TechSPARK has teamed up with Manchester Digital to deliver you Digital Her, a project from the Institute of Coding. We want to showcase talented women and non-binary people from across the entire tech and digital sector who are doing amazing work in the South West.

The objective is to create a platform of role models for young women and non-binary people to encourage and inform anyone who may have been dissuaded away from tech, about the opportunities in our region. Through talking to a range of individuals with various roles and experiences, we will be highlighting the various available career paths, whilst reaching out to people who didn’t know there was a perfect role in tech for them.

This week we have Human Rights Centred User Experience and Product Designer, Eriol Fox, talking us through their journey, experience, and thoughts on working in tech. For the full interview, please check out the video below!

First of all, we spoke about Eriol’s current role and the skills they use the most to fulfill this. They tell us, “I am a design lead at an organisation called the Open Food Network where we make an open-source software tool about and for people that want to build up a local or shorter food supply chain.

“I have been a designer for 10 years, and always within some kind of tech capacity. So I’ve either been working on a tech product from websites to apps, to user experience, conducting research, and everything in between.

“More than anything I use a lot of research, discovery, and investigation skills. More than you’d expect a designer or a techie person to use because I sit on an intersection, having mostly been an in-house designer.”

Breaking into new possibilities

But it took some time for Eriol to realise there was a future in tech and digital for them. They tell us, “I did quote, unquote, badly in school.

“When I was growing up in the late 90s and early 2000s, it felt like there was a huge emphasis on grades and assessments that you receive rather than your own growth and learning. I’ve definitely done a 180 – your school grades are not a measurement of your future success!”

Eriol tells us they started to get encouragement to pursue a more creative line of study which opened them up to the possibility of higher education and resulting them to take a degree in Fine Art.

The leap from art to tech for Eriol is largely thanks to video games. This acted as a gateway for Eriol, introducing them to the power and possibility of tech. After a series of opportunities arose, firstly through a university career advisor that connected Eriol to the digital design world, they realised there was the possibility to make a real career out of design.

They tell us about their first piece of paid design work, which Eriol did in collaboration with a local community development project. They say, “I designed a map with the community and it printed 3000 copies to sent out to every house in the location. It was also printed on graffiti proof aluminum and it’s permanent signage now in that area. So whenever I do go back and visit that local area, I’m able to look and think, ‘This is where I started, I designed that’.” 

Highs and lows

Throughout their career, Eriol has been fortunate to work on some super exciting humanitarian projects, but one particularly stands out “One of the best examples is the work that I did for the humanitarian tech company that was based in Kenya.

“I was able to work on a technology project which genuinely saved lives. You know, I couldn’t exactly say that is the button on this tool that saved a life, but knowing that I was contributing to something that was giving a net positive to the world was definitely a moment that, and continues to be a recurring moment that, enables me to work through the difficult parts of being in tech.”

Eriol highlights that they are many challenges to work in tech, such as the tendency to “always feel like you are playing catch up.” They add, “Imposter syndrome will just be a constant problem at the heart of being in tech.”

In addition, a prominent issue within the sector is boosting inclusion in an intentional, meaningful way. Eriol continues, “marginalised genders, marginalised ethnicities, and all the different kinds of ways that you can be marginalised within an industry, are still struggling to find a rightful respectful place in the sector.”

Making space

Although tech has more work to do when it comes to representation, there is need, demand, and space for a more diverse workforce.

Eriol emphasises how much they welcome the opportunity tech can give young people. They say, “I think one of the reasons that I’m so invested & interested in technology is that it presents the opportunity to reshape the future, and to shape it in an ethical, diverse, inclusive way.”

We asked Eriol’s advice for those looking to start their career in tech, and they told us: “I think one of the best pieces of advice I learned is to be specific in what you’re after when approaching a mentor.

“I get a lot of messages saying ‘I want to get into tech’ which is difficult to respond to due to its vagueness. The better thing that you can do is say, hey, Eriol, I’m really interested in working with open source software, or something along those lines. Then you can ask, where do you think I should start? That way, if it’s not my background, I can find someone else to contact because I might know somebody who can actually mentor you. The more specific you can be the better.”

To hear more from Eriol, please watch our video interview here!

Thanks so much to Eriol for taking the time to talk to us and for such a great, informative interview. To keep up with their thoughts and ideas, give them a follow on Twitter: @EriolDoesDesign!