Sarah Stokes, User Researcher with HMRC

by Sarah Stokes

I remember the first time I really knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. It was 2003, I was 10 years old and had just seen the Red Arrows fly past. Even now I think it was one of the best things I’ve ever seen in my life. Their timing was impeccable; the jets to me seemed beautiful and the pilots were the best around. Anything I wanted to do, from then on, I wanted to be the best at.

Cut forward a few years, I’d been told women just weren’t pilots (a life lesson for me: don’t listen when someone says you can’t), but I’d realised I was good at something else – caring about and understanding people. I studied psychology for the first time at A-level and absolutely loved it. I could try to understand why people behaved the way they do – and maybe look after them – so I chose to get a degree in psychology at Bangor University.

Being away in North Wales was amazing – it felt like home and I had some great internships alongside the course. At the time it was just a job, but one internship had me looking at competitors’ websites, how well they worked, and how we could improve our own and it’s probably this experience which largely got me to where I am now. I graduated in 2014 with a BSc in Psychology, and started trying to find a job that was relevant to my chosen field.

I’d worked in a couple of temporary contracts before, and only applied to HMRC after a friend who works on site mentioned there were some jobs going. It sounded people-focussed so I thought ‘why not’ – and here I am! I feel great that someone took a chance on me in a permanent, tech-related job in a digital centre.

Now, as a User Researcher, it’s my job to learn about the people we’re building our online services for. Normal life can be stressful enough, so throwing taxes into the mix can mean complex, emotional and frustrating times for people. If we understand these challenges, we understand who we’re building for. Our teams of designers, developers, analysts and testers then get to work building a service that I’ll test with actual people, so there’s no doubt that when it goes Live it’s as useful as possible.

I know it’s not a traditional way into the tech industry and at 22, there’s still heaps to learn. Currently, I’m teaching myself to code so I can change our prototypes. But, I like to think of my job as putting the human back into technology, and remembering who we’re building for. I love it.

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