Category Archives: case studies

Sarah Cleland

“Identify your skills early and build them up, use them to support the skills you have that need more work.”

photo of Sarah ClelandHow did you find your way into tech?

I took my first computing course in high school and enjoyed every moment of it. We unfortunately didn’t have a teacher to take the course further, so it was set aside. After leaving high school I tried joining the RAF to become a pilot, but my spatial awareness was nowhere near good enough to fly. I was also only 18 at the time and definitely notready for that sort of life.

At this point I was at a bit of a loss with what to do with myself and a local college sent out prospectuses to encourage people to attend. I flipped through and saw they offered computing, so I applied. It was a subject I had previously enjoyed and felt I could do well in. I remembered it being challenging, interesting and a subject I could take in my stride. I got the grades I needed from college and made it into university. Since then, my interest and passion has grown, and I know for sure this is exactly what I’m meant to be doing.

Tell us a little about your course

My degree is Computing Science. It is very varied which means there is always engaging material. I’ve covered a range of topics from games development, mobile app development, databases, networks, and programming. We’ve had the opportunity to try different languages such as Java, Python, Kotlin, and C. In the early years you also get the chance to do modules not related to your degree, so I chose criminal law and accounting. It’s great to be able to develop yourself in your own unique way and build skills you wouldn’t necessarily think you would.

The material is a good mix of code-based assessment and written assessment, giving practice for the dissertation year. The written ones are usually quite open –ended, giving a chance to do additional research and apply it to the context of the code project.

There are lots of opportunities for women on the degree, such as encouragement to participate in the Lovelace Colloquium, seminars and other events designed specifically for women. It’s been so encouraging finding and getting to know other women in STEM through these events and not feeling like you’re one of very few!

What advice would you offer?

My advice is to use your strengths to your advantage. Personally, I’m not the best at maths but I have plenty of patience to do loads of examples to gain the understanding I require. The skills you currently have are always transferable, even if it’s not obvious at first. Identify your skills early and build them up, use them to support the skills you have that need more work. Don’t let anything or anyone tell you that you can’t do it and you don’t belong in tech. I’ve struggled the last couple years with self-doubt from Imposter Syndrome and only recently have I got it under control. I think it affects all of us in tech to a certain degree, but you cannot let it affect what you’re doing. Take it in your stride and use it to motivate and encourage you, don’t let it take control and sink your passion.

What interests you about tech?

My dissertation project has been based on the Travelling Salesperson Problem and the Knapsack Problem, which I’ve developed a real interest in. I’ve been developing the project with a haulage company, so it’s been exciting to develop a real, tangible project for an actual client. It’s been very interesting researching the problems and exploring how these problems don’t just apply to routing and loading in a haulage sense, but the TSP applied to things like DNA mapping, aiming telescopes at the stars and scheduling jobs. I’ve enjoyed the challenge of using everything I’ve learned the last 3 and a half years and combining it into a project that is my own. It’s been important to manage my own time and balance the rest of the modules that need to be completed too, while maintaining my own high standards of work.

Erin Brisco

”…what I love about tech is the breadth of topics it covers and especially how it interacts with and drives our day-to-day lives”

photo of Erin BriscoHow did you find your way into tech?

Career-wise, I was always in retail and admin jobs. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do, and I never saw myself as career-oriented. I had studied a degree in Biology straight out of high school, but I wasn’t thinking about long term goals or feeling very driven.

When I was made redundant in 2019, I came across a vacancy for an entry-level database assistant role. The job description piqued my interested and I realised that I had a lot of relevant experience. I’ve always been drawn to natural sciences and quick to pick up new systems, but I had never taken any computing classes and knew nothing about coding.

Getting into any kind of tech role or retraining hadn’t occurred to me as an option. I was lucky enough to get the job and it really sparked something in me!

Tell us a little about your course

I’m in the second year of my Graduate Apprenticeship in Data Science. It’s been quite a whirlwind so far, learning so much while juggling work, study, and home life.

