Interview with Tomorrow’s Web Speaker Anna Debenham

Tomorrow’s Web Conference, the first UK tech event to feature a speaking panel of only under 21 year olds, is fast approaching. While most young people are just beginning their summer holidays and the most pressing issue facing them is what flavour of ice cream to indulge in today, a handful of young men and women are instead planning their Tomorrow’s Web panel while managing hugely popular YouTube accounts, courting freelance design work or running web hosting services.

Here at Techettes, we’re most excited for the panel hosted by Anna Debenham, a freelance front end developer who has been building her own websites since the age of 14. She stands out amongst the speakers not because she’s the only female on the list but because her credentials (including involvement in the Boagworld podcast, the online magazine Scrunchup and Clearleft) prove Anna to be a true expert on her subject.

We got touch with Anna to talk about her background in design and tech, her involvement in Tomorrow’s Web – including a sneak peek at her panel – and her plans for the future.

Techette: Tell us a bit about yourself – how did you get involved in design, especially as it relates to technology?
Anna DebenhamAnna: I’ve always had an interest in creative subjects like art, design and technology, and am fascinated by how things work. I was lucky because my school had just finished building a new design department when I joined, where I studied Graphic Design at GCSE and Product Design for A-Level. I enjoy using computers too, and Web development neatly brings all these interests together.

T: Sounds like you had a lot of great opportunities – did you have a lot of encouragement to embrace technology or did you discover and drive your interest on your own?
A: My IT and Design teachers were always very encouraging. Other people around me were less so, but I guess only because they didn’t really understand the industry. My friends think my interest in technology is a bit strange, especially when I travel across the country to meet people I’ve ‘met on the web’, but they are supportive nonetheless.

T: You’ve been involved in a number of web, flash and branding projects. Did you feel it was a challenge to be a young woman working in these areas? What did you bring to the table that others couldn’t?
A: I wouldn’t say it is a challenge being a young woman working in technology. I just try and work really hard at what I do and expect people to judge me on that, not on my gender. I don’t want to be given special treatment for being a woman, as I think that’s disrespectful to all the guys who are doing great work.

T: Have you had a particularly engaging or helpful mentor you can tell us about?
A: At the beginning of the year, I started an internship at Clearleft, a User Experience consultancy in Brighton. Everyone I worked with was great but most of the time I was working with Natalie Downe on front end code (HTML and CSS). She was a lot of fun to work with, and I learnt so much from her. It was also nice to be working with another woman, although for some time we did turn part of the office into a giggly girls’ corner.

T: Nothing wrong with that! What has been your favourite project to date?
A: Whilst I was interning at Clearleft, I worked with Natalie on the front end code of the WWF website. It was a relatively complex design, and getting it to work across the different browsers was difficult. That was probably the most challenging project I’ve worked on, but also the most rewarding because of all the experience it has given me.

T: What an amazing experience! So how did you get involved with the Tomorrow’s Web conference?
A: While I was on the train back from Future of Web Design, I got an email from Robert asking if I wanted to speak at the conference. I’ve dreamed of speaking at a conference since attending my first one, but never expected to be given the opportunity to do so this early in my career.

T: Well it sounds like you already have plenty to talk about! Can you give us a sneak preview of what you’ll be speaking about?
A: I’m planning on talking about freelancing, and the things that need to be considered before becoming a freelancer. I began freelancing while I was studying for my A-Levels, and set up as a sole trader straight afterwards to make my earnings legitimate to the taxman. I guess I wasn’t really prepared for all the stuff that came with it, and I’d like to guide other young people thinking of becoming freelancers in the right direction.

T: What are you working on now?
A: At the moment I’m working with a group of friends on a project called Scrunchup which is an online magazine aimed at young designers and developers. There aren’t a lot of relevant resources for young people wanting to work in the industry, and the curriculum is a bit pants too, specifically with regards to web standards. We want to change that.

T: Can’t wait to take a look! And what advice would you give to budding female entrepreneurs or young women interested in technology?
A: If you’re interested in or working in the industry, attend as many web meetups as you can. There are lots of different areas you can specialise in, and the people who work in the industry are really friendly and will give you lots of help and advice. It’s also a good career choice because it’s often flexible for women who are looking after their kids as they can usually work remotely from home.

T: Great advice – we’re a big fan of the tech meetups too. So, if you were going to write a review for Techettes, what would you write about? What is your favourite or most used web service or web tool?
A: Yahoo’s Flickr. It’s a lovely website where you upload and share your photos. It feels like it has its own personality, and has so many different features, like letting you geotag your photos. It has definitely spurred my interest in photography, and is a valuable resource for creative commons photos for use in presentations.

If you want to hear from Anna at the Tomorrow’s Web conference, make sure to snap up your free ticket through the Tomorrow’s Web website. Clearly this is one true Techette that you definitely want to keep an eye on.