Working in IT was never an ambition of mine, as a kid I loved being part of a team, competing in sports, building things, I was curious, creative, loved meeting new people and experimenting with ideas. By the time I was fifteen I had decided I was going to be a lawyer, not based on any real first hand experience, just the career option my school steered me towards.
When the time came to choose my degree for University, it felt like a very daunting and potentially career limiting decision. The idea of studying Law for three years wasn't appealing... I should have realised then it wasn't for me! But I didn't know how you were supposed to feel about your future work, my previous vacation jobs had been working as a receptionist for a medical company and waiting at events, was it just another job? Maybe I didn't have to love the idea of it.
One of my teachers in school gave me such a good piece of advice at the time, he said, "If you really don't know what you want to do, do what you love doing now, work hard, get a First Class degree and you will be able to do whatever you want..."
The choice was straightforward, Geography was my favourite subject and I got a place to study at the University of Manchester. The irony in the subject choice raised a few eyebrows in my family, I was the naughty kid in class and one of my schools had banned me from all Geography field trips.
His advice was spot on, I loved my degree. University taught me to be bolder and more confident in my own ideas and I started to realise the results I could get if I enjoyed something and put in the effort. I realised towards the end of my final year that what I really wanted to do in the future was to run my own business.
During the holidays, I found one weeks work at a small software company that needed some help with their mailing lists. I was curious about what the company did and it caught my interest that a standard piece of software was being used for so many different use cases. I was given more and more tasks by the Sales team, building their prospects lists, cold calling and booking meetings. Within three months I had a permanent role and was given the opportunity to start their channel business in Europe.
I couldn't believe that I hadn't considered a career in Sales or the Tech industry before, it encompassed the teamwork, problem solving, innovation, competition, research and communication skills that I enjoyed and was good at. In some ways it was like running my own business, a great place to start learning the skills I needed for the future.
Working in the tech industry now, I don't feel restrictions or barriers in my career, I see a huge amount of opportunity and it's a really exciting industry to be working in.
Technology and the way we engage with it has become part of who we are and it's changing our behaviour. It creates a huge opportunity for businesses to connect with customers, employees, devices and services in a whole new way. In a digital economy, it's the difference between a business being incredibly successful or dying. For many organisations today, this means a seismic shift in the way they operate.
The need for and rate of change creates huge demand for digital skills across every industry and you don't need to have a technical degree or be able to code to succeed in tech. The message we need to be getting across is that you need to be willing to learn, coachable and have good communication skills.
There's a real challenge with the perception of careers in tech. Students, teachers and parents all too often fail to understand opportunities within the digital workplace, stereotypical perceptions prevail. We need to be much more explicit about the range of opportunities on offer and improve the way we describe the skills, broader attributes and experience required to access those career opportunities.
Young people need tangible role models. A survey by McAfee recently showed that just over 70% of adults questioned had not heard of Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, Martha Lane-Fox, founder of lastminute.com or Marissa Mayer, Yahoo CEO. However, 90% of the 4,000 had heard of Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs. These tech super stars are awe inspiring but young people need to see what the first few steps on the ladder look like in order to visualise themselves in the field. They also need to see that tech has so much to offer whatever your background or gender.
The use of role models needs to be well planned in terms of the image we wish to create. In the Digital Skills Taskforce Report 2014, a teacher from Manchester commented "When it comes to STEM ambassadors, all I can say is that if you had them in a line-up of 30 people you'd easily be able to pick them out." Much more thought needs to go into the way we use role models rather than simply focusing on getting more.
According to the O2 2013 report, 745,000 additional workers with digital skills would be required to meet rising demand from employers between 2013 and 2017. Yet as of March 2014 there were still 975,000 young people in the UK not in work, education or training. I found my way into IT through a stoke of luck but at a time when there are so many opportunities emerging in tech, we should be doing more to identify and connect the talent in classrooms with the real and exciting opportunities that exist in our industry. Let's get more intelligent at giving employers the opportunity to connect with that potential and let's revise the way we credit students to shine a sharper spotlight on young people with real potential to prosper in tech.
Rose Chegwin works as an Account Director for global software company BMC. She leads an account team responsible for BMC's strategic customers. Rose has worked in the software industry for four years since leaving the University of Manchester in 2010. She is a strong advocate for the career opportunities in technology and feels there is a huge need for industry to have more tangible role models for young people.