Women in tech - Sarah Friswell, COO

Red Ant, 19th November 2018

Leading women at Red Ant tell their stories and share their advice - Sarah Friswell, COO: ‘Progression is based on talent alone and we are always looking for the best person for the job rather than following strict criteria on who candidates are and their previous experience.’

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‘Progression is based on talent alone and we are always looking for the best person for the job rather than following strict criteria on who candidates are and their previous experience.’

Background

After university I worked as an Account Manager at a CRM house, which unlocked my love of organising projects and helping clients.  I followed the client relationship ladder all the way to the digital landscape in Dubai where I ran the regional accounts for both IBM and Volvo, then returned to the UK in search of a company I could call home and develop within. Red Ant allows me to bring together my practical experience of networked and independent agencies, and this year I was able to work while studying for my MBA to help the business continue to advance in our approach to technology process and culture.

Role

I have oversight over all elements of the business day to day.  My role is extremely varied and includes everything from heading up our talent selection to the nitty gritty of resource planning.  Whatever area the board is reviewing, we always ensure that we are listening to feedback and measuring past experiences. 

We challenge ourselves as a leadership team to continue the momentum of improving our processes from the problem solving tasks we present to engineers at interview to reviewing our estimation practices when sprint planning. A good example of this is the progression of our talent search and onboarding process during 2017. 

Our main aim was to ensure that we were giving potential candidates as much information as possible to help them make an informed decision about considering life at Red Ant. This meant a complete overhaul of the interview process, the questions we asked and the information we provided at initial engagement right up to starting on their first day.

We made sure that this openness was reflected in our interview format, adapting our second round to include a wider demographic from the team, set up as a ‘blind’ interview so the team from Red Ant only knows the candidate’s first name.  This keeps us focused on team chemistry rather than a CV review, with the aim of tackling the unconscious biases we all have.  These enhancements have been met with positive results and allow potential candidates and our own team to get to know each other both personally and professionally before they walk through the door on the first day.  

Greatest/most significant professional achievement

Becoming the first COO at Red Ant - previously the responsibilities had been split between commercial and tech Directors within the business, but as I progressed through the various roles within Red Ant I started to take on the traditional remits of a COO, shaping the role to reflect what works for Red Ant.  Based on my own experience at Red Ant, I can say that progression is based on talent alone and we are always looking for the best person for the job rather than following strict criteria on who candidates are and their previous experience.

One piece of advice for women in tech

STEM skills matter and we should be encouraging young women to embrace them, but it’s also important to remember that the tech industry needs lots of other skills at the table to run a successful team.  My main piece of advice would be don’t be put off by not being technical - having an inquisitive mind will also serve you well.  Apart from the code itself, most concepts or solutions can be explained by a diagram.  Live for a diagram - it distils everything into something that visually represents your approach and means there’s less chance of getting lost in jargon or misunderstanding between an Engineer and QA.  And keep asking questions - you are probably thinking the same as others around the table.