Karen Conway in a leather jacket smiling against a yellow wall background.
Karen Conway, director of software engineering, Fidelity Investments. Image: Melissa Mannion

Fidelity Investments’ Karen Conway on why you should leave your comfort zone

25 Oct 2019

Karen Conway of Fidelity Investments has travelled the world as its director of software engineering, but now she’s helping to bring change back home.

Since joining Fidelity Investments back in 2001, Karen Conway would be the first to admit that things have changed just a little bit in the world of software over the past 18 years. From AI to virtual reality and cybercrime in between, there is always a constant need to learn.

As director of software engineering at Fidelity Investments Ireland, Conway leads equity technology projects for asset management, which involves working and learning from the company’s global teams across Ireland, India and US.

Back home, she is an avid promoter of diversity in STEM subject uptake, particularly among young women. While working with groups within Fidelity Investments, she is also an active member for ITAG’s Digital Women’s Forum, which encourages improved diversity within other companies.

She recently caught up with Siliconrepublic.com to tell us more about her ideas on what makes a role model and the future of software engineering.

‘We are preparing our children for jobs and careers that don’t even exist yet, using technologies not invented’

For you, how much has software engineering changed since 2001?

Over the last 18 years we have seen huge advancements in engineering, and with that we have adjusted our disciplines and practices to meet those advancements. There is widespread recognition now that repetitive tasks are best automated.

Automation has an upfront cost but it is cheaper in the long term, less prone to human error and allows us to spend time on higher value, innovative work. Therefore, as we build software today, automation is a natural step in the software life cycle process – it is no longer an afterthought.

Increased security is prevalent across the world; we see it everywhere. Airports, government buildings and our software is no different! Today, our code needs to be cybercrime-ready.

It would be remiss of me not to mention AI, virtual reality and augmented reality. While still in its infancy of what it can truly achieve, we look at our applications with a different lens than in 2001. Without jumping to code, we talk about the impossible dream goal and, with these new technologies at our fingertips, we can ask ourselves: is it really impossible?

What do you enjoy most about your current role?

Every day is different in my role. As lead for equity technology engagement in asset management at Fidelity Investments Ireland, I work with teams here, India and US. I get to work and learn from talented people on my team daily, whether it is about the latest trends on the stock market, the newest cloud capability or how we might apply AI to a new business challenge we have.

Outside of asset management engagement, I spend my time working with schools on STEM promotion, namely working with Scoil Bhríde, Mercy Secondary School, Tuam. Fidelity Investments Ireland has partnered with this all-girls secondary school to support them as they embark on the journey of piloting computer science for the Leaving Cert.

As project lead, I get the opportunity to meet the students and parents, and highlight the benefits and need for more women technologists. The work with the school is very rewarding when you see the students enjoying the CoderDojo workshops that we facilitate and talking about technology in a different light.

We are now entering our second year of the partnership and looking forward to supporting the students and seeing what the future holds for them.

How has travel contributed to your personal and career development?

I got a fantastic opportunity last year to spend three months in Boston with my family while working in Fidelity headquarters. While it was a great personal experience for us all to go, from a career perspective, I made a conscious decision to meet and network outside of my US team in asset management.

It did involve going outside my comfort zone, but I chose to do it as when would I get an opportunity like this again? It was a chance to learn from senior leaders in the company that I admire, so I reached out to various people that I saw as role models.

It was nerve-racking at first as I thought, ‘What could I contribute to the conversation?’. But the first person was so welcoming and delighted to be asked to meet, it encouraged me to keep going. And I found myself talking about my career too, which was of huge interest to them, especially the STEM promotion work and my role on ITAG Digital Women’s Forum.

As the mother of two girls, do you see yourself as a role model for what they could achieve in their careers?

Role models come in all shapes and sizes (and genders!) and I absolutely hope I am a role model for Aoibhínn and Isabelle.

Children are very intuitive and learn from our behaviours. To have a successful career in any discipline means you have to enjoy what you do and have a strong work ethic. As a parent, we want what is best for our children, but that doesn’t mean giving them everything they want.

By ensuring we give them the life skills and willingness to learn, this will help them to prepare for this ever-changing world. For example, helping with homework doesn’t mean giving them the answers so they get 100pc, but helping them find the patience and ability to work out the solution for themselves.

We are preparing our children for jobs and careers that don’t even exist yet, using technologies not invented. So for them to achieve their goals, we need to let them discover the solutions for themselves because we won’t always have the answers.

I am also a fan of quotes! I often use one from the children’s author, Dr Seuss: “The more you read, the more you know. The more you learn, more places you will go.”

I also tell them – probably too often – they can be anything they want to be, there is no boy’s job or girl’s job. Just like sport, they can play anything they want.

They are both big fans of GAA and football and I recently took them to Croke Park to see the Galway ladies in the All-Ireland [Football] Final. While it wasn’t our year for a win, they get to see role models playing what was traditionally a male sport. From watching these talented, dedicated players, they realise they can be anything they want if they put the work in.

Why did you get involved with ITAG’s Digital Women’s Forum ?

When we talk about the gradual decline in women taking technology roles and staying in them, this group aims to counteract the decline and promote technology as a viable and excellent career choice on the ‘Atlantec’ coast.

We arrange meet-ups, conferences, workshops and coffee mornings, and it provides an opportunity to meet like-minded women in the same field who can support one another.

I work with a fantastic crew of ladies on the committee. We learn from each other and can bring ideas back into the office and our day-to-day lives. We’ll soon be releasing an upcoming schedule of some exciting meet-ups, so watch this space!

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