Women in Tech: Q&A With Digital Workplace Analyst, Akila Suresh
Our latest Women in Tech interview features Akila Suresh, a Digital Workplace Analyst who has only just started with her new company, Morgan Sindall Group plc. In this interesting Q&A, we explore Akila’s experiences working in IT in India and the UK, her background supporting women to explore tech careers, and her thoughts on what businesses should be doing to positively impact the gender balance in the UK’s tech sector.
I know you’ve only recently started in your new role, but can you give us some insights into what being a digital workplace analyst involves?
As you said, I’ve only been with Morgan Sindall for a couple of weeks, but I can certainly give you an overview of what I’m doing. Initially, I have been spending a lot of time collaborating with the team to gain a deeper understanding of the business and what my day-to-day responsibilities look like. These include developing, maintaining, and supporting business applications. Additionally, I have been introduced to the Microsoft upgrades and how our team manages them.
So that’s where I’ve been getting my feet wet with Morgan Sindall. I’m really excited to see how my role with Morgan Sindall will evolve and my skillset will grow.
I know you’re still settling in, but what is a typical working day like for you at the moment as a digital workplace analyst?
So, I’m very conscious that I sit in the same place for hours on end every day, so I like to start my morning by working out. I’ll then make a packed lunch for my husband and then I log on to check my emails and see if there are any backlogs / issues I need to deal with immediately.
I’m not one of those people who doesn’t like to do morning meetings or calls. I prefer to not postpone things. Instead, I like to deal with things head-on, whether that’s first thing in the morning or just before I log off for the evening. I typically start my day with a technical meeting or call. I always like to make sure I’m fully prepared, so I get my notes ready the previous day.
And then typical tasks throughout my day include, checking for any incidents and requests in the board, reviewing my work with my manager to identify and address any potential blockers, and also developing, maintaining and supporting business applications.
I make it a habit to add daily notes to a weekly report, ensuring that by the end of the month, I have a comprehensive record of the issues I faced and how they were resolved.
After finishing work, my husband and I prepare dinner together. Then a couple of episodes of whichever Netflix series we are watching is mandatory.
You have a bachelor’s degree in IT and Management. Was it always your plan to go into technology?
To be frank, I didn’t really have any plan in my head when I was doing my bachelor’s degree. I loved studying management, but with my master’s degree, I wanted to step further into technology. So, I thought doing a master’s in Information Technology sounded like a good idea. I was fortunate that I was top of my class for my master’s degree, so I automatically secured a job through my college, and from there I started my career.
Now that I’ve been in the workplace for a number of years, I understand how management is a part of everyday working life, and that you don’t have to concentrate on it separately like I envisaged when I was a student. Whatever job I do now, there’s always management involved, whether that’s people, resources, budget etc.
What was the ratio of men to women like when you were studying?
In India, we have women’s and co-ed schools and colleges. So, I studied at a co-ed school, but then went to a women’s college. My dad was keen for me to study there because it was the first women’s college in Madurai in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, and I didn’t care where I went if I could do the degree I wanted.
Do you think going to a women’s college put you at any kind of disadvantage when you started in the workplace?
To an extent, yes. At college, I never had to work alongside men, and then suddenly I started my first job and I had to learn how to navigate some of the ways men and women can differ. By this, I mean personalities, ways of working and communicating etc. I found it difficult in the beginning, but I got used to it fairly quickly.
Have you ever felt underrepresented in the workplace or treated differently because of your gender?
I’ve never felt judged or been treated differently because of my gender. I’ve always felt pulled up, not down by my employers, and judged based on my performance, not who I am as a person. I’ve been given a few opportunities to mentor and teach interns during my career, and in those moments, I always felt that I had been given those responsibilities because I was good at my job, not because I was a woman.
How would you say the gender balance in UK companies compares to your experiences in India?
I’ve worked with many women in technical roles in India and the UK. Both countries are unique in their own ways, and my experiences have differed company to company. In my experience, there is a lot of effort put into the workplace in both countries to foster diversity and inclusion. In general, I would like to see many women in leadership positions across the world to bring in diverse points of view, skills and enhance the overall dynamics of organisations.
So, do you feel that moving from India to the UK has had a positive or negative impact on how you feel as a woman in technology?
Definitely a positive impact! The two countries are poles apart when it comes to cultural differences. The UK is a very different environment. So initially when I first joined Morgan Sindall in the UK, I did have some fears over what challenges I would face. But slowly I’m getting more and more comfortable. It’s only been a few weeks, but I feel like I’m in the right place. Everybody has been very sweet and welcoming. There hasn’t been anything negative. I’m here to do a job and I feel like I’m being judged solely on my abilities, which is all I want as a woman working in technology.
What do you think businesses should be doing to encourage more girls and young women to consider careers in technology?
So, I found when my previous company set up workshops and put on sessions in my college, I really enjoyed taking part in these sessions as a guest because it gave me an opportunity to speak to a group of young women and tell them what working in tech is actually like and what they could expect on a day-to-day basis. I wanted to impassion them and make them feel comfortable with exploring tech careers. I gave them examples of how they could stand out from the crowd.
I believe companies should acknowledge women’s achievements by promoting them to leadership roles and providing internship opportunities for young women with stipends, recognising their contributions.
Which moments in your career would you say you’re particularly proud of?
At my previous company, I was asked whether I’d like to be a mentor. I’d never considered mentoring before, as I didn’t think I had the ability to do it. But my colleagues encouraged me, so I agreed, and I ended up supporting around 10 internship students. That made me very proud.
Also, I never really believed that I had good problem-solving abilities. However, I think in my working life I’ve faced many problems and I’ve always found a way to solve them, whatever the issue. This is something I’ve learned about myself that I’m proud of.
And then apart from my career, I’d say I’m proud of the fact that I’m the first woman in my family to get a job. I stood up for myself and said that I wanted to work in technology. I broke all the rules of my family and I think I’m playing a vital role in making it easier for upcoming generations of women in my family to pursue tech careers.
Do you have any role models at the moment and if you do, why do you look up to them?
I wouldn’t say that I have any role models. I just want to be Akila!
But there is one person who isn’t someone in tech or anything, but who I look up to.
My grandmother is the bravest person I know. Whenever I feel low or dejected, I look at what she has gone through in her life, and how she faces her breast and liver cancer with bravery. Every time I call her, she inspires me and makes me think about a problem or fear I have differently. In spite of everything, she is so cheerful and that motivates me to keep going. So, whenever I fear something or I’m nervous about doing something at work, she comes into my thoughts.
Is there one piece of advice you would give someone at the beginning of their IT career?
I remember receiving a couple of pieces of advice from an ex-manager. He used to always say “When you work, have your head in the freezer and body in the oven”. At first, I didn’t understand what he was getting at, but then I started to understand. He meant that whenever you’re trying to solve a problem, or you’re not okay with something, just stay cool. Don’t cloud your eyes with worry, just relax and the solution will come to you. Problems get doubled when you worry.
At the beginning of my IT career, I used to fear that an issue would develop that I couldn’t solve. But I kept saying to myself, “it’s not a rocket launch. Everything is fixable, so don’t worry, just go ahead.” I think that’s quite a powerful thing to have in the back of your mind, especially when you are new to the industry.
Thank you for reading our latest Women in Tech interview with Digital Workplace Analyst, Akila Suresh. You can access more interviews from the series here.
Please click here to get in touch if you are looking for talented individuals to join your tech team!
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