The idea of studying a degree was daunting at first as I was unsure whether it was the right direction for me. I was worried I would struggle with the topics and would make a terrible student! I knew it would be hard work, but it’s been incredibly rewarding so far. Being able to see the real-life applications of what I’m learning keeps me engaged and gives me direction.

The course has helped me gain confidence in my own abilities and my newfound career path, and I recently took on a promoted role at work. I’m looking forward to learning as much as possible in the next two years, and I’m already excited to graduate and explore the world of opportunities out there.

What advice would you offer?

Just go for it! There are so many options out there for getting started, and many different courses to take. It’s a great time to get involved in the sector as things are constantly changing. There are professions now that didn’t even exist five years ago! I’d also say online resources like short courses are especially valuable for building on learning, no matter your confidence and skill level.

What interests you about tech?

Part of what I love about tech is the breadth of topics it covers and especially how it interacts with and drives our day-to-day lives. An area that I’ve enjoyed learning about through my classes is the intersection of technology and society. I’m interested in the growth of AI voice assistants in homes, the use of facial recognition tech, and similar developments. It’s interesting to see the influence technology has on individuals and society as a whole, and the implicit biases and unintended uses (both positive and negative!) that come about. I think it’s really important to be aware of the ethical responsibilities programmers have.

Celia Igreja

“If you are curious and you are open to continually challenge your current knowledge, a role in technology is for you.”

photo of Celia IgrejaTell us a little about your work

I work for Forestry and Land Scotland as a Geographical Information Systems Development Manager. My role involves identifying the best technology to meet the requirements of the business processes, to decide how we collect and manage our data.

What I love about my job is that I am constantly learning and developing new skills. We have to work with a number of different  applications, which are constantly changing and upgrading. Being on top of the changes helps me identify how the technology can best benefit the business needs.

On the other hand, I need to have a good insight of the business and its processes in order to marry the best tool to the process. This requires working with a wide range of topics and this makes the job varied and exciting, as every day is different. I enjoy working with other people and help them finding the best solutions for their needs/problems.

How did you find your way into tech?

During my graduate studies I developed a particular interest in GIS technology and its applications to environmental science. What I find fascinating about working in GIS technology is how it can help day-to-day processes/workflows as well as answering wider questions of any discipline.

What interests you about it?

The most fascinating thing is how, in one undertaking, you can tackle inefficiencies (automating processes), gather large amounts of data and analyse/prepare different outcomes that help shape people’s views and perceptions that aid more informed decision-making.

What advice would you offer?

If you are curious, enjoy working with other people to help them find technical solutions for their needs / problems, and you are open to continually challenge your current knowledge, a role in technology is for you.

Monica Richardson

”…it helps to be a creative-minded person – you’re building things that have never been built before….. ”

photo of Monica RichardsonHow did you find your way into tech?

I’m a Delivery Team Lead with a company called Forrit. Previously I was a graduate apprentice web developer. What you do as a developer depends greatly on the company that you work for and the type of development that you specialise in. In my role at Forrit at the moment, I build websites. I think if I had known, when I was younger, what being a developer was, what it involved on a day-to-day basis, I would have known a lot sooner that that’s what I wanted to do. It wasn’t until I was about 15 years’ old, and I did a week of work experience at a web development company, I got to meet developers and talk to them about what they were working on. That’s when I realised, this is very cool. This is something I’m interested in.

Before that I think the only thing, I knew about being a developer was something that my friend at school had told me. He said that you needed to be really, really good at maths. I was not great. So that didn’t fill me with confidence. Since then, I’ve learned that some of the problem-solving skills that you learn in maths can be helpful as a developer, but it’s certainly not a requirement and in fact, a lot of the developers I know say themselves that they are actually not great of maths. When I was in school, my favourite subjects included French, art and music; and you might think that they have nothing to do with tech. But I think there are lots of transferable skills. You’d be surprised how similar learning human language is to learning a computer programming language. And I think it helps to be creative minded when you’re building things that sometimes have never been built before it.

What does your role involve?

