Until recently, my not-so-greatest achievement in the world of technology was back in 1989.
I remember how proud I was when I programmed a BBC Micro (that was about the size of a small electric car) to bounce a 2D ball around the screen. The language was BASIC, and that pretty much summed up my coding level. Many others in my GCSE Computer Studies class that year were the REAL techies - spending at least 12 hours a day making 'whizzy stuff' happen on computers, or occasionally playing war games.
Me? I was far too busy. I wanted to be a doctor, or an actor, or likely something else that week. I was probably flouncing off to a musical theatre rehearsal, so I definitely didn't fit the stereotype. I got logic, could see my way round a flow chart, and was quite good at maths - but...CODING? I'll leave that to the others, thank you.
Who were the others? The boys, generally. There were only 2 girls out of a class of 20 - statistically not bad for a profession where now around 90% of developers are men. The other girl in my class, Fay McConkey, has just recently returned from Hollywood with her team clutching a best VFX Oscar. She's had a successful career mixing creativity with tech. But unlike Fay, many, such as myself, were 'put off' technology related areas.
Simply, I didn't think it was for people like me. I love technology and gadgets, don't get me wrong. I bore people to death with the data from my Fitbit, Nest, and every iDevice going. And I love IT (hence why I took the subject), but wasn't into the coding and programming as much as others (the boys) who were spectacular at it, and for many of them, that's all they did. It seemed as if that was the ONLY route into a technology career, and I wasn't good enough for that, so I let it be.
It's obvious and well documented that technology has a gender problem, and there is a myriad of reasons for this, which I'll address in a different piece. But one of these issues can be partly addressed by breaking down the myth that you need to be a 'full on' coder to make it in technology.
Do we need more girls and women to learn to code? Absolutely. I don't want to detract from that goal. One quote that really resonated with me is from Susan Wokcicki, currently the CEO of YouTube:
Though we do need more women to graduate with technical degrees, I always like to remind women that you don't need to have science or technology degrees to build a career in tech.
It seems I was wrong about a career in technology. It CAN be for the likes of me with an arts degree after all. LinkedIn recently published an article giving stats such as:
Between 2010 and 2013, the growth of liberal arts majors entering the technology industry from undergrad outpaced that of computer science and engineering majors by 10%. Internet or software companies are especially popular--38% of all recent liberal arts grads in tech currently work in this space.
This was in response to a Forbes article entitled That 'Useless' Liberal Arts Degree Has Become Tech's Hottest Ticket. This argues a good case for creativity and interpersonal skills being of equal validity to programming to make a tech start up fly off the ground. I was emboldened to know that Slack's Editorial Director, Anna Pickard, has a theatre degree, as I have. Slack is a fabulous tech product, brought to market successfully by creatives, programmers, writers, marketeers and salespeople as a TEAM.
So here I am, given confidence by other women in technology that HAVEN'T got a science or engineering background, And, of course, by those that have. It does make me feel a little more assured in my role as a CEO of a technology platform start up.
The more women that are visible role models in this industry (As leaders, creatives OR programmers), the more it will feel less like a boy's club, and more girls will WANT to code, feeling that tech is 'for them' after all.
I've moved on from the bouncy ball in BBC Basic, you'll be pleased to hear. I am pretty proud to have helped make instrumental decisions regarding software architecture about the Investors in Community platform, as well as building the business and relationships that every start up needs. Am I doing the coding? No. I have a specialist tech team for that, and a great CTO. But I can still define myself as a woman in tech. We are a team making this happen, and I'm at the helm. It is way past time to open up the field of technology even more. Break the entrenched stereotypes.
I can finally tell myself that it's OK to still like singing Over the Rainbow, and that I haven't written a line of code since 1989. I can still be a woman in tech.