International Women in Engineering Day: reflections from our VP of Engineering, Myra Fulton
She is Skyscanner’s most senior female engineer, but Myra Fulton’s career as she knows it almost didn’t happen — a last-minute decision to change her university course from hospitality to engineering set her on a completely different path to the one she’d intended. This International Women In Engineering Day, we sat down with Myra to hear her about her journey to the top.
Myra, what lead you to engineering originally — was it always the plan?
Engineering was very much not the plan — I wanted to get into hospitality, and had dreams of running a hotel group. But fate — in the form of an amazing teacher called Mr Haggerty — intervened. He convinced me to take up computer science and basically changed the course of my career. He then did the same for a fellow engineer here at Skyscanner, Mhairi McClair several years later! So thank you, Mr Haggerty.
The way Mr Haggerty taught computer science brought the subject to life — I loved how you could solve problems in really interesting ways, and doing that with technology was exciting. It suited my analytical brain, so I decided to switch my uni course from Hospitality Management to Computer Studies.
What happened next — what was your journey to Skyscanner?
I graduated with a first class honours spent a year’s placement with IBM. After graduating, I got on the grad programme with a bank and spent nine years there. My career started in a number of first and second line support focused roles where I learned the importance of good handover documentation and run-books. I then got the privilege to lead the mortgage development team where I started to learn the other side of software development. It was during my time there that said bank had announced they’d undercharged people for mortgages due to a bug in services. While I wasn’t involved in that bug, it really taught me the fragility of software and the importance of the quality of code, of testing and of the impact that can be made on real people when something goes wrong.
After nine years in the financial sector, I was starting to itch for a new challenge, and happened to spy a job with Skyscanner on LinkedIn. It was a total culture shock. I’d come from a business of 10,000 people. At the time Skyscanner had around 200 members of staff, and the approach couldn’t have been more different. Back in the day, banks, like many other institutions, kind of saw technology as a necessary evil: a cost code the business had to suffer and excuse to shareholders. Coming here, the business was built on technology, the CEO was the company’s first software engineer, and it was front and centre of everything. It was (and still is) super people-centric: travellers and staff are key, in a way that is very different when you’re one of thousands of employees.
I used to think the bank I worked for really matched my values. Don’t get me wrong, it was an incredible place to learn, full of brilliant people. But I quickly started to appreciate that Skyscanner was aligned to my own personal values, and that was something quite powerful. I think that’s a massive driver of the longevity of my career here, from manager all those years ago, to VP now — it’s always felt like home, and I’ve always felt proud of the decisions we’ve made as a business.
What’s been the most rewarding project or piece of work you’ve delivered in your Skyscanner engineering career?
A few come to mind: a major IT project removing friction for our people internally, where we created a virtual and physical tech bar, created Slack channels and linked service tags, and sped up delivery significantly. It was staffed with engineers of all levels, and issues were answered on average within 60 seconds. I was given autonomy to spot a problem and fix it for our people across global offices.
More recently, I was asked to head up a team solving the problem of how we at Skyscanner approach hybrid working. Not just how we approach it technically, but how we do it from a cultural point of view, and how we do it in a way that protects and enhances our flexibility and enjoyment. On a personal level, that project came at a time of flux — my long term manager (Peter) was retiring, the pandemic had taken its toll on many of us, and I was questioning whether I had the energy and enthusiasm to take on something so big. In short, the pandemic fatigue was real. Happily, the more I got stuck into that project, the more I understood that I was exactly where I wanted to be. The way we’ve approach hybrid working and returning to work has reaffirmed a lot of what I love about Skyscanner — the autonomy, the trust, the collaboration and the empathy and care shown to people as individuals.
What piece of advice would you give to your younger self?
Always own your chair. No matter which table you’re at, you’re there for a reason. Own the chair, be comfortable and confident about being in that chair. If someone doesn’t hear you? Repeat yourself, without embarrassment. Make your voice heard (harder to do than say, I know).
I was lucky that our graduate sponsor at the bank was a senior leader in the business. But I know it’s not always the case that people are able to see those who look like them in leadership Female examples in engineering leadership still aren’t common enough. And that’s true all the more so for women of colour. As someone who now has a leadership role in the engineering profession, my advice would always be to have courage, build a strong network of people to support you, champion you and encourage you along. It is hard to be one of the few, but things are changing, and as a female engineer you can build those paths and be that role-model for future women in our profession.
While the tide is changing, there are still far fewer women in engineering than men. What sort of challenges have you come up against that feel unique to being a woman in a historically male profession?
I’ve definitely had a few — it’d be disingenuous to say otherwise.
One instance that probably stands out most clearly for me was when I was sat in an engineering meeting, the only woman at the table. It occurred to me within that meeting that some of these people didn’t know how to interact with me because of my gender. I had a strong sense of not belonging. It became clear to me that if I was going to continue in this team, I was going to have to build allies. I realised that not while everyone was going to interact with me the same way, I had the power to slowly change their perceptions of me: I could instead build allies across the group instead. I started to build personal relationships and professional relationships in order to better understand each person, and with that came mutual respect. It was hard, but it worked.
What books, podcasts or other learning resources do you recommend for women working in tech?
I’m not a big podcast listener, but I have a few books I keep on my desk and come back to frequently:
- Daniel Pink’s Drive
- Sophie Devonshire’s Lead at Speed
- Viv Groskop’s How to Own the Room (there’s also a podcast version)
- Spencer Johnson’s Who Moved My Cheese (so simple — I have it on audiobook and listen to it regularly on my commute to refocus)
- Richard P. Rumelt’s The Crux — How Leaders become Strategists
- Harvard Business Review’s Women at Work has great content
I’d love to hear from anyone reading this as to their favourite networks for women working in the tech sector — please do comment!