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Inspiring Change - Why We Need More Women in Tech

An interview with Anne Bryson, Group Technical Manager for iomart

Set against the backdrop of this weekend's International Women's Day  theme of Inspiring Change, I had the pleasure to sit down with Anne Bryson, Group Technical Manager at iomart.

As one of Europe's leading cloud companies iomart has long championed the employment possibilities that working in the field of technology offers to women. Sadly current statistics show that our industry is still falling short. According to research by e-skills UK, only 17% of employees in IT & Telecoms are female.

Anne was asked for her thoughts on why this might be and to provide some background to her own career journey in the hope that it encourages more women to consider this industry as a great career choice.

What led you into the world of technology?

Anne Bryson: My story is one of Music to Macs. I originally studied music as a student at Glasgow University. My course was one of the few non-computing courses to use computers as a central part of our studies. I got the chance to work on some very advanced systems. We used NeXT Step computers (a precursor to the Apple Mac) and one of the more challenging projects involved actually writing computer programs in C to make sounds for electronic composition. Not an easy task when you had never coded let alone in C before!

Those programs could be used for musical notation and composing electronic music and they got me hooked. I decided to study further and gain an MSc in Information Technology, covering topics such as Artificial Intelligence, Systems Analysis and Design and software programming.

I'm often asked why I went from music to computing as they seem worlds apart but for me they were interconnected, both relying on an element of logical, mathematical thought. It proves that you don't need to have studied computing at school - anyone who can think logically should be able to follow a piece of code even if they don't quite understand all the hieroglyphics!

What was your first job in Tech?

Bryson: My first job in tech was with iomart back in 1999 and I'm still here today and loving every minute of it!

When I joined as a fresh young graduate, iomart was a brand new start-up company about to launch a new ISP called Madasafish. It was incredibly exciting and as one of only a handful of staff I got the chance to get involved with new technologies right away.

My first job title was Junior Developer. Fifteen years on and I've risen to the position of Group Technical Manager. iomart has also grown into a leading provider of cloud and managed hosting and a PLC listed on the London Stock Exchange. My role now encompasses the technology that supports over 300 staff and the thousands of customers who use our network of UK data centres.

My responsibility is to manage the development of the group systems for iomart which covers all our internal management systems (CRM/reporting/provisioning systems etc.), developing our core products and also our customer-facing systems such as our control panels, online order portals and helpdesks. I have to ensure that the systems we develop cater for all our business requirements and that projects are delivered for our customers to specification and on time.

Did you have female colleagues when you started work?

Bryson: When I first joined iomart, the development team was small but what was unusual for the time was that there was an even ratio of women to men. As the company grew however that trend didn't continue. We employ over 300 people and about 60 of them are women -that's approaching 20 per cent of the workforce, better than the UK average but not as high as we'd like.

I wish I could say there are more women in technical roles compared to when I started, however from personal experience, whilst there are plenty of women in non-technical roles within technological firms, when it comes to the "techie" positions, men still far outnumber women. Today, 23% of my development team is female and when we are running recruitment drives we rarely get female applicants, which is a real shame.

Are there enough women in technical roles in industry in general?

Bryson: Personally, I don't think there are enough women currently in technical roles. I truly believe women are as strong mathematically as men and arguably more logical and practical however when it comes to technical roles, there is still a vast disparity between the number of men versus women.

What needs to be done to encourage more women into technical jobs?

Bryson: I think there needs to be more information available on what possibilities exist in the marketplace for women interested in technology. I never knew much about what programming or technical employment possibilities there were until I started my MSc and we were introduced to a lot of the different "core areas".  Even then I don't think I really grasped the different types of roles which existed just within programming itself let alone other areas like databases, networking etc..

It's also difficult for someone to decide what role is for them when they don't really know what a job entails. I know from personal experience that if I try to explain my job or the services iomart provides, I am commonly met with blank stares so it is much easier just to say I "work with computers."

If more could be done to demonstrate first-hand the types of jobs there are and the exciting new products and concepts you can work on and the huge career progress you can make, I'm sure it would help potential female "techies" realise that it is a path they want to go down.

What is your message to women wanting to work in the technology industry?

Bryson: My first point would be that I work in one of the most exciting industries in the world. Even in the UK the tech sector has outperformed the rest of the private sector for employment over the last decade. According to a recent report by KPMG and Markit, our industry is more upbeat about its prospects than any other. New technology start-ups are being created every day and a lot of these companies are doing incredibly exciting things.

My second point would be that the technology industry should not be a "man's world." Women should be able to progress well in it especially if they can bridge the gap between technology and business. These days, more companies are looking for people who can carry out not only the technical function but can also understand the business impact their involvement has and can communicate well with other "non-technical" people within the business.

What I'd conclude by saying is, don't be afraid to dip a toe in the water and see if there is something in our industry that can inspire you.

And that's not a bad statement on which to conclude our interview. If reading this has given has roused your curiosity and you're now interested in investigating a career within the technology industry then please do something now! There are thousands of careers and educational establishment websites sitting out there waiting to provide you with advice. Or if you'd rather hear stories such as Anne's direct from women working in the Industry then don't hesitate to visit companies at trade shows, events or seminars or go with the direct method of contacting them by phone or web. You'll be surprised at the reception you'll receive - we want to talk to you. It's a great Industry, it's a growth industry and its driving the world's economy and we need you to join us.

And if you're interested in iomart specifically please visit our careers section for more information.

More Stories By Phil Worms

Phil is the Chief Marketing Officer of one of the UK's largest managed hosting and cloud computing services companies - iomart Group plc. He is a 30 year IT industry veteran, having started his career with BT plc, joining the company as it emerged into a brave new commercial world following privatisation.

A full and varied career has seen Phil move through various senior product/project and marketing positions with companies as diverse as Centrica plc, One.Tel and VarTec Telecom, Phil has been described as “an old head who has been around the block more than once” who “continues to be a powerhouse of ideas in all areas in which he provides his considerable experience to” - which probably means he should have been pensioned long ago.