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.”

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
people
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
people
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
Arts and Entertainment
Warner Bros released a mock-up of what the new Central Perk will look like
tv'Friends' cafe will be complete with Gunther and orange couch
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

    Java Developer - 1 year contract

    £350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

    Junior Analyst - Graduate - 6 Month fixed term contract

    £17000 - £20000 Per Annum Bonus, Life Insurance + Other Benefits: Clearwater P...

    IT Support - Hampshire - £24,000

    £19000 - £24000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group have be...

    Research and Insight Analyst (Mathematics Graduate)

    £25000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are cur...

    Day In a Page

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone