To mark International Women’s Day, we interviewed Patricia Haynes, Zopa’s VP of engineering and most senior woman in tech. She talks about how she established her career, why diversity has such an important role to play in tech and what we can do to foster an environment where women’s voices are heard
Tell us about your role at Zopa.
I’m VP of engineering at Zopa. I joined at the beginning of 2020 and I’m responsible for all of our Engineering, Data Services and QA expertise.
On her career…
Why did you choose a career in tech?
Curiosity. When I was young, I was always taking things apart with a screwdriver and putting them back together. A curious mind leads you towards tech.
But choosing it as a career was gradual. Everyone thinks you should have a career path mapped out, but at each stage I looked around and said ‘what do I want to do next?’. And so it evolved over time.
So how did your career evolve?
I started out with an ad management system in the early days of the internet as a technical administrator of a product that put ads on to websites. I began with the frontend admin and then changed my focus to the code at the backend. It was really early days and they didn’t have many developers.
From there, I increasingly leaned towards the technical side, and moved into technical project management, at the time a heady mix of development, data management and product ownership.
Is there a moment you consider your ‘big break’?
I was at a large company that was moving operations online at a time when there was no formal testing and little in the way of release control. This was back in the days where any developer could make updates directly to important operational systems or supporting websites without any approval process, not even a second pair of eyes.
Looking back that makes me feel a bit queasy… Developers could literally open up and update the code and then push a button to put it live. Until, of course, that went horribly wrong a few times and we brought in a review, testing and release process.
I was the first person to head up quality at that company. I created a team, established the testing and release management practices and introduced agile ways of working.
What project has made you proudest?
I left a company a few years ago and the devs called me 6 months later and told me they’d completed the launch of ‘The Project Everyone Told Us Couldn’t Be Launched’ and named it after me for the support I’d given them.
When I spoke to them about it, they said they hadn’t fully understood what I’d done while I was there, but when I left they realised what I’d been keeping out of their way so they could do their jobs. Often the most important part of my role is to make sure other people are able to do theirs.
And now you’re at Zopa. What is it that excites you here?
It’s a successful company already, but we’ve still got a lot to build. I’ve been here for a year and we’ve launched a bank, savings, a new investors platform and a credit card, reacted to Covid and we’re constantly releasing new features in our existing products.
And there’s still so much more to do, which is interesting. We’re at the forefront of changing the way people think about banks and how banks think about their customers.
A big bonus for me was arriving at Zopa and several weeks in realising the conversation about putting the customer first was all genuine – not just blurb to get people in the door.
On being a woman in tech…
Why are women so important in tech?
Tech has a built-in case for Diversity and Inclusion in all its guises – different perspectives adds genuine business value. It’s a better reflection of what our customers would see. If you only ask one group of people the same question, you’ll get the same answers. You need to diversify that group to get more diversity into your data and ways of working, which then feeds into better product outcomes.
Any notable women you encountered in your career? How did they inspire you?
There just weren’t many around! Even just a few years ago, I was in a meeting room in Chicago, sat at a long table of 15 people and they were all male. Then someone asked the question of how we could get more women into the tech team, and 14 heads swivelled round to look at me…
How did you establish yourself in that sort of environment?
When you’re a minority of 1 in a room of 15 people, remember that your voice matters and try not to feel intimidated.
I don’t like the ’them and us’ attitude. I was never up against my male colleagues – there are always allies, and you will find most of those 14 men are your allies and will listen and support. We don’t need to push anyone out of the way to make our voices heard – it’s about having the confidence that what you have to say matters equally and building strong supportive relationships. It’s not about being the loudest person in the room.
On building the future…
What’s your advice for women who are coming up against this now?
Find allies - both male and female. Imposter syndrome is huge, but you won’t be the only person having those thoughts. Share them with other people. Find out what support is available from your peers.
I really enjoyed Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. I think it’s brilliant that someone like her has got to such a senior role and is happy to talk about her misgivings about own performance or her nerves, about feeling like she didn’t deserve to be at the table. Having someone like her tell her story is great for understanding that it’s not you that feels that way.
How do we need to challenge sexist behaviour as an industry?
By challenging bad habits and negative attitudes when we see them. By building an environment that gives everyone the opportunity to speak. At Zopa, our system of tribes and squads works well. It means everyone is an equal and well-respected member of their team. Creating an environment where everyone is encouraged to step up equally gives people the opportunity to find their voice.
What would you say to women considering tech as a career?
There’s a lot more opportunity now, join us! There are different ways of getting into tech, there are courses even if you haven’t been to uni and gained a technical degree. You can come back into the workforce after time out or you can go in a different direction. You don’t have to follow one path.
What are you doing to try to get more woman in tech?
My main concern is that we have to look for opportunities much earlier on. By the time we get to post-uni the funnel is already too small, so I’m looking for opportunities to reach out to girls at school age.
And the great thing is that technology is prevalent now – everyone has an iPhone. Kids understand tech a lot more. The conversations my teenage daughter and her friends have around tech – I wouldn’t have had at her age. They don’t realise they’re talking about it half the time. It’s just there.