Career stories: Ann Barr, Consultant

April 24th, 2023 Written by Karen Leon

Electronics engineer, small business owner, and community champion – Ann Barr has undoubtedly had an exciting and varied career. Now, she’s finding Infinity Works to be the perfect environment for rekindling her passion for technology, mentoring, and community.

Ann’s career in her own words can be described as “convoluted”. After starting out as an electronics engineer, she spent eight years working at the former multinational chemical company Imperial Chemicals Industries (ICI) before taking some time out to raise her family. “After leaving ICI, I went into various non-technical roles, including owning my own business. It was a franchised children’s activity class which I ran for 10 years until my children were older,” she explains.

Her journey back into a tech role would start by chance. A former colleague at ICI asked Ann to organise the Django Girls workshop, a free programming tutorial for women with little or no tech experience, at PyConUK – a conference for the Python programming language community. “I really enjoyed the experience and it sparked my interest in tech again,” she says. 

I ran the workshop again the following year and this time got more involved in the conference organisation. It made up my mind that I wanted to return to tech after a 20 year break.”

Ann sold her business in 2019 and began searching for opportunities in tech. A little nervous after many years away, she enrolled in a 15-week bootcamp created by Tech Returners UK for people looking for a route back into the industry. The programme boosted her confidence and showed her a way forward. “I really enjoyed the training,” she says. “It updated my skills and confirmed that I was still interested in tech and that I did want to get back into the industry.”

Plentiful opportunities to develop

Although job hunting at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic proved challenging, Ann soon found a developer role in a small start-up in the care sector. Although the perfect first step, the opportunities to develop her career were limited. So when Infinity Works approached Ann in 2021, she welcomed the chance to join a tech consultancy which could offer opportunities to progress her career.

After researching Infinity Works, the culture seemed to be a great fit for her. “People are so approachable here,” she says. “It’s very much collaboration and working as a team, and that seemed to fit with the sort of things I was looking for. The huge amount of training available to everyone was also very appealing.”

As a full-stack consultant in Manchester, Ann is currently involved in iOS development. The project came about as a result of taking part in an internal two-week introductory course “mobile launchpad” focused on developing iOS mobile development skills. “The timing of the launchpad was right for me as I was just coming off another project,” Ann says. “On the back of the training I’ve joined an account where I’m using those new skills on a daily basis.”

By throwing herself into this new opportunity, Ann’s confidence has been boosted “I’ve realised that I do know lots of things that are of benefit,” she observes. “One of the pieces of technology we’re using within the tech stack for this particular account, I’d used in the startup where I worked previously. So initially I probably had a bit more knowledge about that than anyone else in the team. That’s been good in getting me to think about how to share that knowledge so other people can use it.”

Ann is enjoying the challenge and likes engaging with a mixed team of people based across the UK. “We’re working alongside people from different parts of Accenture, including design and data organisations,” Ann explains. “It’s interesting to see how our capabilities fit in and align with Accenture more broadly.”

Accenture acquired Infinity Works shortly before Ann joined the company in 2021. She’s keen to take advantage of the wide range of opportunities that being part of Accenture offers, and is excited that  Accenture is also learning from the success and uniqueness of Infinity Works: “It’s important to hold on to lots of really positive things at Infinity Works like the support for individuals’ training and the sense of a community,” she comments. “If that can also be opened up to a wider range of people across Accenture, even better.”  

ann barr up close

Championing the Manchester community  

Having previously been involved in organising events and creating practice groups, Ann was keen to get involved in the local Marketing Buddy initiative. Infinity Works’ Marketing Buddies connect with local communities, meetups, and groups, helping to assist the marketing team with organising, promoting and championing events that are happening in areas close to the business’ hubs.

“We help to embed Infinity Works as a key player in the local tech community,” Ann explains. By championing local tech events, Ann plays a key role in embedding the team into the wider tech community and giving her colleagues opportunities to learn from those in different disciplines. On a personal level, becoming a Marketing Buddy has helped Ann retain a sense of connection to the Manchester hub and the local area.

