People come into the technology space in different ways – while some are inspired from a young age by others in the field or by the technology they use, it’s also not uncommon for women to claim they have “fallen into” their tech career completely by accident.
Somewhat uniquely, Suki Fuller, intelligence advisor and fellow at Miribure, and this year’s Computer Weekly Most Influential Woman in UK Tech, can trace the inspiration for her career back to her mother’s book collection.
“I had a crazy, intense love of crime dramas and Agatha Christie. I had this thing about Poirot. I was always reading Agatha Christie books when I shouldn’t have been,” she says.
“My mum has this insane book collection, so when I was a kid, I would just read anything and everything I could get my hands on.”
Fuller says solving the puzzles in these books by analysing how each clue fits together was always “[her] thing”, and eventually Fuller started to see herself as a “storyteller”.
Telling the story of data
Much like the detective novels she used to love, Fuller says her current role is about “connecting dots” to create the full picture, which can then be used to make reliable decisions. She calls it telling the story of data.
“It’s not just about numbers. It’s not zeros and ones,” she says. “It’s also about people. It’s also about environment and culture, and all the aspects that go into being a human, 360 degrees, everything. And it’s about connecting all of those pieces of information, putting it together, and helping a decision-maker or a stakeholder understand how it can impact what they want to do.”
Part of this is presenting what can be quite complicated technology in a way that’s simple to understand, usually leading to much better outcomes, especially when it comes to the field of security intelligence.
“Don’t let anybody ever tell you you can’t do something. You’ll never know if you don’t try. You have to try at least once”
Suki Fuller, Miribure
The temptation to over-complicate technology is one of the reasons many women do not choose to go into technology. Many young girls avoid science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects because they consider them “too hard” and women have claimed to have found parts of their tech roles too complex.
The catch here, as pointed out by Fuller, is that technology is in everything in some shape or form, and it always has been. We’re just always so focused on the next iteration of technology that we forget when certain technology was new.
Tech is ever-present
Outlining the stages of her career, Fuller says technology has been a consistent and ever-present element.
Her role as a metal finisher involved heavy machinery and technology, working in a chemistry lab involved technology, making microchips is developing the parts that run technology, and even the library she loves so much uses an index-based system not unlike those used in computing.
“[Computers] used to use cards – we’ve seen in movies like Hidden Figures that used cards and had to use people to feed the card information into the machine. Go to the library, it’s basically the same thing. You’re indexing, you’re taking the information out of what somebody else indexed – that’s a form of technology, but it’s just not ‘artificial’ technology. [It’s] human brain technology, we just don’t call it technology.”
Suki Fuller, Miribure
Every generation has experienced the introduction of new technologies in their lifetime, many of which are now commonplace in society.
Fuller points out that learning to integrate technology into everyday life has been consistent for each generation. For some, technology has existed their whole lives, while other technology will come into play later – this could be said about telegrams, telephones, televisions, most things that are commonplace today.
“If you look at young kids now, they recognise that technology’s in everything. They don’t consider, and they have never had to consider, the world without technology. For them, it’s just a part of their day, a part of their life, like breathing,” she says.
Keeping pace with tech innovation
Many complain that the current education system does not match the pace of technological change, leaving people without the skills needed for modern job roles, but Fuller claims that while there will be changes to education to match what industry needs, “technology is always going to move faster than the rest of society, because that’s the way technology functions”.
She also says there will always be instances where technology is used for something other than what it was intended. “While we will be going, ‘Oh, we need to educate kids on knowing how to do XYZ’, there will be somebody out there going, ‘You can educate them on how to do XYZ, but we’re going to do G’,” she says.
“I think education is the biggest thing, [and not just for] young people. It’s about educating those that are older too, because there’s knowledge that’s held by a lot of people that build and design technology that they don’t share with other people because they consider that their competitive advantage. But [what they don’t realise is] that by shutting out the rest of the people and not sharing, they’ve made it inherently worse for everybody, not just their competitors.”
Fuller’s role as an intelligence analyst makes spotting patterns her speciality, and when it comes to the development of technology, she’s noticed a “gatekeeping” nature, usually as an excuse to prevent people from using technology in an unethical way.
But using technology in a way it wasn’t intended is not always bad.
Many technologies have been developed for one use and lent themselves to other uses later on, though it seems many technologies are initially developed for corporate benefit.
Fuller cites Google Glass as an example. While it was being pitched as a “cool gadget”, she saw it as a potential tool for people with vision impairment.
“‘How is this going to help people?’ seems like it should be the primary thought [when developing new tech], but it’s usually the secondary thought,” she laments.
Other examples she gives, such as why Dolby is focused on cinema sound and not on helping the hard of hearing, highlights how thinking differently can be beneficial to the design and development of technology.
Even between the young and the old, there’s a difference in the view and use of technology. “Young people know how to use technology in a way that a lot of older people haven’t even considered. And it’s not all bad, it’s just different. Because their brains function differently, the way they process information will be different, because they haven’t had to think about it without the technology. For them, it’s just part of their life.”
Try at least once
There are many reasons Fuller struggled to process her Most Influential Woman in UK Tech win – not only because being in the intelligence field, her work happens behind the scenes rather than in the public eye, but also because she believes being a woman in tech is “not a career”.
Women in other sectors don’t need to point out they’re women, for example. Fuller says you don’t hear people declare they are a “woman in finance”, but until diversity exists in the technology sector, groups focused on women in tech need to exist.
“[At] every single event, I always say being a woman is not a career. [Women in tech groups] exist to support you in what you do. What you do is your career. This group of women in tech, we are here to support you to be the best you can be in what you’re doing.”
Imposter syndrome also plays a role, with Fuller expressing her shock by saying “no” nearing on 10 times when told she had won the title of Computer Weekly’s 2023 Most Influential Woman in UK Tech – even after being announced as a Rising Star in 2018 and appearing in the top 10 for two years in a row prior to this win.
“Don’t let anybody ever tell you you can’t do something. You know, that whole mantra, ‘if you try, try, try again’ – it may not be the way you want to get someplace, it may not be the way you thought you were going to get someplace, but ultimately, you might have everything against you, but if you don’t at least try, you’ll never know. You’ll never know if you don’t try. You have to try at least once.”