3 Generations of Women In IT – Volume 2
Continuing on from Part 1 of our blog following Annette, Bharti and Sukh through their respective IT careers, this second part focusses on the career progression of each of these talented women.
We discover how their experiences influenced the choices that were made, and how they dealt with the more challenging aspects of both their roles and a career in IT. Has the industry changed in its attitude to women over the years?
These 3 very different experiences from such extraordinary women will challenge you to decide.
Q1: How has your career progressed from its initial start?
“I had completed my first and, thankfully, last programming assignment as an Andersen Consultant. Although, with the benefit of hindsight, I say “thankfully” with some reservations.
“That’s because I now recognise the satisfaction that male contemporaries of mine still get from solving technical problems in ServiceNow, the platform that we all work with. The technology has changed dramatically from clunky old IMS DB/DC and COBOL to the elegance that is ServiceNow.
“But there still remains the challenges of knowing how best to use the technology to meet the customer’s requirements. And this is clearly an enjoyable challenge for my contemporaries, as well as for my younger colleagues such as Bharti and Sukh.
“After finishing the assignment on the Slough Trading Estate – where, incidentally, the Mars factory recently celebrated its 100th anniversary – I did a series of small assignments, working for American oil companies who were just beginning to arrive in Europe on the back of the oil (and later gas) boom in the North Sea.
“I was subsequently assigned to a big systems delivery project for Wates, a construction company. I remember we replaced their existing back office systems, some of which were probably paper based, with a set of applications running on an ICL ME29. The ME29 was put into its own air-conditioned room, to which the whole team had access.
“I still recall the Andersen Consulting manager on the project announcing one day that he’d skin alive the next person who accidentally unplugged the computer, by tripping over the cable at the back of the machine.
“These were the days when the lifeblood of a company could be unplugged by the cleaner wanting to use the socket to plug in a vacuum cleaner! Thankfully a scene that would be unimaginable to IT professionals today, all of whom are used to seeing their hardware tightly guarded in secure data centres.
“I became responsible for understanding the requirements for the Wates payroll systems. Amongst other challenges, I had to get my head around the processing of all the construction work related payments, such as inclement weather payments and protective clothing allowances.
“I quickly learned about managing difficult customers as the weekly payroll manager had direct access to the Managing Director’s office. The weekly payroll process was business critical to Wates because if it didn’t run on time workers wouldn’t turn up on site and construction would stop.
“On reflection it is clear that some of this stress was self-inflicted as I would argue with the partner on the project, particularly about issues affecting women in the workplace. These were the days of the Guardian’s women’s page and I can remember regularly telling him to read the page to better inform himself about the challenges I was describing.
“Interestingly, many years later, when I was living with my family in Palo Alto (Silicon Valley), I bumped into the same partner in the queue to eat at Il Fornaio. In the late 90s, Il Fornaio was where the VCs and other Silicon Valley hotshots all hung out, so I’m not quite sure why I was even there. I went over to speak to him despite him being the number 3 worldwide in the Andersen Consulting hierarchy.
“Much to my surprise he was not only pleased to see his old sparring partner but he introduced me to his two colleagues with great positivity. He proceeded to bring me up to date with all the changes The Firm had introduced to make careers in the company better for women.
“Who knows, perhaps some of what I told him had penetrated after all?
“After the Wates ordeal, I realised that a career with Andersen Consulting, where such work-related stress was not uncommon, was probably not in my long-term interests. I started looking around for my next career move.
“I eventually found a position as a pre-sales consultant for a US software company whose European base was in Maidenhead in Berkshire.
“When I resigned from Andersen Consulting, the same Head of Recruitment that I encountered on my first day with The Firm informed me that I ‘had only one chance to leave Andersen Consulting.’
“The clear implication was that I was wasting this opportunity. I’m pleased to say I proved him completely wrong – but that’s for another blog.”
“Once I had stumbled into the area I so badly wanted to work in – cyber security – it was time to start figuring out what happens next. On the one hand, I had my foot in the cyber security door where I had always wanted to pursue a career, but on the other hand, it wasn’t the job I wanted to do.
“In cyber security I discovered what it was like to be a woman in an almost totally male dominated sector. Male colleagues were selected over me for work, even if I had the ability and the interest to learn.
“My male counterparts made inappropriate comments and there was some hostility because I was younger and female. When your male colleagues point out to you how you’re different, you start to realise that something isn’t right.
