A ‘change maker’, ‘industry leader’ and one of the ‘most influential women in IT’ are just some of the words used to describe Sheree Atcheson, 26, who is a Technical Business Consultant at Deloitte UK. A Computer Science alumna from Queen’s University Belfast, Sheree is also credited with founding the ‘Women Who Code’ organisation in Belfast and as their UK Expansion Director has established branches in London, Edinburgh and Bristol. Her credentials have enabled her to address several global forums such as the World Economic Forum and One Young World. Adopted by a Belfast couple when she was an infant, Sheree returned to Sri Lanka to spend her honeymoon and felt a real connection to the country.
This sparked a hunt for her birth mother and recently Sheree and her husband returned to Sri Lanka to be reunited with her birth mother Dingiri Amma and the rest of her extended family. Buoyed by this, Sheree has also launched the ‘I Am Lanka’ organization which aims to highlight other Sri Lankans who are role models and can be an inspiration to others. A former part time model, Sheree is also on a mission to get more women involved in the IT industry and is seen as a flag bearer working tirelessly to eradicate gender bias within the industry. Driven by her determination to succeed, Sheree is using her position in the IT industry to inspire others and set the benchmark for others to follow suit.
What made you embark on a journey into the digital industry?
I have always been interested in computing. My cousin was a leading software engineer for NYSE and this always intrigued me. I had always wanted to create programs, as opposed to using them and this shaped the A Levels I chose, alongside the degree I decided to study at university.
How easy was it to get into employment after graduating?
Relatively easy. I did a placement with a local software company and they extended my contract and offered me a software engineering role when I graduated the next year. My placement not only involved working on various projects as a software engineer, but also beginning to look at outreach work. This solidified why I wanted to continue my career in this industry and continue my then role as a software engineer. There are a lot of tech jobs across NI/UK and we are very lucky for it to be an emerging tech hot spot, which is bringing a host of investment from large (and smaller) tech companies. This has a great side effect of our graduates now having a wealth of opportunities in the tech industry available to them.
Where are you working currently?
I currently work at Deloitte UK as a Technical Business Consultant. At Women Who Code I am the UK Expansion Director and the Founder of I Am Lanka.
What kinds of projects have you been working on?
The work I love is public sector focused. I love working on things that change every day people’s lives in one way or another. I have worked on a lot of high profile public sector projects in my career, which have impacted thousands of people. My work now is focused around helping a client determine what they want their online digital solution to look like, and then determine the best way to do that in a way that the client will have an ease of use.
You are known as the woman who brought the Women Who Code movement to the UK. How did that come about?
Women Who Code is the world’s largest nonprofit dedicated to supporting the success of women in technology. Our organization works to highlight the accomplishments of the incredible female engineers that are already changing the world, while empowering this and the next generation of women leaders. I brought it to Belfast, originally because there was nothing like this in Belfast for all women in tech, regardless of their company,financial situation or social standing. I wanted to create a space for women to come together and nurture their digital confidence and better their technical skill set. I then branched to London, Bristol and Edinburgh, where we have a total of around 7000 members.
How were you viewed after you started the first UK Women who Code event?
As a change maker. WWCode revolutionized the women in tech space in Belfast, and created an environment for more women in tech groups to pop up. As a fresh graduate, I made the decision to take it upon myself to invoke a change in that area, and thankfully it worked. It did mean that a level of responsibility was then on me to continue that work and continue forcing change across the UK. However, I am more than happy with that and it is why I have pushed my work with WWCode so hard – in order to create a better space for women in tech, because that is my responsibility now.
Who are your role models in the IT industry?
There are a lot of people who I think are doing great things, but my role model has been (and will continue to be) my A Level Computing teacher, Mr. Owen Gribben. My teacher had an amazing passion for the computing industry, and it’s very clear he loved what he was doing. His enthusiasm was certainly infectious and this greatly attributed to the career I now have. We need more people like Mr. Gribben in the industry.
What are your long term career plans?
Outreach is my passion. I love doing work in the non profit space and I would love to make that my “day job”. I am passionate when I talk about my work and I know I am able to make people care about the issues I am talking about so I would love to utilize that skill set more in my day to day life.
What words of inspiration can you impart to those considering a career in the IT industry?
Never let anyone tell you that you are not important or that you are lesser. You are a person, with defining thoughts. That in itself makes you an asset to your profession. We cannot progress with any industry if we do not listen to all of the population – you are important.
What are some of the awards you have won in the UK IT industry?
Belfast Business Top 50 award, Shortlisted for Young Businesswoman of the year at Women In Business awards, Top 35th most influential women in tech across the UK, Computer Weekly.
What does it feel like to be included in the Most Influential Women in UK IT by the highly regarded Computer Weekly?
Pretty amazing. I am only 26 and have only been in the industry really since 2013. I am very proud of all the things I’ve accomplished with WWCode and to get this listing just reaffirmed that I have made a difference, that people are listening to me and that my work is important across the UK. I have been listed amongst some of my heroes, such as Anne Marie (the CEO of Stemettes, who I’ve worked with regularly) and to be considered as the same calibre9 as them is a fantastic achievement.
What motivates you to do what you do?
A responsibility to make the industry that little bit better than the one I joined 5 years ago. I recently attended One Young World in Bogota, which was amazing and a huge honour to attend. This works to bring together the young global change makers, inspire them and hope that they then go and create or change things for better. After attending this, I wanted to do something more (I know I do a lot already with WWCode) but there is a responsibility on those who have a reputation in this industry and it made me appreciate that to a greater level and gave me a new passion to work that little bit harder with WWCode and now I Am Lanka.