My dad was an electronics engineer and was always ahead of the curve when it came to new developments. So it wasn’t surprising he bought the family an 8 bit Oric-1 back in the 80s, when I was seven. It soon became apparent that computers weren’t his thing (and they never were!) but my mum had no such problems. Realising there weren’t many games out there; she bought books and magazines and typed them in. Nobody told her women weren’t meant to do that.
I was fascinated. What was this code stuff? It didn’t take long before I realised I could tweak bits of it to make it say rude words in the games instead, and it wasn’t long before I was writing my own. When we started doing algebra at school which everyone had said was so hard, I understood it instantly because it was just programming variables, right?
Oblivious to the social norms, it came as some surprise to see I was the only female taking A-Level Computer Science. And I was one of very few women of British origin at degree level too – there were plenty of women from other countries where the culture was so different. I had my heart set on a career in technology though, because it was fun, and satisfying to do.
I’ve had a fantastic career so far, working on many different things ranging from military radios to mobile phones to games and computer graphics and always at the forefront of new technology. It’s a real shame that often, girls are discouraged from having these opportunities. We can bring so much to an employer – the most important is our different perspective, which can easily give a product that competitive edge or stop embarrassing mistakes. And we can also bring better communication skills to an industry which often lacks them.
It’s very frustrating when mothers act surprised when I say I’m an engineer and they say it’s far too complex for them. Is this the message they’re subconsciously passing onto their children?
Many times they’re employed in equally, if not more so, skilled jobs in other areas, and there’s probably no reason they couldn’t have done tech if only they’d not had the doors of cultural expectation closed in their face. I’m forever grateful to my mother for being a role model for me.
That said, getting girls interested in tech is only half the battle. Getting women to stay means making sure the culture is welcoming. There’s the obvious sexual harassment issues, along with needing respect and being treated equally of course. However, even micro-aggressions and laddish culture needs to be stamped out so that women can feel like they belong and can be themselves.
Getting new mothers to return is just as important, yet rarely considered.
Here at Imagination, I’ve been able to adjust my working hours very slightly so I can be there more often for my children, which is priceless to me. Returning mothers need these kinds of opportunities, there are very few chances in an industry which expects to employ men, which means they may never go back and are lost to tech.
Tech careers not off-limits
I took a career break for my family, but I was thrilled be able to return to the career I loved a few years ago. I have a great role at Imagination, which uses my communication skills as well as my technical skills. And I love being able to prove to women and girls that a tech career should never be considered as off-limits to them.
By Rosanna Ashworth-Jones, Leading Developer Technology Engineer, PowerVR, Imagination Technologies