A software engineering leader at one of Ireland’s fast-growing start-ups, Andrea Graham tells us about her career and the top skills she has learned along the way.
Recent data from LinkedIn and the World Economic Forum (WEF) highlights that women are underrepresented at leadership levels.
The data suggests that just 24pc of C-suite positions are held by women in Ireland. Globally, the data also highlighted gender gaps in specific industries, with women making up 32pc of software and IT services positions, but only 24pc of leadership roles within this sector.
One senior leader who seeks to amplify women’s representation in tech is Andrea Graham, senior software engineering director at Workvivo. This Cork-based start-up is developing software for employee communications.
After working at Dell EMC as a software engineer, Graham joined Workvivo as one of the early product team hires. She began as a senior software engineer and team lead and progressed up to her current director role.
‘If something’s not working, we change and adapt’
– ANDREA GRAHAM
She told SiliconRepublic.com that she fell in love with software development when she did her degree in business information systems at University College Cork before starting her role at Dell EMC.
“It was a great place to help me grow both professionally as an engineer and personally with fantastic employee resource groups and opportunities.”
In the early days of Workvivo, Graham spent a lot of her time doing software development. Now as a director, her days are spent leading her team and pivoting to their needs and the needs of the business.
Graham also has a MBA from Munster Technological University, which she said has given her a “fundamental understanding of how to think and operate strategically”.
“We’ve a phenomenal team and the priority for me is ensuring that they and all engineering activities operate efficiently and effectively. I lead and am responsible for the software development and software quality assurance teams and am heavily involved in the direction of the product working closely with our CEO, CTO and director of product,” she said.
In 2020, Workvivo announced 100 new jobs for its headquarters in Cork, having secured €14.7m in Series A funding earlier that year. And just last month, it raised a further €20.8m to fuel the next stage of its journey and continue developing its platform.
The company now has 300 customer organisations in more than 90 countries, with clients including Amazon, VMware, Cubic Telcom, Bupa and Netgear.
Graham said because the company is growing quickly, it’s vital to have a strong focus on strategy and ensure the team can achieve its goals.
“My role is a mix of strategic and operational. We obsess over our customers and delighting them with every feature we deliver. If something’s not working, we change and adapt. We have over a million users on our platform and work with some of the world’s largest brands, and so it’s crucial that we deliver great new features while ensuring platform stability.”
Diversity in tech
While the recent data on the leadership gender gap in Ireland and around the world is stark, Graham said she has been “very fortunate” at both Workvivo and Dell EMC.
“The industry is quite a distance from a 50/50 gender split, particularly in software engineering, however I do believe this is changing,” she said.
“For me, the biggest challenge is exposure and encouragement at the early education years. I’m a big advocate for women in tech and have been involved in great initiatives such as CoderDojo, STEM Aspire and IWish exposing and encouraging students at primary, secondary and third level into STEM. There are so many fantastic career opportunities in tech and it’s important to get the word out there and spread awareness.”
Beyond gender diversity, Graham is also extremely passionate about accessibility, especially when it comes to building products for workers around the world.
“For us, it’s critical to ensure every employee can feel the positive impact of Workvivo regardless of differences in abilities. The Workvivo platform can be comfortably navigated with screen readers and via keyboard. We develop all our features with industry standard WCAG 2.1 AA guidelines in mind.”
As a director working in the tech industry, Graham could be seen as a strong role model for women in tech. But while she was climbing her own career ladder, she said there were plenty of people along the way who had a positive impact on her.
“My dad always encourages me and has a great ‘why not give it a go’ attitude when it comes to trying anything new,” she said.
“I’m learning from my amazing colleagues every day, but in particular our co-founder Joe Lennon has been an incredible supporter of mine. I first met Joe while studying business information systems and was in awe of his successes.
‘No need for a blame culture. Make sure to celebrate the team successes too’
– ANDREA GRAHAM
“From an engineering perspective, Joe taught me how to really break down the barriers and that there’s always a way to accomplish something – you just keep trying. In a general sense, he’s always encouraged me to shoot for the stars with my aspirations.”
Now that she is a senior leader in tech, Graham has her own takeaways that she has learned. It starts with advocating for teamwork.
“We have a very strong team ethos of ‘we’re all in it together’. We pull together when we need to and if something goes wrong, we’re open, we’ll fix it and we’ll work together to figure out how to avoid it happening again next time. No need for a blame culture. Make sure to celebrate the team successes too!”
She also said that trusting the people you work with and giving them autonomy is important. “Listening to what people really have to say is also key. It’s important to build good relationships with your colleagues to facilitate an environment where they feel comfortable sharing with you.”
For budding software engineers just starting out, she advised learning as much as possible and that working in a SaaS environment is a good place to start.
“There’s great excitement and it will equip you with the skills to work anywhere. There’s always a way to do something, no need to reinvent the wheel – Stack Overflow is your friend!”
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