“As the reality of my situation dawned, I had to choose whether to carry on in this unfavourable environment, or quit. I knew this was not a place where I could grow, so I made the decision to leave and to pursue the career that I wanted, but in a company that would support me.
“I now believe that the company has since made efforts to change this hostile culture, and to support women in IT careers in a way they clearly didn’t support me. I don’t know how exactly, but I hope that these steps help them to retain their female talent in the future.
“In order to progress, I felt that I needed to upskill myself if I were to be taken seriously in an interview, knowing that I would be asked lots of technical questions. My previous interview experience had only led me to conclude that negative assumptions would be made the minute I walked in the door. I had to prove I was just as technical, if not more so, than my male counterparts on the subject of networks and security.
“To prepare for the interview, I spent a week reading the Checkpoint firewalls book. I knew I was pretty good at networks, as it was my degree subject. I think it did the trick as the look of shock on the manager’s face during the interview process still makes me smile today.
“But in hindsight, it makes me sad. Sad that his initial look conveyed his low expectations of me and sad for the shock I saw, when he realised that I knew my stuff. This was also the first interview where I had decided to wear a skirt suit rather than trousers. This may not sound like much, but for me this was a big statement.
“Consciously or subconsciously I was separating myself from the men they were interviewing.
“I was offered the job. I didn’t negotiate the salary, as I was just grateful they wanted to hire me. I took hold of the opportunity I was given with both hands and gave my all to the job. I had proven myself in the interview and knew I had set the bar high, which meant I finally had the chance to grow. I was, of course, the only female in the support team, something that I was now getting used to.
“I picked things up very quickly and, although the role covered both networks and security, I found myself wanting to focus on security. I had always known this at the back of my mind, but never thought I would be good at it. Turns out I was pretty good at understanding what was needed and how to use that information.
“My aim was to be a well-rounded security person, not just a specialist in one area but one who saw the bigger picture. I enjoyed several roles over the years that gave me different experiences within cyber security.
“Eventually I progressed into the role of technical support engineer. As I mentioned in the previous blog, I do love a good puzzle, and this is how I see cyber security and IT.
“Throughout my career, the support I received from my male colleagues has steadily improved. I am not sure whether this is due to a mind shift about women in Security/IT, or because I have become much better at identifying a good manager, and being more confident in myself.
“Now when I go to an interview, I interview them. Will they be the right fit for me? Do I want to work for them? Will they help my career? I know how important it is to have the right manager more than ever, especially now that I am a mum and my life has very different priorities.
“I have also been incredibly lucky to have some great supporters amongst the male managers that have hired me, worked alongside me, opened career doors and the colleagues who provided full backing.
It did not go unnoticed and I will never forget.”
“My IT career started about 4 and a half years ago at TeamUltra (now the ServiceNow Centre of Excellence at Computacenter), when I joined their Graduate scheme. At the beginning everything was new, the first few weeks were a whirlwind of crash courses in ITIL and ServiceNow.
“I was assigned to the Service Desk, providing support whilst managing day to day tasks with the rest of the Graduates. This was probably the most daunting part of my career; I was not only new to ITSM and ServiceNow, but new to customer management, another set of skills that I had to acquire quickly.
“I didn’t quite know what to expect working in IT and at the time I was hearing all sorts of chatter from my old classmates which wasn’t filling me with much confidence. I began to wonder if I was out of my depth.
“It was around this time that I began to notice and appreciate the company culture. Everyone was, and still is, so welcoming and supportive. I benefited greatly from an inspiring team spirit that was nurtured from the top, coupled with a community of ServiceNow experts.
“I was soon promoted to an implementation consultant. This was quite a jump and I’m thankful for colleagues that patiently supported me through the transition from the support desk to a whole new way of working on projects.
“Before I knew it, I was gaining experience, learning how to work alongside different colleagues and creating bespoke solutions for customers.
“I have progressed in my career and now proudly occupy the role of a Senior Consultant. From working on a wide variety of engagements and interacting with a diverse number of people there have been many challenging moments for me.
“Reading both Annette’s and Bharti’s stories, I am grateful that I haven’t experienced anything like the obstacles they faced. A part of me feels very fortunate to have received great support from all of my colleagues, regardless of gender.
“Or perhaps I’m not lucky at all and this is the way it should be in all companies? Nonetheless, I will take this moment to thank everyone that has helped and supported me throughout my career so far. I’m sure I’ll be relying on them in the future as I continue to grow. I only hope that, in return, I can be someone they can rely on too.”