It’s seven years since I joined Nominet as a project manager (PM) and I’ve since progressed up the ranks to Head of Programme Delivery. This involves managing a team of PMs and overseeing resources to ensure we as a team can deliver on everything the company wants. I like to think that project management is about finding order in chaos and working with others to get things done – and I love it. It’s now been fifteen years that I’ve been doing this work in the tech industry and it really feels like the ideal job and sector for me – but it was by chance that I discovered what career really suited.
At school you’d call me a ‘good all-rounder’, enjoying lots of different subjects without any real driving ambition for one thing. At home I used to love messing around on the ZX Spectrum computer we had; it was so basic compared to what we have today, but you could still do a bit of programming on it. The computer fascinated me and that desire to be close to innovation and understand a bit of it was probably one of the reasons I pursued science at A level, despite being keen on the humanities and with vague thoughts of studying law. It was attending an engineering taster session at Newcastle University that cemented it for me: I realised that I love getting under the skin of things and problem solving, so science was the way to go. I did physics at university and never looked back.
The idea of doing a doctorate was sold to me by a particle physicist I met while researching my dissertation. Despite them only taking ten students, I managed to secure a place for a DPhil in Experimental Particle Physics at Oxford University. Oxford accepted eight men and just two women that year, but that was pretty typical for physics. On my degree course the cohort had been mostly male, but it didn’t bother me. All my friends were men so it made no difference, plus there was never any sense that we women had any less of a right to be there because of our gender.
My doctorate involved spending about 18 months in Geneva, where I worked at CERN, and the project work turned out to be my favourite part of the whole experience. Working with a team of people to solve a problem was absolutely what I loved doing, far more than sitting alone at a computer crunching data, which I suspected a career in academia might involve a lot of. This propelled me out into the world of work and the tech sector was a logical place to go considering my science background, plus it was really booming in terms of job vacancies. Personally, it appealed because when you like to understand how things work, technology in particular offers so many opportunities to do that.
When preparing to start a family, I spent far too much time worrying that someone would find out about my pregnancy and fire me. It was silly and completely unfounded. My manager was and continues to be amazing about children and childcare and at Nominet there is a complete acceptance that family is a very important part of life. When my twins first started nursery, they were often poorly and I felt guilty if I had to leave work to collect them, but everyone has been so supportive. It’s allowed me to continue my career as well as having a growing family – I have three children now.
I don’t think I’ve ever been discriminated against because of my gender – and I wouldn’t have stood for it if it had! I’ve always been determined and will do whatever I put my mind to. It never occurred to me, even when I was a minority as a woman studying physics at university, that science was ‘for boys’. Have confidence in your own abilities and follow your interests no matter what people tell you; when it comes to STEM, just get on with it!
Studying STEM is ideal for a career in the technology industry, which is a fantastic place to work because you’re surrounded by people setting challenges and pushing boundaries. There is tech in everything we do today – it’s no niche industry – and when employed within it you feel you are truly working to make a difference and improve things in the world around us. The career options are almost endless and financially it’s a safe option too – I’m the main breadwinner in our household – but for me it’s all about the passion and the satisfaction of being in an environment where there is so much to learn and so many exciting things to be part of.