programme to improve Digital Groups strategic capability … So much of my day is meeting with people leading individual work streams, or stakeholders across the business … the most enjoyable part of my role is coaching and mentoring colleagues, being a part of their development/growth and success journey is hugely rewarding.”

Routes into Digital

There are many routes a person may take into a career in tech or digital, whether this is the traditional route of A levels and university, or an alternative route such as an apprenticeship, there are many different ways that people have gotten into careers in digital, depending on their own personal interests and skillsets.

Steven Young – Associate Director at Accenture took the more traditional route into the industry. Steven always knew he was interested in tech, graphic design and animation and recognised that “everything in the future is going to be driven by this stuff”. He decided to study Art, Computing and Maths at A level before continuing onto a Computing for Business degree, during which he did a placement year at Nissan.

A degree in a tech specific subject can be a great start and build up a foundation of knowledge and skills. But it is not the only pathway into tech and people with a wide variety of undergraduate degrees go on to pursue rewarding digital careers.

Elena Gorman -  Assistant Project Manager for the TechUP Programme at Durham University showed this to be true when she talked about her background and what led her to a career in tech. “I 'fell into' a tech-related job!" she said. "When I went to university, I studied Theology (the history of early Christianity), so the shift towards working in Computing, Tech and Digital roles has been a big pivot in my career! …. I was working in a university administration role when an exciting post became available to work on the Creative Fuse project at Northumbria University … then luckily (again!) a great role came up at Newcastle University, where I worked with Computer Scientists and other academics to manage the university’s partnership with The Alan Turing Institute: the national institute for Data Science and Artificial Intelligence. In this role, I also set up and led Newcastle’s first #TechmumsClub for the social enterprise #techmums; this was a 10-week course to help mums develop digital skills. This was another fantastic role that helped me develop my knowledge of opportunities in tech. Then the pandemic came along… just as I was about to have a baby! During my maternity leave, it felt like the world had changed, and I felt like I needed a change in my work too. When I saw that there was an opportunity to join the TechUP Team at Durham University”

Paul McMurray – Fullstack Software Engineer at Accenture talked about how he “needed a change and wanted to do something new and exciting” after working in call centres and in sales. So at 25, he pursued a degree in Computing for Business at Northumbria University after studying a foundation degree at Newcastle College. He has now worked in tech for 17 years.

Digital in the North East

Despite the perceptions that sometimes crop up about having to relocate to be successful in tech, the North East is a great place to study and work and offers a range of exciting opportunities in tech or digital!

Dave Hall – Lead Delivery Manager at DWP Delivery Group told us about a range of opportunities for digital careers in the North East, stating “the NE is huge in terms of opportunity. In government alone there are DWP Digital , HMRC digital, Defra. And then you have companies like Accenture, DXC, Virgin Money, Sage and BA with a large tech/digital presence in the region.”

This sentiment was also shared by Elena Gorman -  Assistant Project Manager for the TechUP Programme at Durham University who told us: “There are SO many opportunities to study and work in the tech sector in the North East! The region is blessed with five brilliant universities, as well as excellent colleges and training providers that can help you develop your knowledge and skills. We have a thriving tech scene, which is growing all the time, and where new roles are advertised daily. There are so many different routes you can take, and roles you can pursue. Some roles are more technical than others. Some roles are in tech organisations, others are tech-related roles in other sectors, and you can also access support to set up your own tech business. These are exciting times, and the North East is a great place to be right now!”

Advice for Students

When we talked to professionals within the digital industry, they shared some helpful advice for students hoping to pursue careers in tech, and indeed, students in general.

“Go for it! There are so many roles and opportunities right now! Find the right route into tech for you; weigh up the different options for education and training to find which is best for you and your goals. …. Try to connect with other people who are at a similar stage to you so that you can share your journey into tech together; build a community and a network to support you.” – Elena Gorman 

“Be a lifetime learner and not just the latest tech stack , learn leadership, learn self-awareness, seek to learn about the jobs the people who will use the tech/digital services you will build so you can make it better for them. Own your personal development, take responsibility for it don’t expect an employer to hand it you on a plate … Be willing to experiment, there are learning opportunities in everything, even if it’s how not to do something. Don’t be afraid to fail, often the best lessons are learned from something that didn’t go perfectly to plan.” – Dave Hall

“If you learn to learn, you are going to fly … Have some patience, you don’t get good at something by accident, you have to put some graft in … Join a code club, google how to build a website, follow it through, fail continuously but keep having a go.” – Paul McMurray

“Curiosity is massive, be nosey, want to know how things work and why … Companies aren’t always looking for experience, they are looking for attitude” – Steven Young