Spotlight on women in computing – Caroline Stuart

Caroline Stuart has been Scotland Director for Oracle Corporation Ltd since 2009. She is the current Chair of the Tech Partnership Scotland and sits on various boards and committees including Skills Development Scotland, Jobs and Business Glasgow, Scotland IS, the Scottish Government’s Strategic Group on Work and Women, the Scottish Government’s Digital Scotland Business Excellence Board, the Scottish Government Digital Workforce Advisory Board and the Funding Councils Skills Committee. 


A little bit about me – I graduated in Technology and Business Studies from Strathclyde University in1986 and left Scotland to work in the City of London. I trained as an Investment Analyst and worked for Crown Agents and Charterhouse Bank and then returned to Scotland. I ran three small companies before moving into business consultancy and was volunteer business advisor to the Princes Scottish Youth Business Trust for 10 years. 

I joined Oracle in 2000 in a role that was established to bridge the gap between IT and the Boardroom at the height of the dot com boom. I’ve worked in various business units across the UK and EMEA and am now the Director for Scotland helping customers to understand how technology is changing, often disrupting their world in an increasingly competitive global market.

I have been incredibly lucky through my career to move from one interesting job to another in a variety of sectors from Financial Services, Manufacturing, Marketing and Sales and Recruitment and working in IT I have worked with nearly every industry sector you can imagine.

In my current role the subject of skills has been close to my heart. Digital and computing science skills are fundamental to all businesses in the UK and our economic recovery. They are every bit as important (if not more so) as other economic levers – such as physical infrastructure investment – in improving the balance sheet of our country. According to a report released by the Prince’s Trust, two-thirds of companies fear a lack of skilled workers could jeopardise Britain’s economic recovery.

These skills are also hugely important to entrepreneurs establishing new companies. SMEs (small and medium sized businesses) form the backbone of our economy and digital technologies is the hottest growth sector in the SME space at the moment, with tech hubs popping up across the UK (and all over the world) to incubate and promote companies which are developing new products and services across every business sector imaginable and some yet to be imagined!

However, the IT skills gap is severely limiting the impact we could make to our economy to make it strong, healthy and competitive in a global economy. If we do not produce enough apprentices or graduates with the right STEM and ICT training, we risk cutting off the oxygen supply to these growing organisations.

To solve this problem and encourage future generations to engage in a more digitally literate future we must get students – especially women – interested in STEM subjects. We have fewer women in our industry than in 1980 which is a terrible situation and not one of which we should be proud. We are hiring across every industry in the UK and the best estimates are around one million new jobs (E-Skills) by 2020. With current youth unemployment around one million across the UK, there has never been a more attractive time to be considering computing as a career.

Retailers, investment banks, fashion designers, healthcare, food and drink, manufacturing, film and TV – every business you can think of needs a variety of skills from programmers, data scientists, big data experts, developers, computer games programmers and animation coders who can contribute to, and increasingly be at the centre of, their success. Computing underpins every business today and is critical to their future success.

I can think of no better subject choice that will open doors in any industry you choose and allow you to be at the heart of creativity, innovation and change.

I can think of no other subject that allows the flexibility of working that computer science does – enabling you to adjust working life to fit around other life events if you so choose. It can allow you to become your own boss or to build a global company.

I can think of no other career that literally will allow you to change the world.

We all have a role in being ambassadors for computer science careers which are undoubtedly offer some of the most exciting and well-paid career choices right now 

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RAISING ASPIRATIONS | INSPIRING ACHIEVEMENT | INCREASING OPPORTUNITIES

Spotlight on women in computing – Lynsey O’Connor

IMG_1091Lynsey O’Connor recently started as a computer lecturer at Ayrshire College. Before this she worked as a project manager. In this article, Lynsey talks about the highlights of her role as a project manager and the opportunities available to change and develop in the ICT industry.


I’ve been working in ICT in the finance industry since leaving education in 2002.  After studying maths and computing at university, I was lucky enough to secure a place on a graduate training programme in London with a company called Reuters. The programme allowed me to try out various departments in the business and to decide where I would like to apply for a permanent role.

I spent my second placement in the ICT department of the editorial section of the company (they are responsible for reporting news from all over the world).  I loved it and stayed put for four years working as a project manager, before moving to Barclays Bank in Glasgow.

As a project manager, no two days were ever the same. My role was to make sure a project ran smoothly – this could mean anything from being out recruiting new team members, capturing requirements from clients about what they are after, liaising with development and testing teams, keeping track of and deciding how to spend multi-million pound budgets, preparing presentations and updates for senior management and any number of other things!

Project work is really varied and makes for an exciting role – I’ve managed projects such as moving 300 jobs from London, Singapore and New York to Glasgow, developing software to help prevent terrorist financing, shaving milliseconds off the time it takes to generate news headlines that appear on Sky News and many more things.

In today’s world ICT project management also means working in a truly global team and therefore doing some travel. On the last project I worked on, my team was spread across India, South Africa, New York, London, Glasgow and Singapore.

 Working in ICT projects gives you a really wide range of career opportunities – leading projects, specialising in areas such as development or testing or risk management, or getting into another field altogether.

In my time at Barclays I was offered ICT roles in HR, working for third party software development companies and also spent time as a Business Manager. I always emphasise to my students that, with a job in ICT, there is constant opportunity to change and develop. The world really is your oyster!


RAISING ASPIRATIONS | INSPIRING ACHIEVEMENT | INCREASING OPPORTUNITIES

Spotlight on women in computing – Loraine Johnston

Did you know more than 73,000 people work in ICT and digital technologies in Scotland? And Skills Development Scotland’s skills investment plan for Scotland’s ICT and digital technologies sector predicts significant growth in the number of opportunities in the industry itself and in other sectors which need digital and technical skills. From new start-ups to some of the world’s largest technology companies, there’s a mixture of exciting career opportunities to choose from.

Ayrshire College is encouraging more girls and women into ICT. With state of the art equipment and industry relevant courses, the College is well on its way to becoming a centre for excellence in ICT and digital technologies. Our computing and digital technologies department is promoting International Girls in ICT Day on 23 April to inspire girls and young women to consider careers in the growing ICT sector. We spoke to Loraine Johnston, Curriculum Manager for Business and Computing, to find out about what led to her career in ICT.


What did you do before going to college?

I worked for six years after completing high school. Jobs ranged from working as an advertising agency junior to a supervisor in a café bar at Glasgow Airport! Going into further and higher education has been invaluable to me. Without it, I wouldn’t have the career I have today.

How did you get into computing?

The first time I used a computer was when I was on a short media studies course and it was the newly released Macintosh Classic.  I went on to work in a PR company as a Junior Secretary using an IBM PC in the days before Windows!

My real early experience was the HND Multimedia Computing, which was a brand new course in the evolving area of computing. We developed software for CDROMs as the web hadn’t evolved at that time. I progressed to BSc Multimedia Technology and became a multimedia developer after I graduated.  A few years later I returned to higher education to complete a Postgraduate Diploma in Multimedia Communications.

What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?

I had to adapt to learning again after a six year gap.  Computers were new, as were the courses I was studying, so we really were the guinea pigs.  I had my own flat and had no option but to work part-time to be able to support my studies and myself. Computing is always changing and the biggest challenge is to keep up with these changes.

Describe your job on a day to day basis.  What are the highlights?

My job is really varied and every day is different.  I manage the Business and Computing curriculum department which includes looking after students and staff at Ayrshire College. The highlights are seeing people succeed and students being happy with their course.

What advice would you give to others interested in a career in computing?

As one of the fastest growing industries, there aren’t enough people in the UK to fill current jobs in ICT, let alone the predicated increase in jobs in the next 5 years. It’s also a brilliant sector for women to work in and progress, yet we are very much in the minority. At Ayrshire College, we want to encourage more women into this exciting area, to develop their skills and maximise the contribution to Scotland’s economy.

This is the perfect time to start a career in ICT.  The best thing to do is make the most of any course you study, learn the fundamentals (the technology may change but these don’t), teach yourself new skills and … practice, practice, practice!

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Ayrshire College offers a wide range of computing courses. Find out more at http://www1.ayrshire.ac.uk/courses/all-courses/business-and-computing/?duration=Full_Time.


RAISING ASPIRATIONS | INSPIRING ACHIEVEMENT | INCREASING OPPORTUNITIES

Spotlight on women in computing – Lisa Watson, CGI

Nineteen year old Lisa Watson is a Modern Apprentice at CGI Scotland. In this post, she talks about what motivated her to pursue a career in the IT sector.


The senior years of high school are the most stressful, because your decision on the subjects you choose pretty much determines what you are going to do after you leave school. This is even more terrifying if you have no idea what you actually want to do.

I was always pushed to do childcare, which I would consider the most female generic career path, so that’s what I did. I gained as much experience as I could with working with children and applied to university and college to become a primary school teacher or an early years officer. However, during the summer, after I had completed my exams and trembling with the anticipation of my results, the more I thought about my future career in childcare the more uncomfortable I became with my decision.

That’s when I would say my new adventure began. I frantically searched the web in deep hope that a new career choice would magically appear on my screen. At secondary school I did choose IT subjects – Standard Grade Computing Studies and Higher Information Systems – but I can’t say I thought of going into a career in IT. I always enjoyed business management at school and I also enjoyed the IT subjects I had chosen in my senior school years which were two of the subjects I succeeded most in. I came across a website advertising apprenticeships being offered by an organisation called QA. After a meeting with QA employees at their training building, they put me forward for an interview with CGI. This was nerve-wracking but exciting news that gave me an opportunity to start my career with two things that I really enjoyed – business and IT.

IT careers seem to have an old-fashioned stigma attached to them – along the lines of a small cramped office with loads of people sitting with their eyes glued to their computer screens programming all day long – but that’s not the case. This is why I guess IT careers have a male stigma as more boys and men are into computers than women generally. You can go down many avenues with IT which I have discovered for myself over the last 10 months working at CGI. You don’t have to be a “computer whiz” to join the IT world and IT is very much linked with the business world. Of course you need an understanding of how IT works but within IT you can explore a multitude of areas like HR, Marketing, Sales and Finance. These require you to have a range of good communication and people skills, as well as IT skills.

IT companies like CGI have networking events for running projects to allow people to gain contacts and meet people who are working on the same project but in a different area and even on the other side of the country! Networking events have played a big part in the last ten months for me. I even had the chance organise one, which was a great experience. Not many people would think events management would be incorporated within an IT company.

At CGI I also do charity work which is a very rewarding responsibility. After raising money for our local foodbank in Edinburgh at one of our networking events we have kept an ongoing link with them. Every month I find out what the foodbank is in most need off and organise an office donation.

Overall, my experience in the IT industry at CGI has taken me away from the old-fashioned outlook and has shown me that IT companies are becoming more open to new technology and becoming more socially aware. Starting a career in IT was definitely the right decision for me and I would encourage anyone to take the decision I did, as it has opened many doors for my future career.

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Women in computing – the problem, why we should be bothered and what we should be doing about it

IMG_1097Dr Hannah Dee is a lecturer in computer science at Aberystwyth University, who does research into computer vision and teaches web programming. She’s also on the national committee for BCSWomen (British Computer Society) and runs the BCSWomen Lovelace Colloquium, the UK’s main event for women undergraduates. She’s a “Science Champion” on the Get On With Science project and is involved in programming workshops for kids and their parents across the UK. On the eve of the most recent BCSWomen Lovelace Colloquium in Edinburgh, Hannah delivered a lecture titled “Where are the Girls?” In this article, she shares her views on how to attract more girls into computing.


