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: