Helena Bower

MSci Computer Science with an Industrial Year, 2019
Technical Writer, Vonage

Vonage is a cloud communications provider offering a wide range of communication services via voice, messaging, video, and data. I am working in the Developer Relations Team as a Technical Writer for the API Developer Platform, which provides APIs (application programming interface) that developers can use for all of these different services.

This means that in my day-to-day I could be updating documentation for those APIs, writing tutorials or use cases, or helping out with content for conferences and hackathons. It's my job to turn complex technical information into developer-enabling documentation that even someone with only a little experience can understand!

What’s the best thing about what you’re doing now?

There's always something new to learn and always content to be updated, so we're never short of something to do! Vonage's APIs cover a lot of different types of communications and are available in over 10 languages and frameworks, meaning I've got a lot to wrap my head around and will be working with many more technologies than I have before.

helena bower

What made you interested in your current role?

I've never really been interested in a full-time software development role; I just don't think it's my cup of tea! Since graduating I've been trying to find a role that used my technical skills but wasn't coding full time – a technical writer role does use those skills but you obviously also have to convey that information in simple terms. When I read the job description that process immediately appealed to me so I'm very happy to have started!

How has your career developed since graduating?

While I was at university I did an industrial year at BT Security where I built a resource management system for my wider team to use day-to-day. When I returned to the company 2 years later for my graduate scheme, I was pleased to see it still in use! I didn't want a completely technical role so moved into a consultancy role, which I quickly found also wasn't my type of role either. I ultimately moved into Business Improvement where I stayed for just under three years working on automation and transformation projects for BT's security systems. From there, I wanted a change and came across technical writing; it immediately appealed to me and I had done aspects of it during my time at BT, so I applied and am happy to report that I am so far loving the role!

What skills you learned from degree or time at university would you say you use most in your job?:

I would say the skill that's been most applicable across my whole career is the analytical way of thinking computer science teaches you. When you're programming and something goes wrong you've got to break down the problem to find the issue and fix it, and that isn't just useful in that context. While at BT doing more project management, I was able to discuss any issues with the team, helping them break it down and get to a resolution much faster. In my current role, I'm able to look at a code snippet and see how is best to separate out the different parts to make it easier to understand; while of course learning to code has been incredibly useful, that mindset has been beneficial in ways that you might not expect.

We Are (Third Width)

Why did you originally apply to Birmingham?

To be quite honest, I had four choices lined up and needed to fill the gap! I'd always fancied living in a city and Birmingham's Computer Science School is very good so I thought I'd put it down before I'd even seen the city! As soon as I visited as an applicant I fell in love with the campus and the lecturers and student ambassadors were all really lovely, so it quickly became my first choice.

What are your fondest memories of the University?

For me it's the people I met and all of the things we got up to; I made some of my closest friends at the University and we still go on our yearly group trips together! We were always running around campus to lectures, helping each other with assignments, and of course going to society events – the Computer Science Society board game nights were always a highlight! I have so many fond memories and will always treasure the five years I spend at UoB.

Did you get involved in any extracurricular activities as a student?

I did! I was a student ambassador, which really helped me with my confidence as it's not often that as computer scientists we have to walk up to random people and strike up a conversation! I also got involved with the Women in Science and Engineering Society (WISE), which aims to support and promote women within STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) at the University of Birmingham. As Publicity Officer I co-ordinated all of our posts on social media, worked with other societies to partner for events, and organised two conferences, Women in Science and Women in Tech.

Finally, I became Publicity Lead for HackTheMidlands. Open to anybody over the age of 14, it is a 24-hour hackathon where attendees learn, build and share whilst designing and developing a piece of technology that they will present to other attendees and judges at the end of the 24-hour period. Averaging 300 attendees in its first four years, we moved online for HackTheMidlands 5.0 in 2020 and had more than 700 people participate worldwide. It is one of my proudest achievements and I never would have done it if it weren't for the people I met at the University!

Great advice from Helena

“My main piece of advice is always to get involved with as much as you can, particularly societies – society events are a great place to meet new friends and relax, and if you join a committee it's incredibly rewarding and gives you a lot of good stuff to talk about when you're trying to start your career!”