Creating a wonderful career in computing
16 April 2012
When I was eleven years old I really really wanted a Stylophone for Christmas (see photo). They were advertised by Rolf Harris and you could make really synthetic music with them. What I got that Christmas was a bag of resistors, a printed circuit board, an instruction manual and my very own soldering iron. My father was an electronics engineer with ambitions for his daughter - I was horrified and very disappointed! Now I can see the value of all those weeks testing out different combinations of resistors with the piano to get the right musical notes.
One big benefit, of course, was that when I was offered my first job as a computer operator (aged 17), I wasn’t daunted by the prospect. Sure, it looked technical, but I could be technical. There were also two enormous advantages with that first job: working night shifts which meant a much bigger pay packet, and pleasing my dad. But best of all it started me on my wonderful career being a technical person.
After working in operations (I went as far as Shift Manager) I worked as an ops analyst consulting on Change Management. Then I decided to take a part time degree in English Literature. For me, being both arty and technical gives me a really rounded perspective on the world.
I had this idea that I would take the last year of my degree off work. However, something wonderful happened - I spotted a job being advertised for technical trainers to work at IBM. I had had this vague ambition to ‘teach technical’ to adults and so I applied.
I ended up working through my finals. IBM said I had one of the worst scores on the IPAT entrance test but that my enthusiasm and practical expertise won them over. It was true! I knew how to use the parts of the technology that the Oxbridge men I taught alongside were worried about teaching! That was when I knew I could compete.
It was around that time that I started getting militant about women working in the industry. I had always been a feminist, so being told that I couldn’t wear trousers to work (this was 1989 not 1898) seemed very wrong. IBM created a women’s leadership team and I had an insightful manager who suggested I go along.
I have worked steadily on supporting women in IT since that time. I chair the British Computer Society’s BCSWomen organisation, sit on the board of directors at the UKRC and support diversity through my company. These are important times at the UKRC – we are becoming a Community Interest Company, boosting the work of WISE with girls and women in STEM, and launching the WISE Awards. I encourage everyone to support us – sign up to our newsletter for starters, and nominate individuals and organisations for the Awards.
To get an award for my work - as I did a couple of weeks ago at the 2012 cisco Women in Technology Awards - is really fantastic.
I know that women make the world go round! McKinsey has just published a report that said that those companies with the most diversity on their boards made greater profits. We need to be confident that we can bring great benefit to the organisations that we work for. We surely do!