IT’s Not Just For The Boys – A Conference For Female Undergrads Studying Computing

'IT's not just for the boys' at Bloomberg HQ in central London. Sat with a group of 80, gathering personal insight into the IT sectors of larger companies.  It seems ironic that the first piece of advice that I would receive for working in this area is to not spend all your time behind a computer screen; but, then again, it seems like one of the most valuable tips.

This opportunity appeared through a company called Target Jobs, with Microsoft, Bloomberg (hosts), Cisco, Logica (being renamed CGI in 2013), Deliotte, IBM, Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Sky in attendance.  Motivational coach to the stars, Alexandra Watson, showed the dedication she has shown working with many pioneering women throughout her career. She spoke about one main word, S.H.I.N.E. This word can be split into five other words: Super confident, Happy, Impactful, No room for negativity and Excel. The way that she phrased all this had a real impact. One of the tips that she gave us all was not to hide behind a computer screen, “it won’t get you where you want to be,” she said with a lot of force behind it. 

She also made all of us make a vow to ourselves, had on our hearts and everything! This again referred back the S.H.I.N.E saying, each of the letters have great significance, I shall go into this a little bit more here. The S which relates to confidence, knowing what you as an individual want from life and your career and of course know how to get it. Having trust and faith in oneself can also be vital here. “Mediocre is NOT good enough!” she exclaimed at the end of this description. The H refers to being yourself and having the right kind of energy. This depends on only one person; YOU! The I refers to the interview stages; in the sense that confidence contribute to absolute clarity behind what you are trying to say. The value you have an individual and those who have the clearest agenda win. The N relates to be positive. No room for negativity at all; it will keep you stuck and make you feel small. Thinking proactively and do not fear failure, it will happen many times in life, the way you pick yourself up again describes who you are. Finally, the E refers to knowing what you want in life and what you need. The potential is unlimited and don’t be un-limiting when it comes to this!

“Who Am I To S.H.I.N.E?”

Shortly after this, and a session of networking, it was the turn of Dr. Sue Black. She is a leading blogger and currently works at UCL, alongside being quite the advocate for women in technology; “If I can do it, so can you!” is her motto.

She told a lot about her background: didn’t finish A-Levels, started a family at a young age, tried many different careers and finally at the age of 23 went back to studying again. She attended classes which were predominantly male which did knock her confidence a lot back then. After gaining her University entry she studied Computer Science at London South Bank and then carried on to do her PhD.

After this part of her life, she was quick to identify herself in a clear minority here and decided to try and do something about it. She set up BCS Women (named the Women of Station X) and then got involved heavily with Bletchley Park, the computing museum.  As the museum fell into financial crisis in 2008 and threatened to close, Sue targeted social media to try and gain support.

One of the people she reached out to was the one and only Stephen Fry! Being a technology buff himself, he did a great deal to help out, and truly propelled this story into a huge number of homes across the country via the national media. In the end, she saved this iconic museum from being closed down; preserving it for future generations to enjoy.

After hearing this pioneering effort from Dr Black, she gave us some really good advice; the good times must be treasured and to trust in your own instincts. Make things better for those around you and consider those who have been before you.

She then bought up Deena St. Johnston who set up the first software house after the Second World War in 1959, followed quickly by Dame Steve Shirley (Stephanie), who was told by her husband that she would get on better with job applications if she was male.  With that information, she changed her name to Steve and got plenty of job offers. She founded a software company in 1962, and was primarily concerned with creating work opportunities for women with dependants, successfully pushing to get the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 made illegal.

Key things to take form Sue Black’s talk: create a reliable support network, appreciate who you are, believe in yourself and finally, be good to yourself! 

A few points they gave was to: 

What do companies want from a Graduate?

After a variety of fascinating discussions with women in IT companies, the facts were made clear as to what they look for in a graduate.  The ability to manage yourself and be organised is a very attractive quality to have on your person, it makes you seem keen and that you will not get bogged down with work projects in the future. Have a range of people skill, may this be from previous jobs or activities while at University, if you can interact with all types of people, it is extremely beneficial.

Can you as a person make a contribution to the company? This is often asked in graduate job interviews and the way that you respond can really determine your overall focus. Finally, the customer focus, as many businesses deal with customers on a daily basis, it is important that you as a graduate know how the company achieves this and how it could be developed.  

Ask questions – it makes you seem more interested and passionate about the company, know the company/industry you have applied to, be enthusiastic about the company, research the job role you have applied to, use social media – follow the company on Twitter for example so you are up to date with what is going on. Finally, this has come from past experience of the company interviewers during some interviews; don’t mention other jobs that you have applied for! This will put the company off and make them think that they are second best.

Assessment Centres – if you have been successful with your application, you will be invited to attend one of these. They test your ability to work as a team and exactly what qualities you have that will benefit the company. Tips for this day are as follows – know where you are going, plan everything in advance and arrive promptly. Use their social media sites to gain an insight into what is going on in the company at present, this could be bought up in the interview and it really shows that you want to work for them. Know your CV and application you submitted – this may sound obvious, but you will be asked about elements of it and answers you gave to application questions. Finally, ask questions – it shows you are dedicated and are generally interested in the company and the job role.

Interviews – this is the scary part, most of these will be one to one interviews so it can be considered a bit less daunting. However, bear in mind that the interview starts as soon as you walk into the room! A potential employer will make up his/her mind, on average, in the first 20 – 30 seconds of you entering that interview room. Take notes and prompts with you, this doesn’t hurt as you may have something you want to talk about but in the intensity of the moment may forget. Be enthusiastic and be yourself; don’t try to make yourself fit and act all robot like. Trust me; many companies see this all the time!

After the Assessment Day – you can ask the company for feedback on your application and interview if you were unsuccessful and of course use this to reflect on how you could improve in the future.

Moving swiftly onto the panel discussion, I was the first to read out my question.  It was actually quite daunting having those professionals take in what you were asking them. My question was: “If you could give any advice to an IT enthusiast on how to make her mark in the IT industry, what would it be?” 

To put simply: Focusing on your interests and be creative, show initiative and build a portfolio were all suggestions given to me. These really inspired me to want to better myself as an individual.

Computing seems to be an area which has fallen to the wayside of gender equality.  With the brilliant stories presented to us, and an emerging trend of female undergraduates studying in this area, expect the trend to be broken soon!

Zoe Redfern