Geeky Barbie’s main objective is to inspire girls by showcasing women in tech-related jobs (roles in which women are generally under-represented)
I was very lucky last Friday in that I was invited with my boss, Nicki, to attend the final of the Kodu Kup at Microsoft Headquarters. This is a national competition run by Microsoft for school children aged 7 to 14 to encourage them to build a computer game using Kodu Game Lab, Nicki was part of the judging panel and for more information about the competition you can read her blog post here.
The winners of the competition was an all-girl team from Afon Taf High School in Wales known as Artemis Games; they created a game called The Dark Side of Mars and I managed to interview them after the event to hear their thoughts on school, the competition and girls in the gaming industry. It was great to hear from aspiring girls in tech!
The team is made up of three girls, Kayleigh, Shauna and Holly. They all love computing and are all very creative, with art and English being their overall favourite subjects. Kayleigh is an experienced gamer and at school particularly likes Design Technology and Science in addition to English whereas Shauna is the organiser of the group and likes writing stories, her favourite school subjects incluce PE, Design Technology and English while Holly likes Music, History and English and does a lot of imaginative writing. This would certainly explain how they came up with such an interesting storyline for their game!
One of the first things I wanted to know was whether they all wanted to become game designers when they are older? They all said they were considering a career in the gaming industry: Holly wants to design and program games, Kayleigh would like to be a concept designer or a graphics designer whilst Shauna would like to be a game developer.
All of the girls like playing games and their favourites include: Forsaken World, Skyrim, Spore, The Binding of Isaac and Dragon Age. So why did they choose to enter the Kodu Kup?
We wanted to be creative, and we know that we work well as a team because we are all friends. One day in school we were casually talking when one of us started talking about a poster with the Kodu Kup on it, we thought it would be good fun to enter and we thought ‘who knows we might win this thing ha ha’ ; and that’s how we entered!
It must have been amazing to hear your names announced as the winners, how did you feel at the time?
We thought we were dreaming. When they called out Artemis Games Holly and Kayleigh looked at each other with disbelief, we were shocked! Shauna let out a little squeal of excitement which signaled to Holly and Kayleigh that this was real! It took about two hours for it to sink in. After we had our prizes all we wanted to do was thank everyone for their support! Especially Nexus, who were the boys from Afon Taf as they are our best friends.
I asked them what they have learnt by entering this competition:
We learned that with hard work and confidence you can achieve anything you set your mind to. We also learned that teamwork is essential when working in a group. Also we learned to show everyone what we love doing, and this competition has helped us do that.
When I asked them what they had planned for Artemis Games in the future they explained that they intend to continue making games in Kodu and other gaming platforms, they would like to return to the Kodu Kup next year to defend their title! They are also hoping to enter other competitions that may come up in the future. When they returned to school on Monday they even used their expertise to teach year 7 pupils in their school; they said this went really well and the children loved using Kodu and playing their winning game!
Finally I asked whether they had any inspirational messages for other girls going into gaming and they gave this lovely response:
Women have had a big impact on modern technology today. The first programmer was Ada Lovelace, and without her the way we use computers today would have never been the same. Even though many people see gaming and computing as a man’s hobby, women are the ones who have the brains behind it! We hope more girls get into gaming, and we hope the boys out there don’t get intimidated by us beating them at some games!
Inspirational words from a very talented group of girls. Congratulations once again.
I’m particularly excited about today’s interview, I had the pleasure of meeting Kate Russell at the launch party for #include, a sub group of Computing at School, which aims to increase the diversity of students studying computer science. I was really pleased she agreed to be interviewed; I’m sure you’ll agree her journey into technology is really interesting!
Kate got into playing computer games when the concept first evolved back in the mid 1980s. In those days girls were not encouraged to be interested in technology but her brother was taking computer studies at school and her parents bought him a BBC Micro:
He had a space trading game called Elite and I was fascinated by this simulated world, with planets, economies, good guys and bad guys, living inside the box on the table. Back then it seemed like witchcraft. I wanted to know more and that was really where my journey to today’s career began. It’s not so much a job as a continuing quest to try and understand computers and what it is possible to do with them.
Kate is a freelance technology reporter, journalist and author but is probably best known as a presenter on BBC’s technology show, Click. She told me she hadn’t always planned a career in technology so I asked what she originally planned to do:
I don’t think I ever had a plan to work in any field – although I can remember wanting to be a dolphin trainer until I realised that keeping dolphins in captivity to entertain us is cruel. I left school at 17 with no real qualifications or direction. I didn’t ‘get’ education. I went to an all girls school in the 1980s and it was all about learning to repeat names and dates of stuff that happened centuries ago, or doing things like home economics and needlework. I just didn’t see how it was relevant to me so I left school and job-hopped for the next 10 years until an opportunity writing games reviews for a magazine kind of fell into my lap by chance. It was something I would never have dreamed I stood a chance of doing, but once I had my foot in the door of journalism I worked incredibly hard for very little money to start with, building my experience and contacts until I was looking at a viable freelance career.
In Kate’s role she told me it’s important to keep up with technology and trends and she is always finding interesting ways to tell the stories she uncovers to the world: “It really is about telling stories as much as understanding technology – even though my writing and presenting is factual not fiction, you still need to engage the audience, especially if you’re trying to explain complex technology to people who are not as experienced with computers as you are”. She explained that being able to find experts and ask the right questions to help them express their knowledge is key to any reporting role. I asked Kate what she likes most about her work:
I love words and get immense pleasure from using them to tell a good story , I write fiction in my spare time too. I also love the variety of the work I do though – I’m a creature of change and have always felt stifled by routine.
Lastly, I closed by asking Kate if she had any encouraging words for the girls reading this:
Whatever path you take through life just remember it doesn’t have to be the well-trodden one, though there will be fewer thorns to grab at your ankles if you do take the well travelled path!. I got where I am today with no formal education but that doesn’t mean I didn’t learn anything. Instead of studying at school I was teaching myself to build computers and write basic code; I was writing stories and reading books like crazy. Even today in my 40s I am always learning new things – the Internet is great for that. I just prefer to learn about things I am interested in, in ways I find engaging. So not enjoying school isn’t an excuse to be lazy or disruptive. You can achieve anything you want to in life but you will never be successful if you aren’t prepared to work hard at it… so choose something you love and get stuck in!
If you want to hear more from Kate, why not check out one of her books:
Today I would like to share with you my interview with Kimikawa De Castro, who is Chief Executive Director at K4 Innovations Ltd. I am starting to see a pattern forming because, like many of my other interviewees, Kimikawa didn’t originally plan to go into a career in IT. She originally started working as a bank clerk when she finished high school; she was encouraged into this career by her mother as at that time banks were know to develop their employees through further training. While working as a bank clerk she often finished all of her work for the day by lunchtime and therefore walked around the office seeing if anybody needed help. Luckily at the time a new IBM system was being installed and as the data processing department were really busy she was drafted in to help. One day a consultant noticed her natural affinity to read code and suggested she pursue a career in this field.
Kimikawa explained what she does in her current role and what she likes best about her job:
‘I operate a niche social enterprise project management consultancy. This means I am essentially responsible for the vision and direction of the company in regards to people, profit and operations. We focus our energy on being the best at what we do and I take great pleasure in using our skills and expertise to help individuals, businesses and communities achieve their dreams and goals. Additionally we work very hard to keep a balanced ratio of men to women especially in areas where they traditionally are not seen, for example women in engineering and men in HR & Marketing.
In terms of qualifications Kimikawa has a degree in Information Systems with Decision Support and a Professional Certification in Project Management.
Finally, Kimikawa shared her thoughts on ‘girl power’ in the IT industry:
If the government won’t do it then let us start a campaign to educate women on their power as individuals and a collective.
After a quiet few weeks, today I am interviewing Jeanine Long who is head of operations at Thomson Reuters; in her role she manages a global team of program and project managers, working with senior stakeholders. Her job is all about making sure they are delivering business system projects that align to the companies strategies on time and on budget. Jeanine says the best part of her job is “Coordinating a global team and working with groups across the world to make our employee daily experience better.”
Like many of the ladies interviewed on this site Jeanine hasn’t always wanted to work in IT, she originally had no idea what she wanted to do:
Originally I was interested in art and painting, that evolved into working in a sign shop training disabled adults in sign making for a hospital on CAD routers and computerised sign-making equipment. I went back for my masters and discovered project management and made a big career jump into it.
Jeanine has a Masters Degree in Information Systems Management. Lastly, I asked her to share some words of encouragement for girls reading this:
The biggest thing that held me back (and still does) is my own fear of failure. “I don’t think I can…”, “I’m not qualified enough to do…” – I would have never thought I’d be in the position I am now and all those little jobs added up to the skills that got me where I am today. Networking with senior women has helped me tremendously by meeting role models and making me feel valued. I was once told to “build your professional posse” to help with fears and doubts. They have helped me through the hard times and mistakes that were the best learning experiences of my life. You can do it!
Choosing a career in a male dominated industry can be challenging but be sure to believe in yourself and don’t be afraid to speak your mind. Remember, if you think you are too small to make a difference, you have never been in bed with a mosquito!
