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Spotlight Series: Dionne Condor-Farrell, Application Development Manager, TfL

Dionne Condor-Farrell

ARTICLE SUMMARY

Dionne Condor-Farrell, a seasoned Leader, Agile Development Lead & Senior Developer, shares her tech journey and the vital shift from coding to empowering others. Discover her insights on overcoming insecurities and thriving in the tech industry. Gain valuable advice for women seeking success in technology. Dive in now!

Dionne Condor-Farrell is an award winning Leader, Agile Development Lead & Senior Developer, Tech Coach, Mentor, and Public Speaker, who is passionate about improving diversity in tech.

She has experience of developing a variety of bespoke Java web applications, Java API services and mobile apps for the Public Transport, Education and Employment Services sectors, and has been working in the technology industry for over 20 years.  

How did you land your current role? Was it planned?

My current role as an Application Development Manager was not exactly planned.  I love to code so I had every intention of being an Senior Android developer for a long time once I moved into the TfL Go development team (a new in-house mobile development team) after pivoting from backend development in 2018.  Mobile  development gave me the best of both worlds, working on something that challenges my coding and problem solving skills, and also allowing me to develop something visually pleasing and likely to make a difference to a lot of people in the public. 

However, other people recognised that I was also good at encouraging, mentoring, supporting and inspiring other people with their career development.  I had previously mentored 5 people from outside of my tech department and managed to help 3 of them get opportunities in the tech space, so already had relatable experience that I could demonstrate. 

I reluctantly stepped up as an Agile Development Lead in 2021 to lead the mobile development team and jumped in head first into line management and juggled the previous senior developer role for a few months.  As much as I found the transition from developing code to developing people a stock to the system, I was glad I made the move once I realised the impact I could have on helping someone see the potential in themselves and progress their career.

I reluctantly moved into my current role in 2022 to focus on delivering the Software Development Apprentice and Graduate schemes, while unfortunately juggling my old Agile Development Lead role at the same time.  As much as I missed coding, I also realised I needed to be in a higher level role to have a bigger influence over recruiting entry level employees from diverse backgrounds and helping them to develop their careers to become professional software developers within 2 years.

I am proud to witness my first cohort of graduates about to roll off the scheme and be promoted into permanent developer roles.

What are the key roles in your field of work, and why did you choose your current Expertise?

In the world of tech, there’s a vast array of roles and specialties, each playing a unique part in shaping the digital landscape.

My journey has taken me through a few of these roles, each contributing to my current expertise.

I began as a Backend Java Developer, working on business-critical applications for a variety of organisations. These roles taught me the foundations of software development and the importance of robust, efficient systems.

Much later in my career I transitioned into mobile app development, specifically focused on the Android platform development of a travel planning app.  The ability to create tangible, user-friendly experiences was incredibly rewarding.  There was a specific emphasis on accessibility and having features that catered for different abilities.  Getting involved in observing user research groups and how they interact with new potential features in the app was particularly useful, and helped me to keep a customer focused  view during the app development. 

After 3 years in this role, I am stepping up to lead the team of Android and iOS developers.

Now, as an Application Development Manager, my focus has shifted to nurturing talent and overseeing software development apprentices and graduates schemes.  I’ve chosen this path because I’m passionate about empowering women and underrepresented groups to find their footing in tech, and encourage the hiring and development of more diverse teams.  It was clear I need to be in a leadership role to have a level of influence on some of the decisions and policies around this.

Beyond my core responsibilities in my role as an Application Development Manager, I am privileged to also contribute to the strategic direction and growth of our organisation as a member of the Technology Development Department’s Senior Management Team Board.

My journey has shown me that diversity in tech is not just a buzzword; it’s a necessity.

By managing these programs, I can make a meaningful impact on the industry’s future.  So, while my journey has evolved, it’s all been a part of the larger story of finding my place in tech, fostering diversity, and contributing to meaningful, user-centric software experiences. It’s a journey that’s far from over, and that’s what makes it so exciting.

Did you (or do you) have a role model in tech or business in general?

In the early stages of my career I did not have any role models in tech, as I didn’t really know of many women doing hands-on tech roles like me.  A number of role models appeared once I got involved in the tech community in London in around 20214.

In particular there was a lady called Trish Gee who really inspired me to invest more time in keeping my skills up to date when I was a Senior Developer, and also piqued my interest in public speaking skills. 

A lady called Adiba Maduegbuna inspired me to be serious about learning to become an Android Developer after meeting at a networking event in 2017.

A man called David Mcqueen, got me out of my comfort zone and inspired in me the importance of using my voice to make a difference for other people.  If it wasn’t for him I would not have started speaking professionally all those years ago.

In recent years I’ve been lucky enough to have a Sponsor (Jim Wood – Director of IT Services at London Legacy Development Corporation) who actually cares about diversity and inclusion in Leadership, and he encouraged me to seriously consider applying for a leadership role in tech, after my years as a software developer.  This is something I did not want to do at first as I loved to code everyday, but when I realised I needed to be in a role that has more influence to achieve my agenda of getting my underrepresented groups into tech, it was important I stepped up. If it wasn’t for Jim I would have never have entertained a role in leadership.

What are you most proud of in your career, so far?

Pivoting my career to mobile development through self learning and personal projects and becoming the first Android developer on TfL Go app.  The app has now grown to a user base of nearly 4 million. 

I am also proud of taking on the challenge of stepping up to lead the large team of mobile developers and helping them to develop their careers.  This resulted in 4 of the developers getting promoted within 18 months of me leading the team, as well as opening up opportunities for other people outside of the team to gain experience in the mobile space. 

Also taking on the leadership for delivering the software development apprenticeship and graduate schemes at my organisation and created opportunities for them to experience development and collaboration in real teams in a safe and supportive environment.

Most recently I am proud of what I have achieved outside of my day job as a Tech Career Coach.  In February 2022 I launched a company called Techfidence to deliver a tech career coaching programme for women who want to build inner confidence to make a career into tech, after meeting a number of women over the years who wanted to get into tech but didn’t know where to start or did not have confidence in themselves to achieve it. 

The programme helps them get clarity on their goals, making sure it is their goals and not something imposed on them, identifying limiting beliefs and what is holding them back, helping them to identify valuable transferable skills and match with tech roles that meet their values and personality, helping them to develop a realistic action plan in a realistic timeframe, and most importantly keeping them accountable on their journey. 

My most recent client made the transition into tech from a high school teacher to an associate solutions architect within 5 months of completing the programme, and managed to increase her salary by £50,000, which has changed her family’s life.  These kinds of career transitions bring me a lot of satisfaction.

What does an average work day look like for you?

Every day is different at the moment as I’m juggling two roles.  I’ll spend my morning with one of the development teams I manage in group meetings and get up to date with what they are working on and what issues or challenges they may be facing and try to unblock them or connect them with someone who might be able to help.

I may attend a senior management team board meeting to discuss the strategic plans or changes to the department to improve the environment for our employees.

I may also jump on a call with our external 3rd party supplier for the apprenticeship scheme to discuss the progress of our apprentices working on their portfolios

The rest of my day will be in meetings with the mobile developers and/or apprentices and graduates on a one to one basis, understanding their career aspirations, what they want to gain experience in and what issues they are currently facing stopping them from achieving their goal. 

I’ll take that information and start looking for opportunities in the department that can help my team to develop additional skills and help them grow.  I spend a lot of my time negotiating with other leaders in the department to support my plans of developing a new cohort of apprentices and graduates for success.

If there is time I may review some code that the mobile developers have submitted to keep my interest in coding and also to have an understanding of how the code base and architecture is changing.

In the evening I’ll be either attending an in-person or networking event with link minded, coaching a client or creating tech career related content for Linkedin to provide value and raise awareness of my coaching business.

Overall it can be a very varied and challenging day with lots of interaction with people from all backgrounds and technical abilities.

Are there any specific skills or traits that you notice companies look for when you’re searching for roles in your field?

With the tech industry being very dynamic, companies are not just looking for candidates with a specific set of technical skills; they are seeking individuals who bring a holistic skill set to the table.

Gone are the days where you can just be a siloed techie and just sit at your desk, put your headphones on and code away in silence. 

Soft skills are just as important as technical skills.  

Communication and interpersonal skills are so important to the success of a product and development team. The ability to convey technical ideas in a clear, accessible manner is highly valued. Tech professionals must collaborate with non-technical stakeholders, making effective communication a skill in high demand.

Adaptability and a love for learning are paramount. Tech is constantly evolving, and companies value professionals who can pivot and upskill as needed.

Another key skill is problem-solving.  Tech roles often involve tackling complex issues and finding innovative solutions. Companies seek candidates who can think critically, approach challenges with creativity, and collaborate effectively with cross-functional teams.  Having a customer focus is also key.

Inclusivity and diversity are and should be also at the forefront of many companies’ priorities. Being able to work in diverse teams and foster an inclusive environment is a skill that’s highly regarded in today’s tech landscape.

Ultimately, companies are looking for well-rounded individuals who bring a combination of technical expertise, problem-solving acumen, adaptability, and strong communication skills and a customer focus to the table. These skills are what enable professionals to thrive in the ever changing  tech world.   

Has anyone ever tried to stop you from learning and developing in your professional life, or have you found the tech sector supportive?

In all honesty my tech career has been a bit of a roller coaster with people positively supporting me and my achievements, and some just not wanting to at all.  I remember early on in my career when I was self-studying to become a Java Developer and studying out of a book in my one hour lunch break.  A male colleague decided to interrupt and ask what I was doing.  I shared that I was learning Java.  He decided to share his opinion that I would be wasting my time because I’d be crap and that I shouldn’t bother.  I found that really hurtful and upsetting.  Luckily I had some other very supportive comments who encouraged me to ignore and continue dedicating myself to my goal.  Thankfully I didn’t listen to that naysayer and I successfully completed the Professional Java certification I was going for and became a successful developer and proved him wrong.

I have had a few very supportive and encouraging managers recently who have supported my career aspirations, which has been great, but I have also had a few encounters with other people in the past who wanted to sabotage my career journey with their negativity for whatever reason.  I decided long ago that it is their issue not mine, so I don’t need to waste much energy on what other people think about what I am doing with my career, and I should push on regardless.

The tech community has generally been very supportive, and I have met some great people over the years who have encouraged me to explore different avenues of tech. 

Tech community events and workshops were pretty more in-person before the pandemic, but during lockdown we had to adapt to networking in the tech community through online chats and events.  This opened me up to a larger pool of people and I was grateful to meet some very friendly people

Have you ever faced insecurities and anxieties during your career, and how did you overcome them?

I have suffered with insecurities and anxieties at many points in my career. Some of it due to negativity from other people, some of it due to imposter syndrome and second guessing my own abilities. 

But one thing that has kept me going is the desire to improve my life and the lives of others.  Thinking of personal projects on topics that I’m really passionate about or I will find useful or have really helped to keep me motivated and interested.  I’ve also done a lot of work on self development and building a stronger mindset, which I think is something that is lacking in focus in a lot of tech initiatives and education out there.

I’ve got to the point where I realised if I don’t believe in myself how can I expect others to believe in me.  Positive affirmations and journaling have been a big help with this, as well as documenting some of my journey and celebrating my successes, no matter how small.

Entering the world of work can be daunting. Do you have any words of advice for anyone feeling overwhelmed?

Entering the tech world can be daunting, but it’s an opportunity for growth.  Remember the fact that you don’t need to know everything from day one. 

Embrace continuous learning and also set realistic goals to track your progress.

Seek feedback, and prioritise self-care to avoid burnout. Literally build events that you look forward to into your calendar and work around them not the other way round.  Building a support network of people at a similar stage of their career as you and mentors can help you feel like you’re not alone. 

Remember that failure is part of the learning process, and it is better to have tried and failed than to have not tried at all and live with regret.  You will encounter many setbacks during your career, so view the setbacks as opportunities for improvement.  Never give up when facing challenges.

Most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Whether that’s from a trusted friend who is in a similar tech role to you or seeking guidance from a tech career coach or mentors.  With perseverance and a growth mindset, you can overcome overwhelm and thrive in your tech career.

What advice would you give other women wanting to reach their career goals in technology?

Start now. Think about what type of role you want in the tech space and how your existing transferable skills may be of value.  Think about your values, your personality and what you really enjoy doing. It is important to think about these things and have them clear in your mind before you start looking for a role in tech.

Seek out mentors, from all backgrounds, who can offer guidance, share experiences, and help you navigate the often complex tech landscape.

Networking is invaluable in tech and I encourage you to invest time in this as early on in your career as possible.  Connect with people already in the industry and those aspiring to be in it.  Attend industry events, and engage with online communities to meet like minded people in tech.  Remember, you’re not alone on this journey, and countless others are eager to support and uplift you.

 

Lastly, don’t shy away from challenges; embrace them. Technology is ever-evolving, so be fearless in acquiring new skills and knowledge.  Don’t let imposter syndrome or limiting beliefs hold you back; trust your abilities.  Incorporate personal projects to help you implement a lot of the technical skills and knowledge you may need for the role you have chosen.  Don’t just focus on the tech.  Building a strong mindset is just as important as the technical skills.  Your path may have hurdles, but each obstacle is an opportunity for growth and you will need the resilience, perseverance and determination to keep going when the going gets tough.  Keep pushing your boundaries, maintain a growth mindset, and believe that your presence in tech is not just necessary, but transformative. Your unique perspective and contributions can shape the future of technology.

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