Beth Hutchison

Job title: Web Services Architect

Job description: The high-level design of IBM’s software products, which implement the Web Services paradigm, ensuring that together, they provide a complete and consistent solution to our customers.

Key skills: Programming, software design

Qualifications: FBCS. I also have two degrees (PhD and BSc) in Physics, which demonstrate my ability to think logically and pass exams, but have never contributed directly to my IT ability.

How long have you worked in IT? Was it a planned route, or did you deviate into it by accident?

I’ve worked in IT for 27 years. Although I took a 1-year computing option at University, I did not intend to take it up as a career. However, when I was analysing the results of my PhD experiments, I realised that the computing part of it was much more interesting than the physics!

All the jobs I have had were in computing, though the first few were also science-related: analysing data at the European Space Agency centre in Germany, and working at the Atomic Research Authority.

I started off contracting, then chose to settle down, working for a computer-aided architecture company. We wrote the programs used to design Milton Keynes District Hospital, amongst others.

In parallel, my husband and I founded our own small company, manufacturing disk drives for Apple computers, and after 4 years it was stable enough for me to join him full-time. I was immediately promoted to Software Director! and started worrying about independent test teams, and library systems, as well as continuing to write code. It was really hard work, but very rewarding.

I then had a two year career-break – in my case, not to start a family, but to sail in the Mediterranean for a couple of summers. For anyone taking time-out from a career, for whatever reason, there is always the question about how easy it will be to get back in again.

When I returned I had to learn about object oriented programming, but I wasn’t at a disadvantage, because in the computer industry, everyone is constantly learning about the next new technology.

I deliberately chose a large company – IBM – when I went back to work. I wanted to see what was done differently, how to develop software ‘properly’. Now I know – there is no ‘silver bullet’ – software development everywhere depends on bright people thinking clearly about the design and logic of their programs.

One of the advantages of a large corporation is that you can change job without changing company. I started as a programmer, then moved on to design and team leading. I spent a couple of years as a delivery manager, responsible for getting the product developed, tested, packaged and shipped to customers.

Then I decided to concentrate on a technical career, and took on responsibility for the performance of Java™ on IBM’s platforms, and for re-defining the architecture of the Virtual Machine to work well in very different environments.

In 2002 I moved to my current role as a Web Services Architect. Web Services allow businesses to interoperate flexibly across the Internet, through the concepts of Dynamic Discovery and Late Binding.

This is exciting and far-reaching technology, which could become as fundamental to business use of the Internet as browsers are to individuals. As an architect, I am responsible for understanding marketplace requirements, and the technologies and initiatives, and deciding how they can be fitted together into IBM’s products. I write design documents, but (sadly) no code any more.

What do you enjoy in your present job? What are the major challenges you have been presented with – both professionally and personally?

I really enjoy working with new technologies, keeping up to date with the latest Internet standards, and working with other companies to determine the direction for the next generation of computer systems.

The biggest challenge is both technical and personal – joining a new team, getting up to speed, and contributing at the level I expect of myself. Adjusting my expectations is as important as learning the new subject.

On a daily level, the challenge is to know when to stop, when to accept that the e-mail will still be there tomorrow. My husband is very supportive, and I have no children waiting for me, but I mustn’t take advantage of this.

What do you consider to have been your major achievements?

It was a real thrill when the BCS nominated me, and I subsequently won, the Karen Burt Award in 2002. The Women’s Engineering Society presents this award annually, to a newly chartered female engineer from one of up to 35 engineering disciplines.

The successful candidate is of a high calibre technically, and contributes to the promotion of the engineering profession. It recognized my work as a founder member of the IBM Hursley Women’s Leadership Team, which supports the women at Hursley, and encourages schoolgirls and women into IT careers.

I am thoroughly enjoying my career in software engineering, and want to persuade others, particularly women, that it is a fulfilling and fun career choice. I also want to ensure that within the profession women have equal opportunities, and equal confidence to make the most of those opportunities.

I look forward to seeing other BCSWomen winning this award.

What skills/personal qualities do you have that you think have helped you in your work?

  • Attention to detail – computer programs require you to get it all right
  • Logical mind – chasing down that last known bug
  • Building collaborations – persuading teams from around the world to pull together to produce a single solution to a problem
  • Understanding at a high-level – keeping the big picture in mind despite the attraction of the fine detail

Any advice for your fellow BCSWomen?

  • Take opportunities when they present themselves. Although my IBM career may sound like a smooth progression, I heard of at least one of the jobs in the pub, and went straight to my manager to request it!
  • We all lack confidence from time to time, especially if we have just started a new job or responsibility. Remember that you wouldn’t be there if your management didn’t believe you could do the job.
  • Learn how to give presentations early in your career. Start with small pitches, then build up so that when you have to give an important pitch, you are prepared and relaxed. I wish someone had bullied me to do this years ago, I still get nervous!