Want to know what happened at our Travel Tech event? Now you can, thanks to our Community Blogger Catherine Heath. You can read more posts on tech and B2B on the Away with Words blog here.
During this Hack Your Career in Travel Tech event we heard from an illustrious panel of speakers who are all at the top of their game in the travel tech industry, kindly hosted by Huckletree.
WHAT IS TRAVEL TECH?
The moderator for the panel was Annabelle Blackburn, gender expert and coder. She joked that if you take any industry and add ‘tech’ to it, it instantly becomes more interesting. This is a slightly tongue-in-cheek comment that is none the less true.
In perhaps no other area of tech - other than perhaps fintech - is the word ‘disruptive’ more applicable. Very young companies like Uber are overturning whole industries - with much controversy - to provide a better service for those needing to travel across cities. People can order their own personal taxi driver, at the click of a button (or tap of a screen!).
Skyscanner, Expedia and others have transformed the international travel industry by providing accessibility to cheap flights. We no longer need to pay the fees of travel agencies offering packages and bundles, but we can create our own ‘dream holidays’. This can be done at relatively little cost and from the comfort of our own homes.
BIG THEMES IN TRAVEL TECH
Data is the most valuable commodity in the tech industry today, with the majority of tech companies getting rich off your data. In fact, as proposed by one of the speakers companies are collecting more data now than they know what to do with.
One possible future of tech is going to involve people becoming increasingly aware of the value of their personal data, how it is being used by businesses and taking a more active stance over its market value. One consequence of increased customer insight relates to the concerns people have about invasions of privacy. Companies must take responsibility for being open and honest about the data they collect, and for what purpose.
TfL and Crossrail are both public sector organisations. This means they are charge of spending money from the public purse and in an age where information is now easily accessible, people expect to know how their money is being spent.
Populations are increasing everywhere but particularly in cities, which creates additional pressure on public services to meet demand. Transport is extremely important to voters, who want to feel that their lives will get easier as technology increases the already frantic pace at which we live.
The ‘sharing economy’, in which people directly share resources and services with each other through the medium of technology, is threatening traditional industries that have previously functioned as ‘middle men’ or property owners. This has benefits for consumers but also consequences for workers and company owners, whose livelihoods have been threatened by disruptive technologies.
Another challenge in the travel industry is cheaper travel providing easier access to once remote and tranquil locations, with increased footfall ironically destroying the ‘product’.
Travel, as both a necessity and a luxury, is at the intersection between need and profit. The perhaps virtuous circle of a technological age giving rise to the need for more technology has reached a new apex, with smart cities, smart wearables, virtual reality, driverless cars and more.
One of the key messages of the event was that it's an incredibly exciting industry, and in need of more talented people to choose it as a career.
HOW TO BREAK INTO TRAVEL TECH
The speakers had a lot of advice for women and people in general who want to break into travel tech.
Eddie Jouade, Senior Developer at Crossrail, only learnt to code when he was 21. He works with people from all sorts of fields, and argues that you don’t need to come from a technical background to work in travel tech. He is passionate about improving diversity in tech, and really keen to work with more female developers.
Ashley Finlayson from Uber studied biology at university, and when she graduated was simply looking for a company where she could make a difference. Uber provides a simple solution to the problem of finding a taxi in a busy city - connecting drivers with riders at the click of a button. To kickstart your career, she says you need to help other people and gain valuable experience for yourself.
Denise Jones from Expedia has a history at Microsoft but says she ‘fell backwards’ into tech, after working in unrelated fields at a wireless company. Denise advises that if you are serious about pursuing a career in travel tech, then you should start telling people where exactly you want to go (excuse the pun!). By actively speaking your aspirations aloud, you are creating accountability and drawing the right people and experiences towards you.
David Lowe from Skyscanner used to be an accountant and is now Developer Advocate at Skyscanner, a role that was popularised by Google. He improves their products and finds other companies to partner with. Skyscanner actively releases its data about customers and their travel preferences to startups creating products and services in the travel industry, so don’t be shy about getting in touch!