Marketing Buddies divide up the work according to their skills and availability. Last year, Ann liaised with the organisers of two DevOps events in Manchester, tackling some of the logistics and fielding a colleague to take part in a panel discussion. She was also involved in organising PyData Manchester in June, then another data summer party within the Manchester Data Community in August. 

For PyData, which livestreams its events, Ann made sure the necessary technical setup and support teams were in place. She also helped deliver a strong in-person attendance through external and internal promotion such as sharing LinkedIn posts and internal notifications of upcoming activities. 

But this kind of involvement with the local tech community isn’t new to Ann. Since 2017, she’s been involved with PyConUK. At the 2022 event, Ann took her involvement to the next level by taking on the role of the Conference Director for the first time. Ann commented, “Despite a couple of challenges – the first in person PyConUK following the pandemic; a planned rail strike; Cardiff City Hall, the conference venue, also hosting the books of condolence following the Queen’s death; and a royal visit – it was a great honour to deliver a sell out PyConUK 2022, which was positively received by attendees and sponsors alike.”

ann barr spotlight podium

Being an advocate for change

As an older tech returner, Ann couldn’t help but wonder whether her age would be a barrier. But the opposite was true. “I think I have to set the tone,” she explains. ”I have a lot of things to contribute, but I’ve also got as much to learn. It’s just a matter of being pragmatic about it.”

Ann’s experience as an electronic engineer in the late 1980s, when women were a tiny minority, makes it easier to thrive as a woman in tech. She believes attitudes have shifted massively since that time, in society as well as business, and welcomes diversity initiatives that continue to push for progress. 

One such initiative, the Women in Tech network at Infinity Works, has given Ann the opportunity to make a difference. She helps with events organised by the group to celebrate women’s achievements. That type of commitment is part of her DNA. 

I'm a strong believer that, in work and life, you get back almost in proportion to how much you're willing to put in.

Her desire to change hearts and minds is also helping to drive the local agenda, by using her role as a Marketing Buddy, Ann is able to ensure that the business supports a wide range of events and initiatives. “That’s what is great about Infinity Works, if you have a project or initiative you’re passionate about, the business and the team will find a way in supporting you with this.”

She also played an active part in organising a women in tech event at our Circle Square hub last year which brought together many of the people who’d been in contact with Infinity Works in the preceding months. There was a strong focus on diversity and, to support that, Ann and a colleague created a quiz on women in tech. 

“It was interesting to discover people like Grace Hopper, the mother of COBOL,” she says. “I was also surprised and disappointed by the statistics: there isn’t a huge difference in numbers of women in technical or STEM roles now, compared with 30 years ago.”

Her passion for supporting diversity and inclusion initiatives is evident and it seems to have had an influence much closer to home. “I’m proud that both my children have chosen careers in STEM and I hope that I’ve played some small part in inspiring them,” she explains. “My daughter recently graduated as an aerospace engineer and I’m so proud of the work she’s doing to continue challenging stereotypes.”

Showcasing the value of a varied career

Ann believes it’s a mistake to focus solely on your tech skills in an environment like Infinity Works. When she’s done a good piece of work or helped the team move forward, that isn’t necessarily because of her technical expertise, it’s often because she has been involved in complex projects before. She’s also discovered the merit of being able to communicate with different people in different ways. 

I hadn't factored into my skill set all those years of experience outside tech, which have given me other things to bring to my role in this account. It's not just about knowing the technical details, it’s about your ability to organise or be part of a team – and that draws on lots of different parts of you.” 

She’s convinced that one previous job, promoting volunteering to sixth formers (which she describes a “tough gig”), improved her communications skills and showed her how to adapt her style to the audience. She’s adept at explaining technical things to non-technical people and admits to being “a bit techie and nerdy”.

Ann is keen to continue to progress and believes that Infinity Works will continue to give her interesting and challenging opportunities. “I want to keep learning new skills and become a better me”, she says. “I feel like I’m still growing.” 

The diverse and inclusive environment of Infinity Works is helping to keep her open to new ideas. Conversely, as an older member of the team, she brings her own valuable insights. “I think any organisation benefits from having lots of different perspectives, even if one of those perspectives is that you have been around the block more times than you might like!” she jokes.

Ann Barr suspended
Written by Karen Leon