One of the common misconceptions about developers is that we spend all our time in front of computers, and we don’t speak to anybody ever. I know what we do is write code but actually, I would say on a daily basis it’s more like 50/50: you spend half of your time writing code and half of your time working with people, for example, figuring out what people want a piece of software or web site or an application to do. And finding how you’re going to work together to achieve it so there’s more to it than just writing code.

There’s a lot of working with people as well. Obviously now, because of the pandemic everyone is working from home. So, at the moment I get to work at home every day, but in the office, it’s just generally a pretty laid-back fun place to be. And I get to work with some really fun forward-thinking teams of people.

Some of the highlights of my last 4 years have included a trip I got to go on last January to Microsoft headquarters in Seattle, America, which was incredible. A dream come true. Last year, I also got the opportunity to go down to Westminster to the houses of parliament to talk to about the importance of apprenticeships like mine.

What advice would you offer?

There is more than one path to your dream job. You have to focus on how you learn best and pick the path that works best for you. I’ve worked with so many people that have come from a variety of backgrounds, there’s no one right path into development. If you’re a creative minded person, if you enjoy problem solving and the sound of being part of the construction of technology that literally changes the world excites you then I strongly recommend a career in tech.

What did you enjoy about your course?

When I finished high school, I did go to university, but I realised after a year that it wasn’t for me. I dropped out and got the opportunity to become a graduate apprentice web developer at Forrit. Everyone has different ways that they learn best, but for me, this was the perfect opportunity. It meant that I could learn 4 days a week on the job doing things practically, surrounded by experienced professionals that could help me in my learning, but it also meant that one day a week I could attend classes at university and apply that learning into the work I was doing every day.

Hannah Jack

“I think the beauty of Data Science is there is no limit on what you can do, and you can explore any interest using Data Science.”

photo of Hannah JackHow did you find your way into tech?

My journey in becoming interested in tech is not one I expected. I currently work as a Management Information and Workflow Analyst within the financial services, a sector I have worked in for almost 9 years. I started off at the age of 19 as a Customer Service Agent. To allow me to be as efficient as possible, I gradually taught myself Excel at an advanced level to allow me to build workbooks, so I could do my job easier and quicker. This has been vital in my career progression and really helped me stand out in the crowd.

I have also always been very inquisitive when it comes to understanding how things work, so straight away I started looking into how different sources of information spoke to different applications. This became a bit of a hobby for me. In my current employment, I was involved in integrating an API to support the sourcing and assessing of customer information and the exposure to this ignited more need to understand how it all worked.

I began looking into courses I could do in my spare time starting with some programming languages. This never felt like work to me and was, and still is, something I really enjoy. I thought this would always just be something I did in my spare time to enhance my skills for work but to my delight, through Skills Development Scotland, I have been able to study at degree level whilst integrating this into my current job.

Tell us a little about your course

I am doing a Data Science course at Stirling University. This involves me working four days a week and having one day of online university. The course so far has already taught me so much, including things I never expected to be thinking about during a Data Science course. When completing an assignment covering Social and Professional Issues there were areas of accessibility I had never considered. I found this very thought provoking, to the point I have adjusted the presentations I deliver in my full-time job.

The programming side of the course is something I really enjoy. I am still at the stage where my code rarely works first time, but all the fun is understanding why this isn’t working and challenging yourself to keep going until it does. There is always help at hand and everyone involved is so passionate about Data Science that you always learn something new every conversation you have whilst feeling inspired.

What interests you about tech?

When I originally started my course all my interests and ambitions were in understanding APIs within the Fin Tech arena. I used to think about data and think about businesses and finance. In a short period of time I have heard about some amazing social studies, including studies around depression and around supporting the elderly to keep as much independence as possible, using data and programming. I find these studies inspirational and it makes me proud that the course I am studying could lead me to being involved in creating something that helps improve quality of life for people who need it and really make a difference.

What advice would you offer?

When I left high school, I went to university to study Chemical Engineering because I always did well in maths, physics, and chemistry. After my first year I dropped out as I didn’t feel as if the course suited me and didn’t enjoy what I was learning. I was never really into computers or coding, so if you were to tell 18-year-old me I would be working in the area I work now whilst studying Data Science, I probably would have laughed then had a moment of fear. If I knew what I know now, I would have got into Computing and Data Science as early as I possibly could have.

I think the beauty of Data Science is there is no limit on what you can do, and you can explore any interest using Data Science. The content and assignments really speak to my love of problem solving. The course itself is so well structured that you don’t have to be code savvy to be successful and the four years is about building your knowledge constantly in harmony so that you never stop using something you’ve learned in the different semesters.

Amanda Kelly

“My advice for anyone who isn’t sure if a STEM career is for them, or if they can do it is to give it a try.  Accept any help and learn from experts around you. ”

photo of Amanda KellyHow did you find your way into tech?

My post-school career started in a contact centre, from where I moved to a marketing role and was lucky enough to complete a professional certificate in management which helped me fall back in love with study.

My course tutor suggested I look into a 6Sigma qualification and that is where my love of data began.  I have always been interested in ‘why’ things happen and understanding that data was a great way to get to the root cause made me want to learn to pull my own data, I learned to code and from there my interest in coding, data warehousing, and databases was born.

Building a strong data culture is a gateway to making meaningful change to help improve any organisation and it starts with a tiny piece of code.

Tell us a little about your work

I guess you could call me an unlikely analyst.  I always thought my career would be focused on languages and books; when I was little I wanted to be a librarian and have always been happiest when surrounded by books.

In high school my grades weren’t high enough to allow me to sit Higher Maths – which I now find funny because it’s something that forms a key part of my role every day.

I studied English at university and my careers officer at school had pointed me towards nursing and teaching as potential professions, which maybe says more about the bias or opinions back then than it does about me.

What advice would you offer?

My advice for anyone who isn’t sure if a STEM career is for them, or if they can do it, is to give it a try.  Accept any help and learn from experts around you.

Never let anyone tell you can’t do it, with enough effort and hard work, you can do anything.

I suffer frequently from imposter syndrome, but then I remember they (teachers) told me I wasn’t smart enough to do maths, and I proved them wrong.  So can you.

Rachael Woods

“While understanding the fundamentals can help, it is absolutely not a hard requirement to have a successful and rewarding career in tech.”

photo of Rachael WoodsHow did you find your way into tech?

I’ve always been fascinated by science and knew from a very young age I would want to go into a STEM career. Science and maths were always at the forefront of my studies, and from the age of 15 I was working for my dad’s business as a database administrator. I found it boring at the time, but looking back it really helped me get to where I am today.

It wasn’t until I was in the 3rd year of my undergrad degree that I really found a passion for data and data science – going through a module on using RStudio and its scripting language to do my analytics work sparked such a keen interest that I was genuinely sad when the class came to an end!

This then led me towards my MSc qualification, where I specialized in data science, and then into my first full-time job as a Junior Data Analyst within the games industry. I now work as a Business Analyst in the social housing sector, and I still have the keen passion for RStudio that I had back in 2015!

Tell us a little about your course

I initially completed my BSc (Hons) in Animal Biology in 2016 at Stirling University. My original plan of going into Veterinary Medicine had fallen by the wayside, so I ended up taking a year out and working while I decided my next steps. Upon reflection, I decided I really enjoyed working in data science, and so I completed my MSc in Information Science with a specialty in Data Science at Northumbria University in 2018.

Since then, I’ve gone on to complete various other courses through work and in my spare time including learning Python, Power BI, and Advanced Data Visualisation. Now within my current job in the social housing sector, I am working towards a Level 4 HNC in Housing, which I hope to achieve by the end of 2022.

What interests you about tech?

In my work life, some of my particular tech interests include Automation Processes, Data Visualisation, and Predictive Analysis. Basically, the more efficient I can make something, the happier I am! Outside of work, I am a keen gamer and have been ever since the Gameboy Colour was the console to have. I even took the plunge and built my own PC during the first lockdown, which was a challenging but really fun experience!

What advice would you offer?

I think the biggest misconception when it comes to data science, and tech in general, is that you have to be a maths genius to be able to do it. Fun fact: I was so bad at maths as a kid that I had a tutor for 10 years! While understanding the fundamentals to a range of mathematical principles can help, it is absolutely not a hard requirement to have a successful and rewarding career in tech.

There are also so many transferrable skills that you don’t need to commit yourself to science and technology courses for your education. This can include skills such as problem solving, creative thinking, critical thinking, and attention to detail. Having good communication skills is also highly beneficial, as you will often be collaborating with a range of people across multiple teams and disciplines.

Megan Reutin

“Every single role is technology-related in some way, shape or form whether: you’re reliant upon technology to support your role; or you’re pioneering the creation of technology itself“

photo of Megan ReutinHow did you find your way into tech?

I have always been passionate about a variety of different things, each of these not necessarily tech-related – and that’s an important thing to remember – these interests, when combined together, led me to where I am today:

  • A desire to learn, in general, using technology from a young age (e.g. French games on the PC to learn phrases to help me when on holiday, designing CD covers in high school using limited drawing packages
  • An interest in learning how things work in general
  • A loathing of bad customer experience, bad user design, and rotten customer journeys
  • A bit of a creative streak and a love of designing things (from clothes to interior decoration)
  • An eye for detail, whether through selecting an ideal landscape position for a photo shot or noticing that digital visuals were just a little off-centre / too high / not the right shade
  • And a yearning to fight the norm

Interestingly, to combine all of these I fell firstly into website design / game design & creation, then application design & building (think Matrix / CSI swipe touch screens), then I stumbled upon the beginnings of what was to become the Social Media wave, landing firmly in the exciting realm of data, analytics & insights, handling strategically every type of data you can imagine!

What does your role involve?

I’m the Global Head of Data Science & Strategy for Grünenthal, a pharmaceutical company focusing on pain management and related diseases.

The role itself ranges from the definition of business strategy to the implementation of everything that entails: initiative roadmap creation, process definition, platform technology, the governance of it all, but most importantly is the exciting possibility of using Data Science to get the data to talk, ensuring that our business is truly data-driven in all decisions made.

As well as having a business-facing focus, there is also a market-facing focus, meaning that it’s my responsibility to keep up with the latest trends, understand what’s happening across industries in terms of data, and keep my ear to the floor for exciting developments as well as looking at potential opportunities for partnerships.

My previous role involved testing out bleeding-edge technologies so I love to find new ways in which we can innovate, whilst also combatting things like data bias, ensuring that solutions are built responsibly – ethical / responsible AI is a huge interest of mine and it’s imperative that everyone plays a role in ensuring technology is responsibly built to ensure existing stereotypes & bias are quashed and not emphasised further through technology.

What advice would you offer?

Create your own path forward – there are so many exciting roles to choose from, some which won’t even exist today: my role didn’t exist when I was in school, or even in University!

Also, do not be put off by stereotypes – I think I’ve came up against (and thrown out!) every stereotype humanly possible!

Every single role is technology-related in some way, shape or form, whether you’re reliant upon technology to support your role, or you’re pioneering the creation of technology itself.

What did you enjoy about your education?

I absolutely loved being able to explore things and get creative whilst learning. It’s opened the doors to many possibilities.

Don’t be afraid to throw yourself into any opportunities that arise, even if completely outwith your comfort zone – one of the best early opportunities I had (despite it being a bit scary!) was the possibility to extend the council’s employee portal as part of my Master’s degree – such a great experience and I’m still, to this day, in contact with the person who was my boss back then!

Celin Reilly

“Not everyone learns in the same way so explore every avenue to find what works for you!”

photo of Celin ReillyHow did you find your way into tech?

I originally studied at the University of Stirling for a Diploma of Higher Education in Mathematics and its applications, where I was introduced to some of the technology and techniques found in data science and statistical study. This piqued my interest in a way that other branches of Mathematics did not.

From there I followed articles and had a curiosity for how the statistics we are shown are created. While living in France, a close friend informed me that there was an opening for a Graduate Apprentice in Data Science at Caledonia Housing Association and encouraged me to apply. Following the application and interview process, I find myself on an excellent course and work with wonderful people who have a passion for data and technology.

