Advice to girls considering their GCSE options
Now that you are beginning to think about your GCSE options and what career you might choose, please don't rule out a career in IT from your thinking.
I've heard some say that "only nerds aim for a career in IT". But all people in IT are not the same and many are not in the slightest bit nerdy. Whilst I know some lovely nerds and they are amongst the cleverest people I know, I have to say that a career in IT offers many more possibilities than you might imagine.
If you have tried out a Rasberry PI or love gaming and want a career developing apps or games, there will indeed be opportunities for you - but there is so much more on offer. From marketing, project management, policy development, team leadership, customer support and organisation leadership, there are so many things that you could do. When I first went into IT, I worked in operations. I then went onto become a CEO and then to have a portfolio of roles involving digital and cybersecurity. There are so many opportunities in IT that could be open to you.
IT is most certainly not "a boring job, stuck in a basement like in the IT crowd". I have found IT one of the most challenging and fast-moving areas that I have worked in during my entire career. If you grab every opportunity to learn new things and to take on new responsibilities and challenges, then I think that you will find that there is rarely a dull moment in IT. I have to say that I have never seen a basement IT department as yet either!
Some say that "IT is just for boys". There are indeed too few women in IT. Sometimes that can be frustrating, especially when people think that you are at a meeting to make the tea or take the notes (I've had a few of those!). I still get annoyed when an assertive woman is portrayed as being "bossy" as opposed to a bossy man "showing leadership". However, that is increasingly changing and people like me are working on that, helped by the talented women who are now entering the sector.
IT can also be great if you love to travel. I never thought that my career in IT would take me to places such as Costa Rica and Australia, not to mention numerous other countries to discuss domain names and internet governance. Although I have to say with hindsight that I should have allowed more time to explore those countries!
My own career in IT has also allowed me to meet wonderful people, such as those who created the world wide web and the internet and even the Queen. It also has led to me meeting people who are changing society by doing things online and using IT for all sorts of exciting things. I particularly recall the joy of an elderly lady telling me how she had learnt to use Skype to talk with and actually see her grandchildren in another country. A career in IT can be financially rewarding, but it can also give you an opportunity to change society too.
I do recommend that you go for the GCSE in IT, because it will be useful to you, no matter what you do. When I was at school, it was not even an option and I learnt my IT skills through trial and error. Also, if you do get a chance to lead a team, then take it - some of my earliest leadership experience came from my school days and I think that helped me to develop my management and leadership skills for my IT career - but these skills will help you no matter what career you choose.
Finally, whatever choices you make for your GCSE's and subsequently, do remember to aim high. Your ambition should have no limits. If you do enter the IT sector, you will find many great opportunities for you there.
Lesley is the first ever Chair of the DVLA and a Non-Executive Director of aql, the telecommunications, mobile messaging and data centre business, and CERT-UK, the organisation tasked with enhancing the UK's cyber resilience. She is also a Consultant with Architelos, a RUSI Independent Review of UK Surveillance Member, a BCS PPAB Member and an ICANN ccNSO Councillor. Lesley was previously the CEO of Nominet, the registry for .uk Domain Names. Under her leadership, Nominet became the trusted guardian of a vital part of the UK Internet, providing services relied upon by millions of businesses and consumers.