This week, we spoke to Fiona Hobbs, our Head of Technology, about the drive for more women to work in tech.
Fiona started her IT career, as many people did, by studying IT for GCSE. “I only did it because it sounded interesting” she says. “I seemed to do well and, what’s more, I found I actually enjoyed it”. After leaving school to try the world of work, she felt the need to go back to the academic route. “I decided to go to college and did Computing, Maths and Chemistry, which also went well, so I decided to go keep going with it at Uni, studying Software Engineering. From that aspect, my route in was pretty normal. I took a grad position as a developer and went from there. Looking back, on a course of around 80 people, I can only remember about 5 of those who were women, so something was already amiss.” That was back in the late 90’s and Fiona feels we see the effect of that now. “There are women in IT, but when I look around I still feel the quantity of technical roles occupied by women is low, albeit nice to see more and more women in IT management positions.”
So what does Fiona think the solution is? “I’m not sure to be honest, I don’t feel there’s a stigma attached to women in IT, in fact many of the pioneers were women, but for some reason the balance is still way too low. I see some great initiatives such as HMRC’s apprentice program which had a much healthier intake, and I’m trying to spread the word by supporting various forums including Ladies Of Code so maybe we can just make it a more visible as an option to young people making choices.”
Fiona’s not alone in trying to promote women in tech. We’re firmly supportive of this and we work with other like minded people. And, let’s not forget that women have pioneered in tech right from the early days. Throughout the Second World War, with over ten thousand people, women made up half of the code breaking force. Grace Hopper (the person who coined the term ‘computer bug’ after physically finding a moth in her computer system) created the compiler for the first ever commercial computer and Ada Lovelace is considered the world’s first ever computer programmer in 1840.
Last year, Fiona encountered Dame Stephanie Shirley at Dynamo conference. Dame Stephanie founded the revolutionary software company Freelance Programmers in 1962. Fiona found her story fascinating, although the challenges for equality in that era were somewhat different to today.
So, any final words of advice from Fiona to young women (or indeed, any young person) looking to get into tech? “It’s really no different to any other career. Just do what you want to do” she says. “Try it and see if you enjoy it. It’s a rewarding career with many great opportunities in the North East. Younger people can attend code clubs or maker parties, those a little older can come along to various forums or any of the free coding classes that are available. Get involved with the community and hackathons. Being a developer is a great career in itself, but it also opens up the doors for so many other career paths in IT.”
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