I like to say that my career in IT was based on my penchant for drinking real ale by the pint.
I was 24 and studying for a master’s in Library and Information Studies at University College London when I met my (soon-to-be) first husband on the X90 bus to Oxford, where I was living at the time. I soon fell into the habit of hanging out in the pub on a Friday afternoon with Charl and his colleagues, a quirkily intellectual group of boffins who had started their careers working on mainframe computers in the ‘70s and ‘80s. They worked for a global technology consulting firm and by June of that year, I had my first job as a graduate consultant with that company.
School, singing and Spectrums
Looking back, I was probably always destined to work in IT: I loved tinkering with computers, first my beloved ZX81 and ZX Spectrum, moving onto a Commodore 64 then BBC Micros at school. I taught myself BASIC and enjoyed making little games for my sister to play. I was also a massive maths geek and loved problem-solving and logic problems.
After school, I spent a year abroad in Spain then studied Natural Sciences at Cambridge, where I also held a choral scholarship – singing has been and continues to be a massive part of my life. As a natural leader and organiser, I soon found myself on various committees, a pattern that was to continue through much of my adult life. Little did I know it then, but these experiences helped to shape and develop my soft skills: leadership, communication, collaboration, organisation, persuading and influencing amongst others.
At university, I was an early adopter of the fledgling World Wide Web and email (hard to believe today that these were a novelty back in the early 1990s). My mind was blown by the fact you could find out the weather in Hawaii or check out the coffee situation in the Computer Lab from the computer room in college!
The first steps in my career
In a bid to further my singing career while pursuing an interest in Information Science, I moved to Oxford to take up a graduate trainee librarian position at the Bodleian Library. I also spent time working for the Libraries Automation Service, introducing Oxford librarians to the wonders of the WWW and networked CD-ROMs! It was these experiences that led me to the master’s in Information Studies at UCL and hence to the technology consulting firm, many pints of London Pride later…
I worked for them for twenty years, starting out as a developer and learning the delights of ALGOL and A-Series mainframe computing. In the early days, I worked as a support analyst on the notification system for the Universal Voice Messaging System deployed at major telecoms companies around the world. We were a relatively small team and, as my career progressed, I found myself picking up various roles including testing, quality assurance and business analysis, team leadership and ultimately project management.
Parenthood and the glass ceiling
My career was really taking off but then children came along! In some ways, I was fortunate in that my employer was happy for me to work part time (30 hours a week) from home while my children were growing up; however, despite taking on more and more complex projects, I was passed over for promotion time after time, my pay stagnated and – in retrospect – I really lost my way in my career journey. I felt unsupported, undervalued and isolated – it was a tough time.
To compensate, I fell back on my old love of committees and threw myself into volunteering in my local community, taking leadership roles on the school PTA, in Scouting, as church treasurer, and serving on village hall committees and the Parish Council.
These activities helped me to rebuild my self-esteem and self-confidence and, serendipitously, also led me to my next job. I was attending a council-related meeting in Exeter when I happened across a large sign emblazoned on the building opposite: Software Solved. That looks interesting, I thought, I wonder what they do? I looked them up when I got home and thought, I want to work there! Lo and behold, they had a vacancy for a Project Manager – I applied and a couple of months later started on the next leg of my journey.
Back on track
Software Solved was everything I had subconsciously been looking for: a small family-owned software company, friendly colleagues, great clients, opportunities to grow and develop, face-to-face working and lots of cake! I quickly progressed to Senior Project Manager and then to Head of Projects, leading a team of project managers and business analysts from very junior graduate placement students to experienced seniors. Working for a small company offered me the opportunity to get involved in every aspect of the business and gave me a real appreciation for how business works.
Then the pandemic hit and suddenly we were plunged back into home-working. For a while, things were fine. We were very well set up for remote working and the social committee did an amazing job of making sure people felt included and connected, with online activities such as escape rooms, wine tasting and quizzes.
During this time, two things happened: firstly, the business took the decision to move to fully remote contracts, which I’m sure suited many but I missed the buzz and hustle of a busy office; secondly, I asked a more senior colleague to mentor me as I felt I had potential to do more but didn’t really know where I wanted to go next or how to unlock it.
Supported to find my tribe
My problem was that I felt like a jack of all trades and master of none. I’m one of life’s generalists, interested and relatively skilled in a broad range of disciplines but finding it difficult to settle on one aspect and specialise. A combination of the mentoring conversations, some business coaching and a tool called the Clifton Strengths Finder helped me realise that breadth is a strength in itself. This revelation led me to consultancy and Scott Logic.
I can genuinely say that I have found my tribe! At Scott Logic (and in consultancy generally) it is a positive asset to have a broad and varied skillset, where your tradecraft is a core strength but experience across a range of disciplines allows connections to be made that bring value to clients, colleagues and the company alike.
It is wonderful to work in an environment where it’s actually quite cool to be geeky and where inclusion and diversity are so actively encouraged and championed. My role enables me to weave in and out of the fabric that makes Scott Logic truly successful: building great client relationships, delivering positive outcomes for our clients and their customers, and developing great regional leadership – all while supporting teams and individuals to grow and succeed.
It has been interesting, in my 50th year, to reflect on my career to date. I wonder where the next twenty years will take me?