My own career in technology has been inspired by several women in technology and engineering; my tech heroines include my mother, Linda Ziegler, my mother-in-law, Julia Russell, and two former work colleagues, the designer Kat Neville and the Java developer Magz McCarthy.
In some key ways, my own career path reflects my mother’s. Linda started her undergraduate degree with the aim of becoming an historian, but as the limited opportunities in this area became more apparent to her, she determined to train as a chemist and worked as a manufacturing chemist in the plating industry. Similarly, I attained a PhD in British History and Economic and Social History and pursued an academic career for some years; at the end of my ESRC Post-Doctoral Fellowship, at which stage I hadn’t successfully interviewed for one of the three positions in the nation in my field, I determined that I had to make a change and decided to do a ‘conversion course’, or a one year Masters in Information Technology. My mother’s personal history of moving between a humanities and science discipline has always been part of my understanding of her, and was an important part of my inspiration to ‘do what I had to do’ in terms of getting the sort of training that would give me access to decent labour opportunities. I should, however, note here that my partner’s example – he has a Bachelors in English Language Linguistics and a Masters in Cognitive Science and learned Java ‘on the job’ during the turn of the century Dot Com Boom – as well as his practical assistance as tutor was further integral to my attaining my MSc in IT with Distinction from Queen Mary, University of London.
Upon completing my MSc, I worked firstly as a Research Assistant in the Computer Science Department of Queen Mary and then as a Java web application developer at Simply Business and then its child company, BView, but it is only over the last year, working for myself building my own application that I’ve started to feel confident and passionate about working in Internet tech. It had been a difficult transition from a career path I had invested in so heavily and had been deeply passionate for to one I’d entered out of pragmatism.
My flourishing passion and joy for my work has been encouraged in no small way by Julia, Kat and Magz. Jules has a great love of gadgetry and Internet technology and stands out as a ‘woman of a certain age’ with such an appetite and ability to learn to use the latest tools and gizmos. She’s been building web sites since the early days of the web and has recently been recognised as setting a gold standard of best practice for school websites (she works part time at her local primary school). Jules used Google Sites to create a user-friendly and professional site to communicate the school’s happenings to the community. Indeed, Jules represents a quirky blend of ‘good life hippy’ and technologist and her home, nestled in the Scottish Highlands, is aptly called ‘the electronic cottage’; much of her work is home-based and includes web administration for an international development organisation and desk top publishing for local authors. Her willingness to investigate new technologies and to understand and advocate the appropriate uses of different Internet medium such as the different uses of blogs versus forums for the benefit of less informed colleagues, is impressive and unique even without considering her demographic. The tenacity and fearlessness with which Julia approaches technology is entirely admirable and never ceases to amaze (and sometimes to shame) me.
At a different end of the women in IT spectrum are Kat and Magz, both of whom are in their twenties and so are my ‘juniors’. Working with Kat and Magz helped to push me out of my ‘funk’. I’d been indulging, without being fully aware of it, in a rather self-pitying attitude towards working as a technologist after splitting from my first love, history. These two women were full of fire, creativity, enthusiasm and tremendous smarts and helped me wake up to the fact that I was working in an exciting field, full of imaginative, clever and fun people. Kat’s amazing adaptability – she was hired as a pure designer but has since developed an impressive set of UI coding skillz to complement her artistry – inspired and impressed the whole development team and taught me to enjoy the challenges of problem-solving, rather than getting so easily down and frustrated. My first memory of Magz was a story of a previous job where she’d worked some impressive Tomcat-clustering magic. I was immensely impressed by this tale and by the confidence, competency and intensity with which she approached every day programming problems. These two women were my first female-developer role models; while I was notoriously ‘the first female developer’ hired at Xbridge (this is how the CEO once introduced me to a potential hire, much to my horror) and though I worked with an absolutely fantastic group of guys, I was a bit alone in the wilderness until Kat and Magz arrived; they taught me to revel in my work and that, actually, Internet tech is a pretty kick ass place to be!