Keeping pace with the change of IT is like changing the pipes whilst the water is running. IT has such a breadth of fields; I find it distressing when IT people are stereotyped as the nerd in a corner with poor communication skills etc.
That said, I have to admit I love programming; there is nothing more frustrating when your code doesn’t work and nothing more satisfying when it leaps into life. However, I love all the other bits of IT too.
So how did I end up in the most interesting and fascinating job ever? Well I put it all down to one very significant cup of tea
IT was actually something I drifted into, it sounded vaguely interesting at school but I didn’t really know much about it. A careers teacher pushed me reluctantly into applying to study in higher education - I was all for going to do a one year course at a local college and then head off to the world of work being rather fed up of education by the age of 18. I applied to 5 institutions, got accepted at all of them - how to choose? Well the interview process in those days was far from the dizzy fanfares of today - one of them gave me a cup of tea and therefore seemed friendlier than the others - choice made. Turns out to have been the most significant cup of tea of my life!
I expected to complete my degree and head off to start my career in industry but during my final year, my tutors persuaded me to stay on and do a PhD. Not something I’d ever thought of doing but I was interested to learn more about artificial intelligence and was eventually convinced that life wasn’t worth living unless I did one.
During my PhD my supervisors regularly threatened to send me to conferences to talk on my work. Being of a relatively shy disposition at the time, the thought of presenting my research to an audience of a few hundred intellectuals was utterly terrifying so I took up the offer of some part-time teaching to get some practice in.
Once I’d got over my fear of public speaking, I discovered loved the teaching - I don’t think my Mum could ever reconcile this career move with the shy kid she knew. I got to teach a wide variety of computing topics and given the rapidly changing technology, there was never a dull moment.
As a result of that cup of tea, I have spent my entire career in academia and at the same institution. Not something I ever expected to do. I’m currently a Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor at the University of Greenwich and one of my key roles is to lead the University through the revolution of technology enhanced learning - an area currently exploding.
During my time at Greenwich, I also spent 11 years as Dean of the School of Computing and Mathematical Sciences.
So where has all this IT taken me?
Well first of all, around the world. I give talks on my research all over the world and have spoken about the shortage of e-skills and in particular the lack of women in the field, to many audiences including MPs from all over Europe. In addition, we run degrees in my computing discipline in over 20 countries and as a result I’ve visited Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Zambia, Botswana, South Africa, Syria, Bahrain, China, India and Trinidad & Tobago (which was incidentally where I met my wonderful husband). I’m also involved in European accreditation of Informatics degrees which has taken me as far away as Kazakhstan.
My job contains such variety it is impossible to get bored. In one week I can be sorting out a distressed student, commercialising a research output, planning a mentoring scheme for our students with employers, and working with numerous external bodies such as the Council of Professors and Heads of Computing (for which I’m a past chair), attending PICTFOR (all party Parliamentary Internet, Communications and Technology Forum), the Science Council etc.
I’ve been involved with BCS for many years which has been a fantastic experience. I’ve met so many people and learnt so much. I was Chair of the BCS Academy of Computing which has done so much to help change the ICT curriculum in schools to focus more on computer science. As current President of BCS (2014 to 2015) I am keen to do more to support the profession.
So, my message to all the women out there - don’t think IT is only for men, take a closer look, it’s got such variety - something for everyone - but beware of that innocent looking cup of tea, you never know where it might lead!
Professor Liz Bacon BSc, PhD, CEng, CSci, FBCS, CITP, FHEA, is a Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor at the University of Greenwich with a University wide remit leading the development of Technology Enhanced Learning. She is President of the BCS, a past Chair of the BCS Academy of Computing, and CPHC (Council of Professors and Heads of Computing) national committee.
She is / has been involved in many professional activities during her career which include working with the Science Council, Parliamentary IT Committee (PITCOM) and EQANIE (European Quality Assurance Network for Informatics Education). Prof Bacon is a Co-Director of the eCentre research group and has been involved in eLearning, software engineering, and crisis management research for more than 10 years.
She is an experienced systems designer and developer, with the bulk of her research and practice activity being directly industry facing, through knowledge transfer and consultancy.