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Women in STEM 2020

My career switch: from customer support to tech

Helen Puerta-Terron

Product Manager, UCAS

Helen Puerta-Terron, Product Manager at UCAS, shares her story of a successful career switch to technology, and how she overcame the challenges of working in a predominately male-orientated environment.

My route into tech

I started at UCAS part-time in the call centre. For me, it meant I could work while bringing up three young children.

The role was really focused on supporting students, parents, teachers and universities throughout the university application process – so it was all about customer service.

The ten years I spent in the contact centre, on the front line and in management, gave me a good understanding of how UCAS worked: the processes, business logic and the different requirements for key customer groups.

But I knew I was ready for more. And with such a strong background and knowledge of both customer and business needs, technical product management felt like a great move.

Product management is all about working with key business stakeholders to understand the future developments of a product or service.

My primary responsibility is gathering what is needed, then defining those into requirements, which are then prioritised and taken back to the development team to understand how we can develop them further.

Challenging the stereotypes of a male-dominated sector

My experience and knowledge – as well as ‘softer’ management skills – allow me to manage the expectations of the business and the technical team, have challenging conversations, prioritise work when required and be assertive when we don’t get the outcome we need for the customer.

Being one of a few females in a very technical environment, was tricky at first – the team were great, but their knowledge meant it was often hard to challenge and get my point across. I knew and understood the outcomes I wanted, but the largely male tech teams were the ones who knew how we could get there.

The technical department has its own language, and that was really hard but, early on, to help me understand the acronyms and meanings of phrases/words, I wrote my own dictionary. This was a massive help and allowed me to pick up jargon quickly. I was also pretty up front – ‘speak to me in English not IT’ was a phrase I regularly used when I needed them to explain something to me.

Good communication is so important

Communication was key when I moved into this role. I came from a background where talking was the main communication currency, but our developers liked to use online messaging, put their heads down and code. I soon changed that!

After five years of working in IT, I have a completely different outlook. While we’re still in the minority, there are now more females in the tech meetings I attend. I’m more confident in my opinion, I am happy to challenge and listen to others, and I feel that I have brought the team much closer together.

Bringing the experience I had on the front line in dealing with customers, to a team that then deliver what they will ultimately use has added real value to our set up. I can honestly say I absolutely love my job in technology and have learnt so much.

What is your advice to others?

For many, a change in role is part of a well-defined, or even opportunistic career path. But, if you take a step back and look at the skills that you already have, you’d be surprised how much is transferable and actually brings real benefits to the role you’re moving to.

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