I was a proper computer game geek as a kid. I loved gaming. So why didn’t I end up getting more into coding as a kid? In my case, there was no information about getting into computing at school and no dedicated computing classes either in school or outside. I did look at pursuing a career in games development and back then got told that these sorts of jobs didn’t exist in the UK.
I ended up getting a degree in Moving Image Production where I spent three years learning how to make films. As a producer, I would manage the production process from start to finish; I gained management skills, financial skills, negotiation skills and I also honed in on how important empathy and communication skills are (and as a tangent, I learnt how to do Flash/Front-End coding as part of a module which got me into making my own websites). These were the skills that I built on after leaving university and they are the ones that let me sidestep into a great career in digital, starting out in product management and moving onto software project delivery.
I also took a bit of a leap of faith, that I would learn anything new that I needed to. That’s the key. Digital/technology skills can be taught, the human element (or softer skills) are harder to teach.
I love working in digital, it’s really good fun, allows me to be creative, whilst playing to my strengths around delivery, communication and problem solving. I can code but it’s not where my strengths lie. As an industry, we’re not highlighting enough all the other jobs available in digital/tech and crucially they are the ones that are much easier to sidestep into from another career like I did. Jobs like project managers, team facilitators, business analysts, product owners, design, content writers and the list goes on.
In June 2016 the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee declared that, “The evidence is clear that the UK faces a digital skills crisis.”
What makes the skills crisis more interesting is that there is a significant gender disparity within the IT sector where women are vastly underrepresented, making up only 17% of IT professionals according to the Tech Partnership, with less than 10% in leadership roles. Pretty woeful statistics if you think about what a role technology plays in all our lives, and that the teams making these products aren’t representative of the end users.
Less than 10% of students who sit A Level Computing are female, a trend which hasn’t changed over the last few years. But if you look at the demographic of who sits A Level Expressive Arts/Drama results, it’s overwhelmingly dominated by females. A previous study said that a huge majority of women (80%) wanted to gain a ‘creative, independent job role’ however only 30% of them believed that a tech job could provide this.
The issue is on how tech is perceived and perhaps even taught.
An NIC study asked boys to think of words they associated with computers, they came up with “design”, “games” and “video”. When females were asked, they associated computers with “typing”, “maths” and “boredom”.
We need to show that tech is inherently creative, both as a sector, in how it’s taught, and crucially how it is portrayed in the media too.
Seeing coding for what it is, as a creative pursuit, has the potential to attract more diversity across the board. We also need to do a better job of signposting other creative led roles available within tech, and perhaps rebranding STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) to STEAM, to add Arts (and creativity) firmly into the mix.
I have two things I’d love you to take away:
1. Working in tech is really fun and creative, and through it you get the chance to work on projects that hundreds/thousands or millions of people will use.
2. If you’d like to explore what opportunities are available in digital/tech, there is a vibrant meetup community in most cities who meet monthly and these are free to attend. You’ll usually encounter a really friendly bunch who’ll go out of their way to support you. There are also free courses and training days available, alongside the opportunity to attend talks and panel discussions with great role models working in the sector.