A mental toolkit for solving problems

Renee Hawkins was excited by the prospect of a challenging career that required her to use of all of the things she’d learned.

“I was one of those people who loved problem solving, maths and physics,” says Renee Hawkins. “I wasn’t good at reciting facts and history, but ask me to solve a maths problem and I’m going to get excited about how to do it.”

She explains that rather than knowing the dates of battles or listing presidents, she felt engaged by challenges that demanded she use a mental toolkit of analytical skills. To that end, she studied mechanical engineering before taking her first job with a software consultancy.

“Part of software development is business analysis,” she says. “I’d use what I learned on my degree and my problem solving skills to explain the business case to technical people, and make the technical stuff clear for business people. I was like a translator, really.”

She now works for ThoughtWorks, a software developer whose clients include the Trainline website and Channel 4. While she’s never encountered problems being a woman in her chosen field, she acknowledges that “you do brush up against stereotypes a lot”. She’s also aware of a gender imbalance throughout the technology sphere.

“I graduated in the late 1990s and I think I was one of four girls in a programme of several thousand,” she says. “I’ve been on many projects where I’ve been the only girl.”

To redress the balance, Hawkins explains that ThoughtWorks puts a lot of energy into recruiting women, but also into getting them interested in technology from an early age. The company works with school children in the London borough of Hackney, which she believes is crucial: “Unless you get kids excited in technology they’re going to go down a different path and you won’t have that pool of talent to draw on.”

Educators can do more, she claims. “It’s horrific what they teach in IT lessons. Education needs to change and we need to move away from stereotypes. We need to give girls iPads as well as dolls; there just needs to be more balance.”

The industry is open to finding that equilibrium, according to Hawkins. “I’m working on a project where there are a great number of female developers and the guys they’re working with are really receptive to them,” she says.

Ultimately. a mixed team is a more complete one, she believes. “Women approach things differently to men, and that’s why we need more women in technology. I’ve found throughout my career that having a different perspective is so important.”

Knowledge is your secret weapon

Emma Harvey’s route into technology career wasn’t planned. “I think really I fell into it,” she says. “I went to work for an advertising firm in the late 1990s who happened to be doing websites. It was all new and exciting; a lot of the time I was showing people websites for the first time.”

Having stumbled upon “the perfect career” that combined her twin passions for creativity and maths, Harvey taught herself to code and now heads up Numiko, a digital agency specialising in building websites, mobile apps and games. But early on she spent a lot of time as the only woman. “There’s been a huge imbalance,” she says, suggesting that even now “you’ll be doing well” if women comprise 25 per cent of an organisation. “I’ve worked with a couple of female designers and coders in the past 13 years, but they’ve been rare.”

Has being the lone woman ever presented challenges? “Culturally, I don’t know if the industry was ready for us when we went into it,” she laughs, recalling IT directors who “assumed I was the PA and that someone else would be coming in soon. I’d constantly be tested on my technical knowledge, but that was my secret weapon really – it was so unexpected to men that I’d have technical skills that when I did, it gave me the advantage.”

Nowadays she tries to create teams with a balance of men and women, although she admits that there remains a “skills shortage” when it comes to prospective female employees. Addressing that issue and attracting more women is important for the sector, she says.

“Team dynamics change when it’s a single gender team,” she explains. “I wouldn’t recommend having an all male, or all female, team. You need a good mix of experience, abilities and attributes, which means having people of both sexes. Then you will get a rounded view, because you have a rounded team.”

For Harvey, the key to encouraging women into the industry is considering how people are first introduced to technology, and how early. “We need to make the technology accessible to people who aren’t interested in technology,” she says. “We should focus on what it enables people to do, rather than what it is.”

Once that interest is switched on there’s the potential for a fulfilling career, she says. “It’s very varied. And it’s exciting to produce things that touch people’s lives, that they talk about and use.”

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Web Designer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Web Designer is required to join a f...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician / Helpdesk - 2nd / 3rd Line

    £22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician is requir...

    Recruitment Genius: Application Developer

    £20000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in the centre of Glasgow,...

    Day In a Page

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor