leeds.tech / features

Getting WiLD with Deb Hetherington and Sarah Tulip

The Leeds tech scene is both diverse and welcoming, and many talented women have been making big impacts there for years. To celebrate this, and to provide a great opportunity for networking and collaboration, the Women in Leeds Digital (WiLD) event will be running for an entire day at the Leeds Digital Festival.

WiLD is the brainchild of Sarah Tulip and Deb Hetherington.  Sarah is currently Operations Director of Leeds based technology businesses, Software Cloud and Klaxon. She was named on Northern Power Women’s Future List for her work around diversity in the IT industry and shortlisted for Role Model of the Year at the Women in IT Awards.

She is deeply passionate about getting more young women into the digital industry and acts as Ambassador for Ahead Partnership, while sitting on a number of boards, including Leeds Digital, leeds.tech, the International Business Advisory at Leeds University and the Leeds Digital Festival steering group.

Deb is Business Engagement Manager at Leeds Beckett University, where she advises entrepreneurs and start-up companies on a range of subjects from marketing to funding and everything in between.

Deb also mentors students in local schools who want to enter the world of digital, as well as professionals in non-digital disciplines wanting to break into the sector. A true advocate of all things digital in the North, Deb recently joined the board of leeds.tech and volunteers her time and expertise to spearhead its growth in the region. She can also be found planning events and bringing together the female tech and student community through Women in Leeds Digital.

We spoke to Sarah and Deb to find out more about this exciting event.


Most events at the Leeds Digital Festival last for an hour or two. Some take up an afternoon or an evening. However, very few last for an entire day, which is the plan for WiLD. With more than 50 speakers, the event is set to be one of the Festival’s largest and most impressive. Of course, with that comes a lot of hard work.

“It’s pretty intense,” said Deb. “There’s a lot to it. I mean, just the thought that you’re coordinating more than 50 speakers in a day and you’ve got something like 500 delegates coming through the door is scary! And it’s not just the speakers, either. We’ve got drop-in sessions, we’ve got workshops, we’ve got all sorts of different things.”

“As well as that, we wanted to engage the whole City,” added Sarah. “So that means engaging three universities, the colleges, the Council, not for profit organizations, the larger corporates and SMEs. Getting out there and getting all those people bought into the idea and concept was a huge thing as well.”

However, all their hard work has paid off, as WiLD is set to be one of the key events of the Leeds Digital Festival. From the start, both Sarah and Deb always knew it was going to be big, as neither of them wanted to begin with something small.

“I find that there’s a city, there are a lot of fantastic groups for women who are doing amazing things within the digital space, but we don’t really come together as a whole,” said Sarah. “We were thinking about different things that we could do to pull it together. And the idea was why don’t we take it as big as we can, and do a full-day conference.”

The idea that Sarah and Deb had was an event that would be able to “represent everybody who is within our space”, featuring speakers who would be able to share “really passionate and powerful stories about what we’ve all been doing in the City”. As WiLD took shape, it largely stuck to this structure. However, there have been some key changes.

The schedule

Deb explained: “The important part is that the morning session and afternoon session are quite different.” In the morning, the focus will be on students and those in the early years of their careers who are looking to join the tech or digital sectors.

“We’re really passionate about educating these students in universities, colleges and in the sixth form on the opportunities that are available for them in digital in Leeds,” Deb added. “There’s this thing called the brain drain, where a lot of our students then go down south with their skills, and we just really want them to know that there are tons of opportunities with some incredible organizations if they stay in Leeds.”

Meanwhile, the afternoon session is targeted much more at women who are already integrated with the Leeds digital scene and celebrating their achievements. While there are already smaller groups dedicated to this, WiLD will be the first full day dedicated to promoting the amazing work Leeds’ female tech geniuses are doing.

“There are already lots of small and disparate groups in the City, so it was kind of like, we could do another one of those, but that’s just recreating something else,” said Sarah. “We thought: ‘Why don’t we put all that under a banner and actually show up with something Citywide?’”

Uniting the women of Leeds

“When Sarah and I reached out to all of the key players within women in digital in Leeds, we didn’t have a clue what WiLD was going to be, but they jumped behind it,” said Deb. It was therefore clear from the start that this event was going to be hugely popular, which has helped spur its organisers on.

“All of these people in the steering group that we’ve got – upwards of 50 people – just really love the idea of it and want to get involved,” said Deb. “We’ve got some brilliant organisations on board who are offering all sorts of different things to help us put this on. So it’s not just us, it’s a really incredible, strong, brilliant, spin-off from the City.”

Leeds is the centre of WiLD, and women across the City have surged to support it. “It’s become bigger than me and Deb,” said Sarah. “It’s now a Citywide event and we’re just facilitating it.” However, being at the Leeds Digital Festival will help make WiLD even more of a success.

“It’s a digital event and we can really leverage off the huge brand of the Leeds Digital Festival,” said Sarah. “It has 20,000 plus footfall through the City over those two weeks, and if we could just get a small percentage of that coming through our doors we’d be very happy.”

The speakers

There will be an incredible 54 speakers on the day, from many of the leading businesses and organisations in Leeds and beyond.

Microsoft, ITV, NEXUS, DWP Digital, FDM Group, BJSS, North Invest, Crisp, The Data Shed, Leeds Beckett Uni, SKY, HARK, Stickyeyes, Hippo Digital, NHS Digital, SkyBetting & Gaming, KPMG, Ten10, Software Cloud, Northern Power Women, Panintelligence, Ahead Partnership, Tech Nation, Leeds City Council, Leeds Digital Festival, City Fibre, North Coders, HMRC, Girl Tribe Gang, She Does Digital, Lean In Leeds, EWWTS, One Health Tech, Ladies of Code Leeds, MMB Magazine, EMIS Group, Code First: Girls, Leeds Libraries, GRAFT Talent

WiLD is proving to be one of the biggest draws during the Festival and with the event being set to have a huge impact on the women in Leeds’ digital industry, it’s definitely not one to miss. At the time of writing, places are limited, so you’ll need to register soon to guarantee your attendance.

For more information and to see more details, please visit the Women in Leeds Digital website.