Those are some inspirational words from this week’s interviewee, Sheila Flavell who is Chief Operating Officer, with an award-winning international IT services provider called FDM Group. The company supplies effective and innovative IT solutions to over 200 clients worldwide! Sheila’s job see her spending the majority of her time travelling around the world spearheading her company’s expansion programme. She is responsible for overseeing Operations, Recruitment, Marketing, Human Resources, and Academy worldwide as well as planning ways to gain more clients. I asked Sheila what she likes most about her job:
Every day is a new challenge and with each day, I can make a difference to someone’s life and career; I have the opportunity to help others on their own journey to success.
I also enjoy leading our Women in IT campaign that we launched in 2011. This campaign encourages females to choose a career in IT and we hold a number of undergraduate and graduate events, in addition to hosting events for executive women in the industry to discuss how we can drive gender diversity as leaders.
Alongside this, we also introduced our Female Champions initiative, which allows every female in FDM to have a mentor, if they choose, to develop their professional growth. As a result, we have seen a huge rise in female applicants and have created a more nurturing and supportive environment for our female consultants and staff.
Sheila hadn’t always planned to work in the IT industry, but she has always wanted to work with people. She originally wanted to go to a PE college but was too young at the time and decided to join the police force in Glasgow. Shortly after she became a police officer, the city introduced equal pay which spurred on the men on the force to put women on foot patrol. This had never happened before so it was a big step for them and she found herself on the toughest and roughest streets of the city to ‘prove her worth’; that women deserved equal pay! Sheila then worked in Middle East for 12 years for an international airline company. She told me about how her experiences here differed from those in the UK:
This was a huge cultural change for me: men can have four wives while women can have only one husband, women can’t drive in some states while men have no limitations. So my first two roles were firmly in male dominated environments and it was there that I learned the skills necessary to take me on my own path to success. There was a minimum technological movement there and when I arrived back to the UK I felt as though life had continued whilst I was 12 years behind everyone else! I developed a thirst for technology and needed to play catch up.
Following this she has worked in IT services for the past 20 years, which is another male dominated environment. This is probably where her passion for promoting women in IT has derived from. She has five children and her three eldest girls all work at FDM; one in New York, one in Hong Kong and one in London: “We have promoted this industry to our own kids as one that they can have a fantastic career in.”
Today I am interviewing Emily Moodie who works as an apprentice System Engineer for Cisco (Cisco is a huge multinational company and the world leader in networking). Emily chose her job in IT because she believes it is a great industry in which to work as it is forever changing and adapting to the market.
I asked Emily to tell me about her job:
Currently I am an apprentice so I am taking part in many placements. I have been shadowing System Engineers that work in the field with their customers, attending meetings with them and trying to work out what their customers’ needs and requirements are. Currently I am working as a Virtual System Engineer and reviewing cases which have many questions surrounding Cisco technologies.
What Emily likes most about her job is doing something different nearly every day. She says “no day is the same and there is still a lot to be learnt”.
Like most of my interviewees Emily hasn’t always wanted to work in IT, she had originally planned to work in the Police Force! Although ICT was her favourite subject at school! She has two GCSEs in IT and is Network+ Certified and is working towards achieving A+ Certification. These are industry-recognised qualifications in Cisco technologies.
Happy new year everyone! I’ve had a bit of a quiet start to the year but now I’m back with my first interview of 2013. Today I’m interviewing Dr Delyth Harris who is head of Solution Acceleration at Cisco (Cisco is a huge multinational company and the world leader in networking).
Dr Harris is another lady who didn’t originally plan to work in the IT industry, she originally toyed with the idea of being a policewoman and then a teacher. She was offered a job as a college lecturer but realised it probably wasn’t right for her. She fell into her job in IT through her initial role in academia and was approached by HP (Hewlett Packard) to come and join their academic relations team. She shared her thoughts on this:
I’ve never looked back as I realised that there were so many opportunities and different roles available to me in IT without needing to be an engineer myself.
I asked Dr Harris to explain what her job involves:
My job involves working with other technology partners and driving a joint go-to-market for our combined solutions via our resale channel. In addition, my team is responsible for preparing our company for the future, in terms of which partners we should be working with and what business models will be appropriate. There is a lot of scope to use a broad business knowledge and be creative.
She then told me what she loves most about her job:
I love the variety of my role. No day is the same. Every day involves meeting different people from our partners and working with them to find innovative solutions to growing our businesses together. There is a lot of scope to use a broad business knowledge and be creative in the role, so I feel I’m contributing to the business every day in a variety of ways. I also feel good about the fact that IT is benefiting so many people across the world today, and by doing my role I can help in a small way to change people’s lives.
At school Dr Harris’ favourite subject was Geography and she has a PhD is in Geology, which you would assume isn’t relevant to her job, however she does find that the skills she learnt during her PhD mean that she knows how to assimilate a wealth of information, analyse it and draw conclusions or make recommendations from it. That’s a skill that she uses every day in her role.
As a final note I asked Dr Harris for some words of wisdom for any girls thinking about a career in the IT industry:
My big call out to any girl considering a career in IT is that there are so many different roles in IT that there is something for everyone. IT doesn’t mean that you have to code or be an engineer. You can use creative, analytical or business skills in a variety of roles, whether it be in marketing or finance or operations. IT companies are typically very flexible places to work as we rely on technology so much, so there are opportunities to work and live almost anywhere. I live 2.5hrs from the office so work from home 2 or 3 days a week, but because of the technology we use to communicate and collaborate I’m always available and accessible. As a mother of two young boys this kind of flexibility is so important to me, and has meant that I haven’t had to sacrifice my home life for the job I love.
My next interview to share with you is with Maria Ingold who is CEO and Technical Consultant at Mireality. Her role as technical consultant is in Video On-Demand (VOD) with a speciality in delivering the most secure content, this being premium films in the first rights window. Maria built the architecture that delivers on-demand films for Virgin Media and Film4oD and consults for a wide range of companies from start-ups to established VOD providers on a global scale. I asked her what she liked most about her job:
I love consulting – the variety and challenges and the opportunity to work with a wide range of companies on a global scale. I’m also a BAFTA judge – I love working with film and I’m thrilled to be part of the distribution chain on the on-demand side.
Maria then told me why she chose a job in the IT industry:
When I was seven my father showed me how to write a “for loop” in a programming language called FORTRAN in the basement of the military installation. Something about that moment, and the rooms of floor-to-ceiling computers, stuck and fascinated me forever.
I asked Maria if she had always wanted to work in IT and surprisingly she answered “no“. When she was two she drew her first picture of a face and for some time thought she would become an artist. She briefly thought of becoming a lawyer at 14 then eventually when she was 17 she combined both art and IT to be the first person at her university to study Computer Science and Fine Art.
We then talked about school and Maria told me that when she was at school she didn’t just have one favourite subject:
I liked a lot of things. I think that’s better, it utilises both sides of the brain and the neural pathways in-between. I liked art and computing, but also archaeology, poetry, writing, ballet, gymnastics and my exchange programme which allowed me to experience new cultures and ways of thinking.
Maria’s qualifications include a BSc Hons (1st class) degree in Computer Science with a minor in Fine Art from the University of New Mexico and works on a Masters of Fine Arts in Computer Graphics and Animation from Florida Atlantic University.
Finally Maria offered some inspirational advice to girls reading this:
Do what you’re passionate about. If you’re afraid, use that to challenge yourself to succeed. Break societal norms – you can be beautiful, love fashion, have fun AND have an amazing mind.
My first interview with a lady in the IT industry is with Debra Lilley. Debra works for Fujitsu as an Oracle Alliance Director and is also a council member for the UK Oracle User Group (UK>OUG). Oracle is a huge multinational computer technology organisation that mainly specialises in database management systems.
Debra didn’t always want to work in IT, she originally wanted to be a Pathology Lab Technician as her favourite subject at school was Physics. Her IT-related qualifications include CITP (Chartered IT Professional) and CDir (Chartered Director).
I asked Debra why she chose a job in IT. She informed me that after leaving school she decided to get a job in the public sector which would allow her to go to college part time to get the extra science exams she needed to become a laboratory assistant. Jobs were much easier to find at that time (in the late 70’s) and she received 3 job offers and actually selected her first employer by throwing a dart! She worked for this company, in London, for three years and really enjoyed it.
By 1981 computers were just hitting mainstream and there was a real shortage of programmers and she was sent for was a computer aptitude test. In this test she was asked to draw a flowchart for making a cup of tea and was offered a job as a trainee Cobol developer (Cobol is a programming language). She has worked in various jobs in IT ever since. You can read her full story on her blog.
Debra then explained what her current job involves:
It’s like being ‘playground monitor’ between Fujitsu and Oracle. I need to understand the offerings of both organisations and where there is synergy. Then bringing the right people together. I am an ACE Director which is an Oracle scheme for their best users, and present on their solutions world wide. I am also a council member for the independent UK Oracle User Group (previously president), this is about serving the Oracle community and influencing oracle.
So, what does Debra like most about her job?
The freedom to do what I want as an independent contributor, someone needs to know what Oracle are doing, and in turn educating my colleagues and customers.
When asked for any words of encouragement to girls reading this she makes the point that “Nothing works in this world without IT and you can make a difference”.