A number of years and several part-time study qualifications later, Jennifer was accepted on a computer science course at the University of Gloucestershire. After achieving a first class degree in Information Systems with Computing she was recruited by IBM's Global Business Services. She is currently working on a public sector engagement, conducting business analysis.
Can you explain a bit more about how you came to your present role, and can you give a brief outline of what you do?
I was studying a variety of arts A-levels after leaving school but early on realised the subjects weren't for me, so I decided to take up an offer to undertake a modern apprenticeship in Business Administration with Birmingham Chamber of Commerce & Industry whilst trying to find out what I wanted to do. During that time I gained various qualifications, including IT NVQs and an A-level in psychology. Whilst there, I began working with a variety of databases and took a job as an information analyst with Business Link Birmingham. I loved my job, but soon realised that you earned more with a degree, so the next step was to get on a computing course, which I did, with the University of Gloucestershire. During my placement year I worked at Kraft Foods as a support analyst and then after graduating, I was recruited to my current position with IBM as a consultant.
My job involves
I have been working for IBM as a technology consultant since graduating in August 2005 and have enjoyed working on a variety of projects. As I am in the early stages of my career, I am yet to specialise, with IBM keen that its graduates get a wealth of experience and opportunity in the first few years. This means I am able to work within a variety of sectors, for a range of clients and undertake a range of roles. At the moment I am working on a public sector client engagement in Wales as a business analyst, though previously I have worked in Hampshire as an environment manager and also in the US as a learning consultant. I enjoy the diversity of opportunities available to me and the scope of travel, whilst having such a strong support network within IBM, you never feel too overwhelmed with the challenges.
Why did you choose IT as a career path?
I have been fascinated by computers from an early age, not least because my mother was an IT Trainer and COBOL programmer (COBOL is the Common Business-Oriented Language, one of the oldest programming languages still in active use, mainly in business, finance, and administrative systems for companies and governments). I chose IT as a career path because I find the work interesting and there are so many different facets you can work in. Also, I really enjoy the pace of the industry, with new technology constantly being developed, which brings new challenges and opportunities.
There are still not nearly enough women working in IT. What do you think needs to be done to encourage more women to consider a career in IT?
I believe all of the doors in IT are open to both men and women alike; it's just that not as many women go through them as men. There are many predictions that British IT as an industry will face a workforce shortage in the future and I believe that we, as current IT professionals, have a responsibility to help educate children, both boys and girls, that IT is a great place to work and is not just for 'geeks', 'boys' or strange, bearded, people in lab coats (as one study reported is the current child's perception). A couple of organisations that are doing great things with schools in this area include Computer Club 4 Girls and STEMNET. The BCS also has a specialist group, called BCSwomen, which provides networking opportunities, mentoring and support for all women working in IT around the world. (see https://bcswomen.bcs.org/)
You are now Chair of the BCS' Young Professionals group (YPG), why did you become involved with BCS and what benefits have membership brought you?
BCS was heavily promoted by lecturers at University and when I joined IBM and took up professional membership, I decided to become more actively involved. I attended a YPG committee meeting early in 2006 and the atmosphere, topics and debates were so inspiring and motivating I was boring non-BCS people to death with them for several weeks! There are a variety of initiatives that the YPG is either involved with or is pioneering for BCS as a whole and it's wonderful to be part of such a vibrant committee and group. I have found that being with the YPG has greatly improved my leadership and interpersonal skills and I have certainly found out a lot about myself and the IT industry, whilst also making some great friends along the way.
Where do you see your career progression over the next 5 years?
Over the next few years I will be specialising in a particular type of IT role, whether that be a consultant, business analyst, IT architect or something completely different. I will also look to become specialised in a particular sector, such as financial, communication or manufacturing, to ensure I can have relevant knowledge and applicable experience to give to my clients.
What advice would you give to anyone looking for a career in IT/Computer Science?
When looking for an initial role, see everything as an opportunity and always go with your gut feeling on something after taking the advice of others who are experienced in the industry, particularly in your first couple of years. Some things won't work out as expected, some will turn out better than you ever imagined and, if nothing else, you will learn something from each experience until you find the area of IT that is right for you.
Should you find IT is not the right career for you, the skills are transferable, after all, every organisation uses computers and many will find you using technology in some manner. Also, ensure you have at least two mentors who can offer you impartial advice, one within and one external to your organisation.
Finally, join a professional body such as BCS to show you are a recognised professional, to find contacts in the industry (if only to hear about other opportunities and new technology) and to gain a variety of information and education opportunities.
What significant changes have you seen recently in the IT industry which may affect studying/training and working in IT?
Sadly, despite a thriving IT industry in the UK at present, we are expecting a skills shortage in the future, whilst we are seeing the IT industry flourishing at the same time in countries such as India and China. It is often reported in the IT press that organisations send IT development to these countries - which educate their practitioners to a high level - to reduce costs and timescales. There is much debate surrounding whether this is an opportunity or threat for the UK market, but my personal belief is that we need to ensure we develop and promote these international relationships as an opportunity, whilst engaging and educating our future workforce so it is able to take advantage of these opportunities in the future.