A guest blog from our Community Blogger Catherine Heath. Originally posted on her personal blog Away with Words here.
I went to a screening at the Guardian offices in King’s Cross of CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap, a crowd-funded film released in 2015, directed by Robin Hauser Reynolds. This film laments the state of female software engineers in tech in the United States today, where computer science is not part of the national curriculum (although it is in the UK). It is also a celebration of those successful women already proudly leading the way in tech, and a manifesto outlining what we need to do.
It featured some of the most prominent women in tech today, but the resounding message was that there are not enough. The number of women majoring in computer science peaked in the 80s, with a gender split of almost 50:50, but numbers have been steadily declining ever since. Today, only 17% of computer science graduates are female, despite women holding 57% of all college degrees. And all this in a climate of a tech skills shortage – something needs to be done.
INNATE GENDER DIFFERENCES?
Even as films like CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap are raising awareness, stimulating conversations and making inroads to increased diversity in the tech industry, others still refuse to admit there is a problem.
The opening scenes of the film show a class of children who are asked to describe their idea of a computer scientist. Each one claimed they believed the scientist would be male.
Strong opinions still abound on the innate genetic differences between men and women, resulting in cultural stereotypes like women not being as ‘adventurous’, ‘technical’ or ‘hard-working’ as men. Some even go so far as to insist that women just aren’t ‘naturally’ drawn to technical subjects like software engineering. One of the reasons given for the lack of gender diversity in tech is that women have simply ‘chosen’ not to pursue those careers because they are ‘too hard’.
There can be a suggestion that your gender predisposes you to certain traits, but research shows that just because something is ‘innate’ does not mean it is not influenced by experience. According to neurologists, the human brain has equal potential across genders, and life experience is the greater determinant of ability – rather than genes.
WHAT WE CAN DO
The modern world is a technological one and code is in almost everything we interact with. The importance of everyone learning technical skills is critical, like learning to read and write.
We also need more women who are changing the course of history – the female Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates.
Women and other underrepresented groups need to become better represented in the tech industry to benefit all members of society. To achieve these goals, we must remove the barriers that are stopping girls from pursuing careers in tech.
OVERCOMING THE PROBLEMS
Many women in the film shared their experiences of subtle discouragement from friends and family when pursuing their computer science degrees, and others reported more open displays of hostility and aggression from professors and colleagues. Director of Photography at Pixar Danielle Feinberg talks about being the only woman in her computer science class, while the other male students refused to let her join their study groups – this was at college level.
Though totally on her own, Danielle’s unquenchable enthusiasm for coding – and, eventually, animation – led her to where she is today. She now gives inspiring talks to young female students, and says, “Role models are hugely important.” With this in mind, lots of amazing female-oriented initiatives were showcased in the film. They are aimed at improving diversity in the tech industry.
For example, Goldieblox is a toy company founded by Debbie Sterling, and creates awesome toys, games and entertainment for girls, designed to develop early interest in engineering and confidence in problem-solving. Goldieblox has gone from crowdfunded prototype on Kickstarter with more than $1m of pre-orders, to now being stocked by retail giants Toys ‘R’ Us and Amazon. Many amazing coding groups were also mentioned, including Black Girls Code, Code for Progress, and Kodable.
Men and women in the audience were both affected by the issues it raised. There was laughter and also palpable disapproval, as it raised some difficult issues. Women still face hostile behaviour in the workplace, or are singled out in their computer science classes for being female. Even if they do manage to forge successful careers in tech, hostility and subtle dismissive attitudes make the journey even harder.
The film is gaining traction and features in upcoming London Technology Week. It provides a focal point, telling the story of the struggles women are facing as they try to build their careers in the tech industry.
The problem is real, and it won’t away until we consistently do something about it. If you haven’t watched the film already, do it now. Some parts may make you feel angry but, male or female, you will also feel motivated to effect real change.
This film was a call-to-arms for everyone. Women must learn not only to consume technology – but to produce and create as well.
This is the mission of Code First: Girls, who teach coding classes for women all around the UK. Find out more about how to get involved.
Code First: Girls