By Catherine De Roure, Undergraduate Computer Scientist at Bath University.
This article is the first in our series Women in Software, in which we hear perspectives on a range of issues related to women who study and work with computers and software.
I always joke that a degree in Computer Science was the best decision I never made. You see, I never actively sought this career; it was one I very much stumbled in to. Would I change it? Not a chance.
At the age of 17, full of big dreams, I was convinced I was going to be an architect. I wanted to study a discipline that allowed me to use physics and maths with a bit of creative flare. I wanted to make things from nothing, start with a blank canvas and shape the world. But unfortunately, I was unsuccessful in my applications. This, in turn, caused my impulsive seventeen-year-old self to drastically decide that she wanted to study something completely different altogether… but what? I needed something that allowed me to have that creative freedom.
I found myself in my first year of Computer Science at the University of Bath, having never programmed before, in a class of seventy, only six of us girls. I had never felt so out of my depth, but this was a challenge I had no intention of shying away from. I’m now in my final year, having completed my first two years, as well as a year on placement working in London in the technology division at an investment bank. This was an invaluable experience that gave me a real taste for, not only the industry, but also a woman’s take on this journey.
Both at University and working in the industry, I found myself in the minority, surrounded by men who seemed to know everything and anything. But what was even more intimidating was the woman who were there. The women you see around have made it far in this cut-throat industry, so who wouldn't be a little intimidated? I think it’s only human nature to judge ourselves critically against others, and perhaps more so for us women. The key is to remember that they too were once where you are now.
And what have I learnt? It’s hard, it’s harsh, but most of all, it’s rewarding. The biggest challenge was gaining the respect of the people around me, but the key to this is having confidence and respect for myself. I think this might be true of many females and, in fact, to many people at my stage in their career. I always found myself thinking that someone else could do what I was doing in half, if not less, of the time. It was a constant battle: scared I was wasting people’s time and scared that I wasn’t good enough.
How did I overcome this? I made mistakes, lots of mistakes, and I asked questions, so many questions. And slowly but surely, the scary world I had created started to crumble, and in its place was a world where everyone is eager to learn and share knowledge. Where everyone’s hanging on to each and every idea, hoping they find the next big thing. A world full of innovation and excitement, it was a world I really, really wanted to be a part of.
In fact, I’m living and breathing it now, trying to learn and understand as much as I can. Many weekends have gone to hackathons, and many evenings, and early mornings for that matter, have gone to my final year project, trying to cram in as much excitement as possible. Technology is an area with so many paths, varying so drastically, with new things coming along left, right and centre. There’s no time to get bored, and no time to learn it all (but that definitely doesn’t mean I won’t damn try).
I think my 17-year-old self would be a little startled if she knew what I was up to now, but the truth of it is that I’m doing everything she ever wanted. I’m being creative; I’m shaping the world. No, not the same as say designing a building or bridge, but I can start with nothing but my laptop and after many late nights, an excessive amount of coffee and perhaps a fair amount of hair pulling, I can create a system, or a piece of software, or solve a problem. It’s these sorts of things that are making the biggest impact in the world right now. It’s these things that are the way forward. It’s where tremendous amounts of time and money are being spent. Businesses, charities, start-ups; everyone wants a taste of it. So, of course, so do I.