A few years ago I attended a careers fair in Manchester where I was introduced to the inspiring organisation that is Reason Digital. I was instantly attracted to their passion to use technology to do good in the world, something which I’d hardly heard of before that moment. Fast forward to today, and I’m volunteering at Tech For Good Live, which are a series of events and podcasts powered by them. One of the brilliant people behind these two organisations is Rebecca Rae-Evans, so I met up with her to find out a bit more about what she does.
Tell us a bit about yourself?
I like to be called Bex, I have 4 cats, enjoy horror films and like good beer and a curry! You won’t find me shying away from getting involved in politics – because everything is politics, isn’t it? My day job is Head of Strategy & Insight at Reason Digital. We’re an agency that works exclusively with people creating positive social change. I also run an event and podcast series called ‘Tech for Good Live’ where we look at how technology can be more ethical, specifically tech that creates lasting and positive change. The live events are held monthly in Manchester, but we also record them and add them to YouTube. The podcasts are monthly so they can be accessed worldwide.
How did you get into the tech sector?
It’s a long story and hard to pinpoint exactly what led me to it, but I’ll make a list of things that I think helped:
- I grew up around a family of electricians. In school I was fascinated by physics.
- I took part in the Young Enterprise at school and loved it. You learn business and how to run your own business – and I discovered the importance of brand and marketing when developing a product.
- We couldn’t afford a computer, so when I received three broken hand me downs, I taught myself how to Frankenstein them into something that worked.
- I worked as an electronic (avionics) engineer making military aircraft. I enjoyed the programming bit of my course. It was at this time I also realised that I was a pacifist, so maybe I should not be making military aircraft for a living!
- I went to uni to retrain and did a design management degree. Everything seemed to be going digital. It seemed important to my industry.
- No one else was really doing digital in my school or degree. So I taught myself to make crude websites. It’s good to be curious!
- I was fascinated by user behaviour and understanding a problem fully to create a solution.
- After graduating I had a rambling career in research, lecturing, digital content creation and digital marketing.
- And now I am where I am! ☺
What motivated you to work in tech for good?
When you start working in design or digital, I think its easy to assume you’ll be working on fun, exciting, dynamic projects – but in reality you could just be spending a lot of our time creating a banner for an insurance website with a tight brief and no creative freedom!
It took me a while to get there, but I did end up working with some big and interesting brands and award-winning projects with a lot of creative freedom. However, they just didn’t resonate with me. I wasn’t into football, hair products, dresses, groceries or makeup (these are just some of the brands I worked with). They were commercial and just about selling more things to more people. The most interesting part was how could I use my knowledge about human behaviour to manipulate people to buy more stuff that they don’t need, and that seemed a bit evil (Bill Hicks agrees!)
It simply wasn’t what I was about. Especially because in my spare time, I was trying to reduce my own personal consumption, and move away from rampant consumerism. I didn’t own a car, I was a vegetarian. So my personal motivations and the drivers of my job were diverging fairly rapidly.
It was at this time I was really starting to wonder what the future of my career looked like. Would it be in-house digital at a charity? Do I give up and open my own cat shelter? Then I found Reason Digital which is truly the best of both worlds, an agency environment where the main aim was to help people, not make people buy stuff they don’t want or need, or make rich people richer.
The KPI’s I was working with went from ‘increase revenue and repeat purchases’ to ‘raise money so we can buy more hospice beds’ and ‘help people who need information at crisis points’.
I went from increasing poverty and increasing insecurities to reducing poverty and actually saving lives. Cue immediate increase in wellbeing and passion for what I do.
Over the years I noticed more and more people becoming interested in this way of thinking – of using their powers for good over evil. So I wondered if there was enough of an appetite for it to get people together in one place and make stuff happen.
I set up Tech for Good Live events and podcasts and found out there really was. 70 people turned up to the first event, and we continue to get more and more each time.
What does your typical day involve?
As Head of Strategy and Insight, my job is to look after my team and work on strategic input to web projects. We might be running workshops, conducting field studies, or facilitating user tests and interviews to try to better understand the users of a project. It might be on a digital service delivery project, a web rebuild or a digital transformation project. I work with the internal team to use their knowledge of digital products to make the best recommendations.
I also do a lot of public speaking, presenting and pitching to senior stakeholders. I might have to arrange a speaker for a podcast or put out a few tweets. We might have an ideas meeting around what topics we should cover for future events. My colleagues are really great at helping arrange things, so I might catch up with them on venues, food, photography and video.
My days are often rounded off in the evening by running a Tech for Good Live event where I’ll set up, present and help the team pack up.
What’s Tech For Good Live about and why should people come along?
Tech for Good Live is a series of events and podcasts run by a team of experts in the tech for good industry. We often talk about cats, we always talk about the latest in tech for good. There is always pizza and beer (it’s free, thanks to our sponsors 34sp). We get guest speakers in who know much more than us. There is time to chat to other people in the space and make connections. You can give a lightning talk if you want. I like to think they’re fun!
Have you faced any challenges being a woman in tech?
This is such a tough question. I think every agency has a different culture, and I’ve heard some horror stories. I’ve been in places I’ve felt more comfortable than others. I think I’ve been lucky overall as I’ve worked for a few female-led companies. I’ve worked not only in tech but in leadership for some time now, which is a place where women are not often dealt fair hands. I’ve spent a lot of time adjusting my own behaviours to overcome that.
What’s your advice for anyone, especially girls and women, wanting to get into tech for good?
It’s still tough out there. You’ll have to be a trailblazer in many ways. I’m going to be honest, you might have to adjust your working styles a little, and you may have to put up some fights, but do come and join in the fun! We need critical mass so the more there are of us, the better. There are some agencies that will give you a hard time – don’t put up with it. Move on. There are better agencies and companies that won’t be totally rubbish. Many are trying really hard to provide better, more supportive and more diverse workplaces.
Also, more than any of that, we HAVE to have women within the tech for good industry, we need complete diversity, so that what we create can ultimately be a better solution.
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Written by Rose Cairns