Last week I volunteered at ‘DigiGirlz’ – an event targeting year 9 girls going through the process of selecting their GCSE options. It is a Microsoft sponsored event with an objective of raising awareness of what a career in business and technology might look like. During the day I mentored and supported a group of students with a challenge of designing and promoting a Windows 8 app, it was great fun and fantastic to see their ideas and enthusiasm! Throughout the day many of them asked about my job and why I chose to work in the technology sector… so I thought id share my memories here too 🙂
For as long as I can remember I have always had an interest in any form of technology I came across. The first time I ever used a computer was at primary school – to this day I still remember there being just 3 computers in the back of the library (I feel old now!), we never had any lessons using them but I remember we were allowed to make use of them during our breaks. My very first memory of using the PC was Encarta, AltaVista and of course games like MineSweeper and Solitaire. By the end of primary school I was already in love with technology! I always looked forward to getting another opportunity to use the computer. I remember asking questions about why and how it “worked” – to this day I still don’t know why or what made me so interested.
By the time I started secondary school I had already started programming (ok only in VBA but at the time it felt very complex!), I remember MSN Messenger and the novelty of being able to speak to my friends all evening long! I then started using IRC and student chat rooms… this is where I truly become interested in technology. I connected with like-minded students, it was at this time we got a dial-up PC at home (we didn’t even have a desk – It was on a chest of drawers!). I was starting to write my own basic programs (the first one I remember was creating a shopping list that had a form to enter items) and then websites (i’ll never forget the first time I wrote HTML… the classic tables!!!!).
I choose to study for a GNVQ in ICT with my GCSE options, reflecting back now I realised I was actually the only female in the class as it was optional at this time. I did well so I then went on to study for an AVCE in ICT along with my A Levels, I always achieved high marks but I got to the point where I was bored. Reflecting back I remember a school teacher encouraging me to continue and also coached me into taking another evening class (CCNA!) – If it wasn’t for him I’m not too sure whether I would have progressed, but in the end I went ahead and applied to study Computer Science at university.
I have to admit that when I first went to university I thought I had made the wrong decision, I didn’t enjoy my first semester at all – I was one of 3 females (out of a class of ~70) and I found it tough! I struggled to understand how some of the units were relevant or interesting. The university of Bath is a very traditional university and in my opinion some of the courses were very dated (lambda calculus!) – I ended up struggling through my first 2 years and was lucky enough to complete a placement year. I must admit if it wasn’t for my placement year experiences I cannot imagine applying to work in the technology sector after graduating! The degree itself was extremely technical and in my opinion gave a misconception of what it really means to work in the technology sector. Maybe that’s my fault for choosing ‘Computer Science’ over something like ‘Computing and Business’. My success and career so far has been entirely thanks to my experiences during my placement year. This does make me think whether the universities themselves can make some minor changes to help promote (or ensure) women studying these subjects go onto start a career in the technology sector.
Although this is turning into an essay I have one last thing to say… There is a HUGE misunderstanding of what ‘working in IT’ really means! The girls I met last week made comments like, “wow I cant believe this is an office” – “Is this really where you work?” – “I thought you’d have to stay at your desk/PC all the time!” & I still remember thinking myself that working in IT meant I would be “stuck” in an office all day long. This is the biggest challenge and I think events like DigiGirlz provides the opportunity for students to really see and understand what working in IT really looks like.
I’m personally surprised that there are still so few women working in the technology sector, since the experiences I described above aren’t specific to gender and surely some men would have thought the same…? Interested in other people’s thoughts though!