Tag Archives: tech advice

Mairi Macdonald

”I guess I would say don’t count yourself out, and don’t be afraid to jump; I didn’t have a clue I’d be going down this route only six months ago.”

photo of Mairi MacdonaldHow did you find your way into tech?

I only began to consider a career in tech relatively recently.  I was a strong student in school and stepped on the ‘get into medicine’ conveyor belt pretty early, though I quickly realised at uni that it was not for me. I really struggled to pinpoint an alternative degree that matched my proficiency in maths and science with my interests in social change and human behaviour. Later at 25, I was waiting to start a social science degree and was parenting my two-year-old twins, when I realised that my childcare costs would be too prohibitively expensive to allow me to undertake a traditional degree.

I started to read about applications of machine learning and soon recognised that data science does not stand alone but has application in all fields, and for someone with broad interests this really appealed to me. In an ideal world I see myself working at the intersection of computer science, social science, and psychology; using practical, hard science tools to understand and design interventions for social problems. I’m also very interested in data ethics. Growing up in rural Scotland I had very little exposure to what the possibilities in tech might be and assumed it would be too complicated and very dry – the opposite, I now realise, is true.

In order to step into tech I looked for graduate apprenticeships.  One opportunity in my area grabbed me: a position in the Improvement Service. A little over a month later I began my BSc in Data Science through the University of Stirling while working four days a week as a trainee data scientist with the Improvement Service.

What do you like about your course?

Obviously the earn and learn opportunity is very secure and has made further education viable to me, but also it is very valuable to see real-world applications of the degree in my job every week. It can put the more abstract aspects of the course into context. As an adult learner, I have better time management skills and can manage work and study simultaneously.

I’ll be graduating at 29, but with four years’ work experience. Having experienced university before, I can also say that remote learning suits me very well. I can learn and study very flexibly around my job and childcare, and content delivery is engaging and stimulating. The faculty at Stirling are very supportive and approachable, particularly so for the GA cohort.

What advice would you offer?

It took me long enough to be able to point to a career and think ‘that one is for me’, and then was fortunate enough to stumble on a pathway soon after – that is half the battle I think, and one that many people struggle with. I was beginning to feel like I’d ‘missed my chance’ and was frustrated at the pressure put on me to misguidedly pick a future at a young age. Starting something completely new at 25 as a parent of young children seemed a bit mad, but it was a brilliant decision and I’m certainly not alone; I study with peers 20 years my senior.

I guess I would say don’t count yourself out, and don’t be afraid to jump: I didn’t have a clue I’d be going down this route (or even that I’d be good at it) only six months ago. There is plenty of room in this industry for the most niche of interests, and it is so important that the sector includes diverse minds and voices so that human bias is not built into data science. I’m still slightly amused that I ‘work in tech’ because it’s not what family or friends expect from me, but I now find I am excited and almost impatient to study, and I’ve had a very successful start.

Gemma Mackintosh

“…Building up new skills from scratch is hard, but that’s not a reason to avoid it – it’s a reason to give yourself time to make mistakes”

photo of Gemma MackintoshHow did you find your way into tech?

I started out studying undergraduate psychology at university, then followed up with a PhD in a related field, which was a very slow-drip introduction to data and statistics. I only really got into R coding during my PhD, and despite the challenges associated with being self-taught, I enjoyed the problem-solving. This is primarily what pushed me to pursue a career in data science, as opposed to continuing with academia.

I’d actually been interested in working with the emergency services from a really young age. However, I’d always been concerned about my capability when it comes to the operational side of things, and my strengths were always more suited to a support role. I joined the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) around 10 months ago as a Data Services Developer, which couldn’t have been a more exciting introduction to data science and business intelligence in the public service.

I work in a close-knit team focusing on data management, quality assurance, and delivery of high-quality products that make the data useful, both for others in the service and a wider audience. I’ve had some amazing opportunities to use and advance my skills in R, and I’ve even picked up some new skills in SQL and PowerBI. Recently I even had the opportunity to explore more complex data modelling, and I really look forward to adding this to my repertoire.

On being a Woman in Tech

It’s no secret that there are barriers for women when it comes to ‘making it’ in tech, however, my experience with SFRS has been incredibly positive in this regard. A lot of women, myself included, feel, or at some time have felt as though a higher level of drive and ambition is required, and that there is a real danger of being seen as ‘difficult’ when pushing boundaries that need to be pushed. I like to think that any truth in this is becoming a thing of the past, and I strongly believe that women are becoming more respected in the tech industry.

Something really special about working in tech is the speed at which it progresses – both globally and locally. I honestly couldn’t say for certain what I’ll be doing this time in 10 years, but I know it’ll be something exciting, perhaps even something that doesn’t exist yet. The ability to say “I contributed to this advancement” is something that draws a lot of people into this industry, and it’s certainly a huge perk of the job. Even your smallest achievement of the day could be something that’s never been done by anyone in the world before you. I’m grateful that this previously male-dominated industry now gives women like myself the opportunity to experience this.

What advice would you offer?