What does your work involve?

My role currently involves assisting the Strategy and Improvement team at Caledonia HA by using and applying the skills I develop both in class, and through experience and work with the Business Analyst. This could be anything from uploading and collecting the results of an online survey, to helping gather and cleanse data requested from a Neighbourhood Officer.

It is a varied role, with a lot of room for growth and support, with great emphasis on improvement for the team, staff, tenants, and the business overall. I am encouraged to use my classwork to improve processes, systems, and reports that we already have in place.

What do you enjoy about your work?

I truly enjoy the ability to work and learn with an amazing group of people in a variety of fields with a common objective. I have become very good friends with everyone on my course and this allows me to bounce ideas between them and solve problems with new points of view. I also love how I am given freedom to apply the lessons we are taught in class to my work and vice-versa. This allows me to develop my own knowledge with the ability to see exactly how the things we learn in class are acted upon in a real world setting.

What advice would you offer?

Be curious, and seek to explore how the statistics we are shown are actually created. It can be a difficult route at times, but hugely rewarding. I have found excellent friends on my course and I work with an incredible group of women who share my passion for data. Do not allow others to discourage you from personal development, and take every feasible opportunity to explore and develop your skills. Not everyone learns in the same way so explore every avenue to find what works for you!

Kris Plum

”…. there’s no better feeling than seeing your code work or learning new avenues of technology”

photo of Kris PlumHow did you find your way into tech?

I have recently been hired as a data analytics and visualisation consultant. I started my undergraduate studies in Literature, German and French. A year later I dropped out and travelled for two and half years. I then went back and completed my undergraduate degree in English Literature. Thereafter, I worked my way from a temporary worker in a digital marketing company to being a full-time Media Strategist and then worked my way into a social media marketing/search engine marketing position. It was in this role that I developed a love of technology and data. This role introduced me to the world of technology, specifically web development. I had only known of web development as hardcore coding, but it was through understanding how a web page ranked and the importance of how a website was developed for google ranking that I began to be aware of the simplicity and creativity of web development.

In this time, I had also made a female friend who was a software engineer. I remember asking her how she got into such a role. She told me she had an undergraduate degree in dance and was previously a ballet dancer and that her dad was the one who taught her code. She then told me how anyone could code and that she was trying to get into UX design. It was then that I decided that the intricate world of tech would be for me but not then as I decided to go and travel abroad for another 3 years.

I went and travelled, found my now partner and decided to pursue a career in tech. I searched for a university that would offer a master’s in computing but one that would provide training in web development and UX. The university that I found was Edinburgh Napier University which offered the diverse program I was looking for and had the permaculture Lionsgate. I was extremely intrigued by the Lionsgate project as I had spent years while travelling working on organic permaculture farms. The permaculture Lionsgate is a project that combines sustainability and technology. The Lionsgate sounded like an absolute dream as my sole reason for getting involved in technology is it has the biggest potential for assisting the climate emergency and reversing global warming.

What does your role involve?

From what I’ve understood of the job duties and through my discussion with my future managers, it seems that the role will involve a lot of data analysis. What I’m most looking forward to is working on big projects that will influence stakeholders to make important infrastructure decisions. I’ve also been informed that I will learn how to calculate carbon emissions for each infrastructure project. Thereby, being able to help influence stakeholders to make positive decisions based on the data.

Essentially this role involves the use of data to encourage positive infrastructural growth..

What advice would you offer?

I think you should try a diverse range of tech courses as you would be surprised as to what aspects of technology you find interesting. Computing is an extremely rewarding degree and there’s no better feeling than seeing your code work or learning new avenues of technology.

In terms of gender imbalance on the course I personally didn’t have this experience on my course as my program was very international, which I absolutely loved. Although any of the boys that I worked with on my course seemed just as lost as I was, which made me feel much better as it put this stereotype of boys being more tech savvy to bed as I clearly saw that it wasn’t true. I feel that even if it had been more male than female, I think you would be surprised to learn that everyone is learning together.