The early years of computing were full of women. It’s estimated that over 80% of the staff at Bletchley Park during the war were women, operating some of the world’s first computational machines and contributing to the foundations of British computing. Early computing courses attracted fairly equal numbers of men and women students. Indeed, the first meaning of the word ‘computer’ was to refer to someone – usually a woman – performing routine sums. Sometime around the 1970s, this changed. Computing became a discipline and indeed a profession with a gender problem. Now, women number about 15% of the technical workforce and there is a clear ‘Leaky Pipeline’ with women choosing to drop out at each stage of educational progression.

Why this is happening is hard to determine: it happens in most western countries (but less so in other parts of the world). Maybe women just aren’t interested in computers. Or maybe there’s something that’s putting women off – for example, maybe there’s something about school computing that makes women think computing is not for them. Or maybe there’s a broader image problem.

When you ask children to draw a picture of a computer scientist, they usually draw a guy, wearing glasses, probably with spots, hunched over a keyboard. If you do an image search for  “computer scientist”, the first page is full of pictures of stereotypical nerds – the ones for “programmer” are just the same. Whatever we want to say about the discipline and the profession, one thing is clear, and that’s that computing has an image problem.

What’s happening in schools?

There’s been a crisis in school computing which came to a head last year with the Royal Society calling for a major reform of the technical curriculum in their publication “Shut down or restart?” The problem was that the nation’s schoolkids simply don’t know what computer science is – in schools, students study ICT, which involves spreadsheets, word processing, maybe some databases or some web design. Computer science – systems, programming, networks, algorithms – doesn’t get a mention. In universities we see this at interview every year, and in computing departments across the UK there are freshers wondering what they’ve let themselves in for. This isn’t a problem that’s unique to computing (most law students, for example, haven’t studied law before they get to university). But coupled with our image problem it has major implications, particularly in terms of gender. Computing in the broadest sense has been falling across the board though, not just with women.  At university the gender imbalance continues. Where I work, in Computer Science at Aberystwyth, we’re pretty much average in terms of student gender ratio – hovering between 10 and 15 percent. So we’ve got a problem: computing in schools is not actually computing, and the general image problem of the subject as a solo pursuit dominated by guys means that students looking for other careers – creative, social careers – don’t think of applying.

Computing can be fun

I realise that some of my students might disagree … but I firmly believe that computing can be an incredibly rewarding subject. When you’re programming, you’re quite literally building things out of ideas, and the sense of achievement you can get from getting a tricky piece of code to work is great. When I’m programming, those “Aha!” moments are actually quite common. But computing isn’t just programming: there’s system design, algorithms, user experience design (making interfaces), software testing, user testing, technical training, technical writing, networking, user support and helpdesk roles, and lots of other careers. And that’s before you consider management and analyst roles, further up the business tree.  Only a handful of these potential careers have the opportunity to sit in a cubicle on your own writing code: the vast majority are team-based careers, requiring teamwork, creativity and (dare I say it) social skills.

Skills gaps, job markets, and the power of diverse teams

One of the turning points of the last decade has been a recognition from business that diversity is something to be valued. McKinsey have released a series of reports under the “Women Matter” banner which show – from a fairly hard-nosed, business perspective – that diverse teams perform better within the business world. As an example, when you compare companies in the top quartile for executive gender diversity against companies with no women on their executive board, those with diverse boards have 41% better return on equity, and 56% better earnings before interest and tax. It’s important to note that these teams aren’t doing better because women are more talented at business; they’re performing better because diverse teams behave differently. Monocultures tend to be self-reinforcing: if all your decisions are taken by one sector of the population, then the decision making and management style is going to be similar. What diverse boards provide is a range of different backgrounds and management styles, all engaging in the business process, and when this happens, McKinsey show that the resultant business process is more effective.

