Often when I’m covering diversity and particularly women in tech, the people sharing their opinions and advice are senior figures. When it comes to interview opportunities and panel debates and keynotes, the preference is mostly towards women who have worked their way up the career ladder to become a VP or CTO or manager. This approach is understandable and valuable. In a sector where women still make up less than 20 percent, it’s good to highlight role models who have enjoyed progression as evidence there are opportunities to get to the top and have a successful career among so many men.
However, as part of the objective of women in tech initiatives is to encourage females at school, university or in different careers to consider a STEM career, it struck me that the gap between a 16-year-old computing GCSE taker and the female CTO at a huge business like Google or Microsoft (note – I’ve picked random companies here) might be too large to have meaning or persuasive power.
So to mark International Women’s Day, I went on the hunt for women right at the other end of the spectrum: those just starting out in tech careers, on apprentice or graduate schemes, or switching from another sector. I’m pleased to report, I found such a diverse and interesting group, this will be a two-part article. In part two, I’ll also be concluding with some key takeaways based on the women featured and practical steps to encourage these kinds of skilled and motivated people into your business.
The apprentice – Nicole Covey, zSeries Software Support Specialist at IBM North Harbour
Nicole Covey is naturally inclined towards working in STEM. She has always been interested in how things work, and as a child, she’d take apart electrical appliances apart to see how they operated. However, while this was something she enjoyed as a hobby she didn’t consider technology for a career at a young age.
Going through my education, it wasn’t really something I considered. For A-levels I studied English Literature, English Language, Law and Psychology – not very techy. I did want to be a police officer for a long while, but needed to change that ambition after a leg injury.
Covey decided against the university route, as tuition fees and further study were not for her.
I was focused on getting a job, taking a step on the career ladder, earning my own money and hopefully starting to make a difference. I was looking for the right opportunity to do that.
Fortuitously, Covey came across IBM Advanced IT Apprenticeship. On reading about the opportunities it could offer, she jumped at the chance to turn a hobby into a career, and is thriving in the role.
Every single day is different. I never know what’s in store or what problem I’ll have to try and solve next, it definitely keeps me on my toes. Essentially, I’d like to become like my mentor and be the person that people come to when they’ve got questions.
She would like to see more employers drawing from as wide a pool as possible to create the most useful and productive teams.
Businesses with a diverse range of people, and difference in backgrounds and opinions have a greater chance of thriving and getting the most out of the business. It’s important that companies lacking in diversity in their leadership look to address this as a priority and work to fix it as if it were any other structural risk.
The non-technical graduate – Ella Jenkinson, sales engineering graduate scheme at Avaya
It is possible to attract Bachelor of Arts graduates to the world of computing, as Ella Jenkinson has proved. Jenkinson joined Avaya last June, after studying for a degree in the very non-technical areas of Marketing & Management.
I purposely chose my degree as I wanted to keep my career opportunities as broad as possible. I stumbled upon the opportunity for a sales role within Avaya and took it, and then after a few months of working for Avaya I had the option to apply for the sales engineering position on the new graduate scheme.
I wanted to challenge myself with something new and never wanted to be restricted in terms of what sector I started my career in. I felt that the tech sector would be a good fit for me as it is a very innovative sector and is always changing and it didn’t seem something I would easily get bored of.
Jenkinson is currently on a 12-month training programme, with the end goal of being a sales engineer.
The culture has very much been to involve myself, and the other early careers people, in as many projects and activities as possible. I have been given access to so many extremely knowledgeable and established people within Avaya, who have been more than willing to give up their time to help me learn and allow me to shadow their meetings to help me succeed.
However, Jenkinson is less complimentary about the gender balance across the tech sector.
Within the meetings I attend, and I assume the tech industry in general there is a notable lack of women, and especially young people. Many of the people within the industry and Avaya have been working in technology for a number of years already and so already have a lot more experience and knowledge.
However, she is determined not to see this as a barrier to her own career progression:
Everyone has to start somewhere and I have been given all of the tools for success.
The career changer – Jenny Pattinson, Information Security, Risk and Governance Manager, Hive (formerly Centrica Connected Home) and recent graduate of AWS re:Start
Someone with a background in legal and governance from many years working as a company secretary at FTSE 100 companies isn’t an obvious match for a career in tech. But when Jenny Pattinson’s husband, who served more than 16 years as a Marine Engineer, was diagnosed with a serious health condition she was no longer able to commit to working such long hours and began looking at new career options.
I was involved in a military charity where I supported finding suitable jobs for service leavers. It was there that I found out about the AWS re:Start programme and became really interested in the programme for myself.
AWS re:Start is a free IT training, mentoring and job placement programme aimed at UK armed forces services leavers, veterans, reservists and their spouses.
At the end of the four-week course, trainees are provided with work placements; Pattinson was offered the role of Information Security, Risk and Governance Manager at Hive, where much of her current role involves looking at the incoming General Data Protection Regulation, making use of her extensive legal skills.
Pattinson would like to see more done to encourage young girls into technology careers.
In school, I pursued electronics while I could but then when I switched schools it was no longer offered. As a woman, I felt that I was not encouraged to pursue an interest or career path in tech. Part of me thinks that if it was offered I might have gone down that path earlier.
It would be great to have more ambassadors going into schools and exposing young people, especially young women to pursue studies and careers in STEM. More awareness is needed on the types or roles and opportunities available and there is a lack of strong successful role models in the technology space.
Many women, who might have left their desk jobs to have a family or become a carer, don’t realise how flexible the tech sector is once you have the skills. Many opportunities allow you to work from home part of the week, for example, or even to work remotely once you are skilled in your chosen area.
The coder: Rebecca Piper, Games Engine Developer at tombola
Having studied maths at Durham University, Rebecca Piper thought that a career would simply fall into place.
Safe to say, it didn’t quite work out like that. The summer after finishing uni, I was in a rut. The logical progression was to become an accountant or a teacher, but those options didn’t excite me.
Facing pressure to make a decision, I randomly came across Makers Academy, a six-week coding course that sounded exciting and technologically advanced.
Piper thrived with her studies at Makers Academy, gaining confidence and applying her degree skills to something that was innovative and interesting. She decided this was the career route for her.
Having completed its graduate scheme, Piper now works at North East tech firm tombola as a Games Engine Developer, where she hopes to eventually hold a senior title.
Being just over a year into my career as a developer, small milestones still excite me. I love seeing code that I have written go live and watching the impact that it has on the website and the business.” Piper feels lucky that she was raised in a family who encouraged her to pursue a career in a STEM industry, as both her parents are scientists.
However, I know other women are not so fortunate and can be apprehensive about getting into a predominantly male industry.
Whilst some people think diversity in tech is still an issue because the sector is dominated by men, I don’t think that it should be. As technology advances, there are more and more opportunities for people to gain skilled tech roles, and the most important thing is that the people filling these positions are passionate and talented.
Part two to follow.
Image credit - Via pixabay