Building up new skills from scratch is hard, but that’s not a reason to avoid it – it’s a reason to give yourself time to make mistakes. It’s easy to compare your skills to others’ but take the opportunity to learn from them rather than criticising your own skills. Some of my best memories are solving complex code problems with my PhD cohort, many of whom picked up the joy of coding much earlier than I did. I’m glad I used their passion to build up my own.

And don’t be afraid of changing your path, because there’s lots of different avenues for tech roles, and if the one you’re on doesn’t feel right for whatever reason, another certainly will!

Louise Drumm

”…[Tech] has also been an area with lots of change, so there are always new platforms and developments to make things interesting”

photo of Louise DrummHow did you find your way into tech?

My brother is 10 years older than me and when he got interested in computing and studied it at university it meant there was a computer in the house and I started to type out the Basic programmes printed in magazines. It was a slow business, but I got a real satisfaction from it, even though I must only have been about 7 or 8. Years went and I did a degree in English Literature. I went on to work in theatre as a technician and director. I wanted to return to study something and I was torn between computing and music technology. In the end I did a MSc in IT Software and Systems, because I really wanted a broad knowledge. I had no clear idea where it would take me. Though very challenging, I enjoyed the course and discovered the creativity involved in coding. My dissertation project related back to my undergraduate degree as I built an e-learning package for Old English. This is how I moved into the area of learning technology and I’ve worked in a number of universities since. I have done software development, but mostly it has been as a learning technologist and more recently as a lecturer.

What does your role involve?

What I really enjoyed about being a learning technologist was that it involved both technical and the interpersonal skills. I would work closely with an academic to help them realise their ideas for how they wanted to teach online. This would require training them in the use of some tools or platforms, but also in depth conversations about how their students learn, how they teach their subject and what technologies can bring to these activities. Other times I would be trouble-shooting issues with the systems, or more commonly, user mistakes.

There were opportunities to develop my skills in certain areas, such as design or multimedia. It has also been an area with lots of change, so there are always new platforms and developments to make things interesting. When I moved into a lecturing role, I could bring a lot of that on-the-job knowledge to my research and teaching, as I now run the MSc in Blended and Online Education. I really like working in a university as I get to meet and work with people who work in lots of different areas and there are opportunities for continuing professional development.

What advice would you offer?

The market for learning technologists is very competitive since the pandemic and there are now more opportunities to specialise or move into management roles. It’s good to keep an open mind about where you might go and where development opportunities might lead you to. It is also good to feel connected and true to what is important to you. I know that as an undergraduate student I was not as engaged or successful as I could have been, so I’m always mindful that the work I do might be helping other under confident learners be reach their potential.

Kehinde Babaagba

”… one of the greatest  beauties of tech – one can create and innovate with tangible results to show for it. ”

photo of Kehinde BabaagbaHow did you find your way into tech?

I have always loved numbers and numeracy, and I recall being thrilled to solve maths problems from a very young age. Hence, I knew that any profession I would venture in had to be one that would hone my Maths skills. Being a person of many interests, I also loved public speaking, singing, and the arts and because of the subject selection process for university qualifying exams while I was growing up, I was faced with the choice between either an art or science subject focus. This was not particularly an easy task for me, however, my penchant for problem solving and numeracy surpassed all other passions and was in line with the science focus. After passing my university qualifying exams, I gained admission to study Computer Science at Bachelor’s level, followed by Computing Information Engineering for Master’s, after which I went on to do a PhD in Computing.

The choice to be an academic came naturally to me due to my love for problem solving, as earlier stated, which is at the heart of research – a crucial part of being an academic. Furthermore, since I thoroughly enjoy speaking to people and disseminating knowledge, teaching and presentations came with little difficulty to me. My career journey till this point hasn’t been marked with absolute clarity every step of the way, but God’s help, following passion, and picking up skills along the way have all contributed to where I am today.

On being a Woman in Tech

It is common knowledge that being a woman in tech comes with its unique challenges, even more so being a BAME woman. And while I believe progress has been made regarding embracing women in tech on a similar level as men, there is still a long way to go. There have been times I have felt compelled to push more or do more than my male colleagues to be heard, but I am pleased to acknowledge that those moments are becoming few and far between.

One thing I am certain of is that everyone celebrates results, and being a results-oriented person has made this journey very rewarding. This is perhaps one of the greatest  beauties of tech, that one can create and innovate with tangible results to show for it. I particularly appreciate my current workplace, Edinburgh Napier University, for their effort in easing the barriers that women encounter at work. I believe that regardless of the barriers that might still exist in the tech industry, an innovative tech woman is one that will thrive and be celebrated.

What advice would you offer?

Firstly, I would like to demystify the myth that suggests that women can’t thrive in tech, as several women, myself included, have proven that to be untrue. You can be the tech woman that you desire to be, through commitment to doing all that it takes, which includes acquiring and sharpening the necessary  skills. I have had to learn a multitude of things from scratch to upskill and thankfully, there are now many resources at one’s disposal.

I have female colleagues who have transitioned from a non-tech industry into the tech industry by registering for courses, tutorials, and self-study. The learning curve might be steep at times, but I am certain that it will be worth it. Don’t be afraid to push yourself, make mistakes, try something new on this journey, as the result is a world of endless possibilities!