Jean McInnes, Director at OSCS Ltd, an Oracle database services company based in Glasgow, talks to us about how she got into computing and the exciting opportunities that are available in the industry.
What got you into computing?
As a child I liked numbers and pressing buttons. I also liked solving problems. At school I was really good at science and maths, although it didn’t come easily – I had to work hard. My career plan was to study pharmacology at university. However, when I discussed this with my family, their advice was “You want to get yourself into computing – this is the future!” This was because they were working in industries that were experiencing a computer revolution and could see how the world was changing.
Motivated by the idea of a good job – meaning making loads of money, working in a swanky office and owning a Nova SRI hot hatch – I thought that a career in computing could help me achieve my goals. I chose the University of Strathclyde because it offered the best resources for computing.
I had not done any computing before university. I picked it up easily and really enjoyed myself. Although the course was dominated by maths, I loved the operational research courses which were practical classes. There was a great level of camaraderie because everyone was working together on a problem and of course there is never just one way to solve it. We bounced ideas off each other and spent long happy hours in the labs. It was fun and didn’t feel like studying.
What types of job have you had since you left university?
At the end of my course I had a huge choice of jobs as a computer programmer. London beckoned with a tempting starting salary, my own flat and car. I worked for STC IDEC and, out of 20 graduates taken on, only two were female. However, being in a minority was not an issue for me – I never felt a lack of respect or that I had to work harder to prove myself. Some interesting research has been done with team dynamics in the software industries showing that a team with women functions better, as women try to build the team to be better together whereas men are more competitive and work against each other. After this job, I moved back to Scotland and worked at the University of Stirling and then in a supervisory role at the University of Strathclyde.
I was invited to attend a Train the Trainer course in Oracle and Unix (now Linux) and this enabled me to work in London on short contracts as a trainer where I could earn a month’s salary in one week. By this time I had a baby and I had the opportunities to work flexibly, keeping my career going while balancing family life.
Next, I joined my husband’s training business. Interestingly, we employed more women than men. We found that male employees were always looking towards their next job, whereas women focused on their current job and got on with it to do the best job. However, we had good team dynamics and it worked well. During this time I was responsible for NHS data migration.
What are you doing now?
Now I am a co-director of my own business, OSCS, an Oracle database services company with clients such as NHS, Supergroup (Superdry) and World Wide Library Systems. I have achieved the lifestyle I want, including the swanky office and my current favourite car (an Audi not a Nova SRI). There have always been fantastic opportunities in computing, and I could have made different choices, relocated across the world and made more money.
Well paid jobs, plenty of opportunities and it’s fun!
All the girls I was at university with have done well – some have become maths teachers showing that computing is a gateway into different jobs. 90% of jobs now require digital skills, so it’s a great skill set to achieve. For some university courses you don’t always get the job you have studied for – this is not the case for computing. This industry has a good reputation for secure jobs and if you are flexible, the world’s your oyster! It’s an industry where anyone with a good idea can make a business out of it because you don’t need to have a lot of infrastructure which keeps start up costs low.
It is disappointing that currently only 14% of women are employed in the technology sector. It is frustrating that after all this time women are still so underrepresented. Digital Pioneer Martha Lane Fox delivered the 2015 Richard Dimbleby Lecture on understanding the internet more deeply. She said this about women into ICT:
“Let’s make the UK the best place to be a female technologist in the world. Coders, designers, programmers, for any digital role we will need 1 million people by 2020. Let’s educate every unemployed woman in technology – I am sure there are some more Ada Lovelace’s in this land. There are lots of exciting projects such as #stemettes, #techmums,#codebars but we need to make more impact, bigger, faster and they need to foster the maximum breadth and depth of digital talent. We need to put women at the heart of the technical sector. That alone can make us the most digitally successful country on the planet and give us a real edge.”
You can watch the full lecture at http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b05p9tvt/the-richard-dimbleby-lecture-30032015.