Girl, You’ll Be a Woman (In IT) Soon
I’ve never thought of myself as being unusual being a woman in IT; it has been a passion since I was young and my natural choice for a career.
I was always lucky growing up. We didn’t have much, but we did get a secondhand Commodore 64, a beige one with a tape drive that had a broken lid. We'd copy pages and pages of code to search for a missed full-stop, and it did nothing exciting in the end.
The we got the Atari ST, where I’d play games like Robocop and feed the main character baby food for energy. Nothing like the tech available today and the amazing graphics that are so lifelike. But even the old games sparked my interest and I could whittle away hours playing Ghostbusters and Paperboy.
I loved IT because although I wasn’t quick with spelling, the language of computers just made sense to me.
I went to Dixons City Technology College and although it sounds crazy now—when we all have mobiles, iPads, and laptops—in the early 90’s, having one computer per student was a privilege. Classes were advanced for that time period. After designing websites on Dreamweaver on the beige chunky monitors and the worn-out keyboards, I ended up in the local paper for using the first dial-up internet PC in the school library. (My very proud parents still have the embarrassing newspaper article!)
Career in Tech
I started my career in IT at the bottom, as a trainee for my then local NHS Community Health. It was a very interesting first job. I would travel around fixing faxes, printers, and computers, plus a thousand floppy disks to load up Windows 3.11. I learnt a lot.
Then I became the first line for an ISP (old school dial up), supporting businesses and their internet connections hosting websites and getting my first taste of out-of-hours on-call. The highlight was covering for the millennium, a few hours work on NYE and staying sober meant a decent pay packet and a good few days in lieu (that year’s holiday was sorted).
Then I progressed through the ranks as I moved onto other companies becoming second line, third line, and server engineer all by the age of 21. I was seen to be so important to the people around me that I was sent on an influencing and body language course. I hated every minute and sat through the whole thing with my arms crossed. I thought that the trainer would have got the hint!
I’ve sat through Microsoft training courses. I know about all the technical abbreviations PDCS, BDCs (good old NT4) etc. etc. I was always the only girl in the room, determined that the certification would make people accept my skills. Today (much older and wiser), I am a Senior Technical Consultant for MarXtar. My current manager is the best yet (and I’m not just saying that because he will be reading this), but the team have appreciated me from the first day and I’m lucky enough to work with some fantastic customers and colleagues. No two days are the same; one day I can be running a technical training course, another doing a new install, or leading skills transfer to enable the customers to manage their own systems or troubleshooting issues that they have. I can be in the UK, Europe, US, or sitting in my office. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Being a Woman in IT
I have met some amazing people in this job. I get to travel and meet new people every day and I love what I do. I’m very good at translating all the techy talk that baffles most people, as well as putting customers at ease. Though I do feel like a life coach sometimes!
I enjoy empowering people to be able to use their IT systems effectively and giving them the confidence to learn. I genuinely love finding out about people, so it’s a real joy to work with customers and to know you are helping make their working lives easier.
Women in IT is still a bit of a novelty. Things are changing, but I’m always the only female on any technical training and workshops. In the past I’ve been ignored and spoken over because I’ve turned up to a customer site visit with a male trainee in tow, and obviously being male he knows more than me! I usually have to work that little bit harder when I first meet people to prove myself. It doesn’t come naturally to people yet that a female would be highly skilled in IT (a bit like if you go to a garage you expect to see a male mechanic), though I know what I’m doing, and as soon as people get to know me they trust me and always ask for me.
In the past I’ve been bullied. Managers have felt threatened because customers have been more comfortable talking to me and have preferred the way I simplify the IT terminology. Rather than embracing this as a great asset, I’ve been forced out of jobs because the people in charge couldn’t handle it. It has almost broken me at times, but looking back, I realise it’s their loss!
I’ve been ignored by customers until I’ve proven I know what I’m doing. I’ve had the over-friendly customers who start to massage your back as you are doing an install (yes, that’s really happened! #MeToo wasn’t even around then!). And I’ve had previous company sales people selling “Di time” because they see it as a way to make more money, especially if that customer became a little too friendly (back to the #MeToo campaign), and this was a female sales person. But I have always laughed it off and carry on because I love what I do. My motto is "what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger" and anyone who knows me knows how strong I am.
I don’t like the label of a "woman working in IT" because it makes me feel awkward. Plus, there are lots of women working in IT, in PMs, sales and marketing. I’m a highly skilled IT technician; my skills aren’t transferable like PMs, sales and marketing (no offence). Women in tech to me are the DBOs/DBAs, programmers, the hands-on engineers, consultants, and many more who learn the technology and do a fantastic job delivering the results. I’d love to see a future where us highly skilled females are no longer a novelty but a growing breed who stand with merit in our own rights.
I always joke that by highlighting women in tech then we are being singled out. What about the non-glasses wearers in tech or the bald men in tech? It should just be accepted and once the stereotyping is gone then maybe there will be a more diverse audience in tech.
Technology and Me
I am a nerd. I have every gadget going when something new is released. I like to take it apart and see how it works (yes, I do end up with bits left over and it might rattle a little but it will still work). I love that technology moves on and I’m always learning new skills and products, and then helping to teach my new skills to others.
#MySuperPower is that I am unique I like to be quirky and different. But that’s just who I am; nothing to do with what I do!