There are other arguments for diversity in the workplace: in professions with heavy gender imbalances, the minority gender generally has a more difficult time. Male nurses take more sick days, female accountants are more likely to register on the anxiety and depression scales. There’s a term – sex role spillover – for the way in which unrelated aspects of gender roles seep into a profession when that profession has a major gender imbalance. There’s no need for computing system administrators to be interested in beer and trains: having unrelated but common interests doesn’t make you a better sysadmin (although it may make it easier to chat with colleagues).

There’s also a skills shortage in certain IT roles: Neelie Kroes, the EU commissioner for the digital agenda (and EU vice president) has recently proposed grand coalitions to address technical skills gaps. Skills gaps aren’t uniform across the entire ICT/Computing field, but exist in most sub-domains; for example, the UK’s National Audit Office has recently said that unless recruitment to computing courses increases dramatically we face a 20 year wait for enough skilled professionals in the cyber security domain. So: diverse teams perform better, and there are lots of jobs (in some parts of the profession, at least). What are we doing to try and encourage girls to enter computing? Could we do more? Can you help?

Girl geeks and coder chicks

Computing now pervades our lives. Most of us have computers in our pockets that are far more powerful than the computers used on the space shuttle; there’s more processing power in some washing machines than was available to the computing pioneers of the sixties. Social networking has taken off to such an extent that now, the gender ratio of computer users, gamers, and purchasers is pretty much equal: indeed the largest growing demographic in computer games is my own (35-55 year old women). So women are active consumers of technology, we’re just not getting involved as creators.

Organisations and events targeted at women exist to try and break this pattern. These can be linked to professional societies, like BCSWomen (the British Computer Society’s group for women in technology). Or they can be grassroots organisations, like Girl Geek Dinners, who put on talks and dinners around the world for women. There are also organisations aimed at particular areas within computing, like MzTek who target women interested in computing and art, or Computing at School #include who work to make computing in schools more inclusive. Dr Reena Pau, a member of CAS #include, says “we want to offer opportunities for as many students as possible to be able to experience Computing – whilst of course realising it will not be for everyone!” These organisations provide a space for women to meet and network, but they also provide support and mentoring opportunities.

Within many universities there are groups to support women – where I work in Aberystwyth there’s a group called Aber Comp Sci Ladies, started by Phoebe Murphy who says she started it “to try and help the women in the department feel a bit less isolated and to help us support each other” (Phoebe’s an undergraduate). School computing is being rejuvenated, by organisations like Computing At School (CAS) and lot of the big companies are coming on board to help out (Microsoft, Google and IBM have all been sponsors of some of the initiatives I’ve mentioned). Right now, one of the really big issues is training enough teachers to deliver the new curriculum. For information on how CAS is supporting Scottish schools see http://academy.bcs.org/content/computing-scottish-schools.

What can you do to help out?

If you have a daughter or a niece (or a son or a nephew) think about encouraging them in creative computing – things like the programming language Scratch, available at http://scratch.mit.edu, introduce programming concepts to children from the age of about 7 up.

I’ve written a family programming day for Android phones, where we’ve had 6-year old girls making their first app (just a farmyard noises app, but everyone has to start somewhere!) If you’re interested in that it’s free online at http://www.hannahdee.eu/appinventor – you could get hold of the materials and give it a go yourselves. In June 2015 we’re running this across the UK and going for a world record! Find out more at http://www.bcs.org/content/ConWebDoc/54172.

If you’re technical, why not think about helping out in schools? Computing ++ links programmers with schools across the UK – check it out at http://www.computingplusplus.org/.

If you’re interested in finding out more, the book “Little Miss Geek” by Belinda Parmar is a great introduction to this general area, and “Delusions of Gender” by Cordelia Fine is a more academic (but still readable) take on gender differences across the board.

In the words of the late Karen Spärck Jones “Computing’s too important to be left to men”.

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