My earliest ambition was to be a vet because I always loved animals, but I got a rude awakening when I realised what the job would actually entail. I went to an all-girls school where, at that time, the environment fit the stereotype of tech being “for boys”: there was no one else interested in computing. Some of my male friends outside of school were tinkering with building and overclocking computers when we were in our early teens and that was my first real exposure to the potential of technology – and it got me interested.
Despite the lack of enthusiasm for computing from the students, our school had a really engaging IT teacher who noticed my interest and I ended up studying it right through to A Level, before becoming the first student from our school to take the subject at university. Working in the tech sector had never been suggested to us, despite all the careers evenings and talks we’d had. I think the teachers were surprised by my choice, but they weren’t unsupportive. For my part, I had a sense that tech was only going to become more prevalent in our lives and I wanted to be part of it.
University was a bit of a shock initially as most of my course mates had done more practical, vocational courses at college. They had foundational experience in programming for example, while I’d just done a very general, theoretical courses at school (needless to say my knowledge of network topology and geostationary satellites from school didn’t come in that handy). The first alarming thing was realising that programming wasn’t for me. Theoretically I understand it, but my brain isn’t wired in the right way to do it, which gave me a moment of panic. What else can I do in tech if not programming? I ended up switching my course from pure Computer Science to Information Systems, which proved ideal. This allowed me to swap some coding modules for a range of other subjects, supplementing the technical core of my degree with modules in maths and psychology. It was an important learning curve for me – some people are born to code and others are not, but there is always something to be gained from trying.
Graduating into the recession of 2008 wasn’t ideal in terms of finding work; I travelled the world for a year then came home and started blogging about trying to find work in a recession. By chance, someone came across my blog and invited me to interview for a technical support role at a domain name registrar. I still think about how differently things could have turned out if that hadn’t happened. It was a great place to start and, as it was at a domain name registrar, it accidentally propelled me into an industry I previously didn’t know existed. I find it very interesting that so few people know how something so essential works. Becoming immersed in the domain name industry so early in my career has meant I’ve built up a lot of specialist knowledge that I’ve been able to put to use in different technology roles over the years – even when I have worked outside of the industry.
From the minute I picked up the phone in my first role in tech support I started experiencing the sort of casual discrimination that sadly seems to be normal practice when you’re a womxn in a male-dominated industry. A caller would hear my voice and say, ‘oh sorry, I wanted someone technical’ or there’d be comments like ‘you don’t look like you work in tech’; ‘did you take a wrong turn?’ etcetera. Apparently, the fact that I have an amazing handbag and shoe collection is confusing, but I see no reason fashion and technology can’t coexist. Wonderfully, Nominet flies the flag for strong female leaders. No other company I’ve worked for has had such phenomenal women holding key technical roles and it’s amazing to work alongside them.
I’ve been with Nominet since 2016 and work as Head of Product in the Registry Business Unit. Four years in and I still get a nerdy satisfaction from knowing how crucial Nominet is to the internet and that the work I do has an impact on the future of the .UK domain (any domain ending with a co.uk or .uk for example). The variety in my job is one of the best things about it and I love working with people who passionately care about the national namespace and how we can make it better. I wish I had known about the variety of roles available in the tech sector when I was 18 – if someone had described this job to me, I would have been a lot more sure of myself and might have avoided the programming panic.
As a womxn in the tech industry you do feel you have to prove yourself but that’s how I’ve always been as a person – I’m ambitious and keen to keep achieving and learning, not afraid to stick my head above the parapet. I’m confident enough to go against the grain and follow my interests, regardless of whether they are considered ‘male’ topics. I remember going to a maths lecture at uni that was full of women, but being just one of four women taking technical modules. The skills are very similar when you compare parts of technology and maths – why is there such disparity? We need to do more to ensure career options within the tech industry are understood by young women, as I think lack of exposure has a lot to do with it.
We all consume technology, but if you’ve ever been interested in it beyond just using it, ever wondered how your smartphone works or how an app is made, you’d love working in tech. It’s a place for anyone inquisitive, interested in the art of the possible and who enjoys problem solving. Your gender makes no difference, and you don’t need to be interested in every technical detail – it depends on your ambitions, skills and interests. My role is about communication, strategic thinking, people management and operations as much as it is about technical details and tasks. Not everyone in the tech sector is a programmer or an engineer; there’s so much more to it than that.