Michelle Barnett

Software engineer

Michelle Barnett

I had planned to talk about my typical day as a software engineer in this blog, but I started a new job recently, and as I settle in and learn the ropes, I don't really have a typical day. So I thought I'd talk about what made me get into the field in the first place.

I guess I've always had an engineers brain. When I was about 4, some of my favourite books were "a day in the life of..." books. They were a day in the life of an articulated lorry, a plane, a digger and so on. They told you about how to set machines worked and what they did every day. When I got a bit older I loved taking things apart and putting them back together, seeing how they fit and how they worked. I liked lego, but I always preferred knex and mechano because you could make more things that moved. My dad and my step dad are both kind of techie too, and I used to help them out from time to time.

But I suppose my real interest in computing started when I was about 11. My step dad had brought home a Teach Yourself HTML in 24 Hours book, and one bored day in the holidays, I picked it up and started, well, teaching myself HTML.

Later, when I got to secondary school, I had a few friends who were also interested in computers, and we used to have fun hacking about free javascripts to extend and change them and discovering a program for making 8-bit console style role playing games. Learning to use that program was an exercise in itself as it was translated from Japanese into English by a Russian, so we had to work out how it worked by trial and error. We had a lot of fun figuring it out.

About the time I was doing my GCSEs, we were given a careers questionnaire at school. It asked you to rate activities based on how much you enjoyed doing them and from that compiled a list of career matches. Most of my top 10 matches were computing or engineering related, and it was then that I first started to consider that avenue as a career.

I loved maths and physics so they were obvious A Levels to take. I decided to study Computer Science at university because I couldn't pick between the two, and it seemed like a good bet to get to use a mix of them.

I loved my degree and I don't think I ever thought for a second that I would do something other than Software Engineering once I graduated.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

My story is fairly typical. I think most software engineers have a similar start. The big difference is that I'm female. I was never interested in the stereotypical feminine pursuits. I was a tom boy through and through. If I hadn't been, I don't think I'd have ended up in the job I'm in. No one has ever discouraged me, but all of my drive has come from me pursuing things that I enjoyed. We were never taught computer science at school. I didn't like dolls so I got bought lego. If I'd been a "girly girl", I don't think anyone would have ever thought to suggest to me that I might enjoy a career in engineering. It seems that from the youngest of ages, children are socialised into gender stereotype roles with girls activities, and boys activities, and it would seem that science, technology, engineering and maths subjects fall firmly into the boys camp. Girls don't get interested in engineering because everything they see and hear subtly reinforces the message that it's not "for them".

Which is why, once a week, I help run a Code Club at a local girls school. From 4 til 5 on a Tuesday, I have twelve 10 and 11 year old girls and it's my job to teach them about coding. They learn how to make games and animations using Scratch, the graphical programming language developed at MIT. They have projects to complete, they gain certificates, and hopefully some of them get interested in programming. And I think it's working - one of the girls made a Scratch animation as a birthday present for her mum, another one uses the projects as a starting point for her own highly imaginative and ridiculous ideas, which, of course, we encourage, and all in all, my kids seem to think that Code Club is cool. They get to be creative, they get to learn useful problem solving ideas and some of the basics of coding., and most of all, they have fun.

If, in the future, just one of them considers a STEM career, then I feel I will have scored a victory.

That's what we need. More girls to have their minds opened to the possibility that they could have a career in a STEM subject. More girls encouraged to make things, have fun, learn useful engineering skills and  maybe, one day, we won't need campaigns like this.

Join now

The real figures

BCS and eSkills have updated for 2014 the Women in IT Scorecard.

BCS survey

79% of IT professionals feel that the profession would benefit from having more women working in IT roles - read more results from our recent survey.

Women in IT

Three expert women in IT debate the issues and suggest some innovative solutions to the gender imbalance problem in IT. Watch the debate

Interview

Listen to an interview with Gillian Arnold, Chair of BCSWomen and Kate Russell, journalist and author, discussing why it’s important for more women to be part of the IT profession.

Get involved

#womeninit