Sarah Winmill MSc MBA FBCS CITP

Director of IT for Support Services, University College London

The arts are seen as an outlet for self-expression, individuality, and experimentation; the home for creativity and personal fulfilment. By contrast there appears to be a prevailing public perception that IT provides ‘engineer’ and ‘analyst’ careers for those who find socialising uncomfortable and lack imagination. I challenge all to reframe IT within an artistic paradigm and be alive to the wealth of creative opportunity and fulfilment a career in IT can bring.

The IT industry is perhaps best described as those who empower and support the endeavour of others through the medium of information and communications technologies. That IT came to be viewed in narrower terms (the tools rather than the outputs created using them) is, perhaps, the fault of we technologists; we have, after all, spent a great deal of time talking about the ‘tech’. More creative are the benefits that can be derived using them. Where benefits have been illuminated we are able to paint a glowing vision of possibilities.

I posit that the gap between the vision of possibility and the reality of delivery is evidence of the creative vision and passion of those working within IT and of the current early stages of our technology revolution. The current speed of technical advance is remarkable but it is the growing overt emphasis on beauty of form, rather than just function, which increasingly underscores the creativity and passion of technologists.

The artistry of good design is now evident to the consumer, no longer buried within technology only to be admired by other technologists. It is the same elegance of design which, through the most creative coding, improves the performance of our favourite devices or applications. This simplicity and elegance is as self-evident and ‘right’ to another coder as the quality of a few simple lines from a master artist. As with art there is a wealth of ways to use a thousand lines but the one you are instinctively drawn to is the most simple and balanced.

Creativity is not confined to computer coding. As the technology evolves and expands there is an increasing plethora of options in all forms of technology; networking, client devices, integration tools, and interfaces, to name a few. I have personally been inspired by the simple elegance of solutions for sending messages between networked devices. Studying data communications I found myself increasingly fascinated by a world of global protocols, peer-reviewed and enshrined in international standards. 

I was enchanted by ingeniously simple solutions for avoiding network congestion and ensuring a telephone conversation receives appropriate priority when queuing to go through a network bottleneck, ensuring that modern communications do not suffer the strangled stuttering conversation of the TV satellite link of my youth. Like so many of the great solutions it goes unnoticed because it ‘just works’, in the same way that we just use a pencil, never pausing to consider how it works or was made.

I began my personal journey in IT from another creative medium, music. After studying viola at the Royal College of Music I knew this career, probably within orchestras and teaching, was not the creative outlet I was seeking. I began working at the Royal Albert Hall using computers and quickly found myself within a team implementing a key new system. My eyes were opened to the possibilities of technology and the creative challenge of taking that possibility and achieving the best fit to enhance the capabilities of a very specific organisation. 

This project was challenging, exhilarating, and creative and set my life on a different course. Since then I have relished the challenges of working with iconic organisations to solve difficult problems; installing networks within the Scheduled Monuments of the Tower or London and Hampton Court Palace without damaging the buildings, moving equipment and installing cables around the priceless treasures of the Victoria and Albert Museum, to name but two. Each day has brought opportunities for creativity and a sense of deep personal fulfilment.

It falls to the creativity of the technologist to use their knowledge of the different mediums to find the most effective, the most elegant path through these myriad choices to deliver their vision of the possible. Like all great art you will know it when you see it and value it highly. IT is the medium and home of the true artists of our generation.

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

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