“My Tech Story – Leia

There’s a hashtag doing the rounds on Twitter at the moment “#MyTechStory” about how people got into their IT careers.

So since we’re always asking our ;learners to write about what they’ve learner and their workplacements – here’s my version (reposted from the WISE Women in IT group on LinkedIn)

It was interesting to hear the “I drifted into this IT biz via loads of other jobs” stories of the speakers at the event because it’s such a common story.

I shared it with my learners today as part of their careers workshop– this is what I told them about how I ended up teaching IT Telecoms Professional apprenticeships…

My theory is that my dad wanted a boy and got me so made do!  I got the Scalectrix and the Lego and the Meccano and the rubber-band balsa aeroplanes and I spent  time sat in the workshop  watching him potch with little robot arms (he was a mechanical engineer who did prototypes for factories) and I played with magnets and the metal filings the bench drill left on the floor.

My mum had to wait for my sister to arrive to get a girly girl to dress up in frocks – although, fair play she was a major giver of Lego!

My primary school had one computer – a BBC Micro with a few educational games and a LOT of text adventures on it which we were allowed to use more as a carrot for good behaviour than as part of the curriculum.  I was rubbish at the text adventures – usually ending up “lost in a maze of twisty corridors all alike” because I didn’t have the patience to draw the maps that the other keen player sketched out as they went.  However, I did like the Logo-style programs that let you send a little blob off across the a field drawing startlingly complicated snowflakes and spirals from just a few lines of code.

Great excitement one Christmas when a Micro of my own was under the tree!  A old telly was installed in the bedroom for me to attach it all up to and I spent the next few years playing Dizzy Egg and some hideously complex flight sim and a complicated world-building space trading games and more text adventures.  And learning Basic. – or rather copying out reams of it and then finding I’d missed something early one that made the whole thing fall over!   If nothing else it taught perseverance.

Secondary school arrived but ICT GCSE was some way in the future and the closest thing was “business skills”.  The only bit I remember was doing imaginary stock markets with spreadsheets!

A-Levels did finally offer a Computing option and my teacher was a lady maths teacher co-opted into IT who seemed to know everything but with hindsight was probably learning like mad, a hop ahead of us.  I was the only girl in the group and discovered I was actually rather better at it than most of the boys.  We did Pascal and relational databases – where I enjoyed the logic-puzzle-like process of breaking down the information into a structure.

I went on into uni to do Computer Science at Swansea which is where it all went wrong.  I was still almost the only girl but now the only one in a hundred odd instead of the only one of ten…  And I was bored bored bored – it turned out they’d changed the course the year before I started to include the programming normally done at A-Level because people hadn’t done it and were struggling.  Except I had done it so was repeating lots.

I lost interest, made a very half hearted attempt at the first year exams and dropped out.

I did a few months work at the DVLA, a few months advising businesses about “Y2K Preparedness courses” a few months helping small business set up websites and then, unemployed again and  funded by the New Deal programme, I did CompTIA A+ alongside some voluntary work looking after in-house IT for Caer Las and helping out in some of their basic IT courses.

As that came to an end I sent out a swathe of about 50 spec letters to every IT company in Swansea I could think of or find in the phone book, outlining what funding and training they were entitled to if they took me on.  I had 3 replies, 2 saying “we’ll remember you” and Swansea ITeC saying “Come in for a chat.”

They were about to start a project wherein primary school too small to have a technician of their own would share one – so I spent a year or so going around a different primary school on each day of the week while they saved up their IT problems for my visit.  Great learning experience, especially on the “how to keep usefully busy” when there wasn’t any active problems, which being small organisations for the most part, did happen occasionally.

When the funding for that project finished I found myself moved to the installations part of the company, out cable-pulling and terminating CAT5.  Never used even used powertools before but on the job training was good, it was better than being made redundant and being small I was almost too well suited to Victorian attics!

One of the other technicians at the time was also female and the looks we’d get turning up alone with ladders and toolboxes and minus a man in tow were amusing.  Interestingly, only the women ever dared comment!

A lot of the work was in schools and funding cycles means that’s somewhat seasonal so the rest of the time I was in house helping with whatever was there to be done.  One of these was the IT training side – and in any case at least half the time when I turned up to ‘fix’ something it wasn’t broken but being done wrong.  And I found I quite liked the “showing people how to do it right” side!

Slowly I found I was more of the training side than the installation side and eventually I did some adult teaching qualifications and ended up teaching the Level 3 IT Telecoms Professional apprenticeships.  (Along with the most of the other programmes when needed).

It’s hard to say how much of my technical interest is natural inclination and how much nuture –  and I’ve always had hobbies as well as work that doesn’t see many other women taking part (I fly a microlight for fun and there’s only three of us girls at the airfield who fly, from about 40 pilots – and even that is a higher ratio than any other flying club I know – I was the only one at the flying school when I was learning)

Where does this idea that some things are “girls stuff” and some aren’t come from?  And why is it getting WORSE in toy shops and supermarkets even as we’re talking more than ever about how to prevent it?  (There’s gender-branded kinder eggs now for goodness sake!  And only the boys ones have the type of traditional Kinder egg “require assembly” toys in, the ‘girls’ ones are static models)…

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