Laura Whelton
IT Business Manager, Specsavers

If you'd have asked me 5 years ago if my future career would be in IT I'd have thought you were mad - but here I am and loving every second...

After graduating from the University of Sussex in 2010 and whilst living on the island of Guernsey I began the search for my first "proper job". Having ruled out further study in Psychology I knew that professional roles in that field were out of the question and I focussed my search on HR and Finance graduate roles. It wasn't long before saw the advert for the Specsavers Graduate Scheme in the local paper and was fortunate enough to be chosen as one of the three intakes for that year.

As part of my Graduate Scheme I completed placements across a variety of departments for 2 years. I started by working in the Guernsey Specsavers store for 3 months before completing 6 months in Marketing and then moving to the UK to complete 6 months in varying Retail roles. The next placement that lay ahead for me was working in IT as a Business Analyst. This was the placement I had been dreading from the very beginning!

Having zero knowledge of the IT industry or the roles available I imagined this to be a technical role requiring me to sit and write code - how wrong could I have been!! My first introduction to IT as part of this placement was eye-opening - I realised the importance of IT to the business and learned how to elicit business requirements and ensure that the technology delivered met the needs of Specsavers. I was offered the permanent role as a Junior Business Analyst and there began my career in IT.

After 12 months in training I became a fully-fledged Business Analyst and began taking responsibility for larger pieces of work. I have performed analysis on some of our larger, strategic programs which has given me great insight into our business and IT strategies as well as helping me understand the systems we implement in greater detail. I have always enjoyed building strong relationships and Business Analysis was a great way for me to combine IT and working closely with the business.

In the summer of 2014 Specsavers appointed a new CIO (Phil Pavitt) to the Board. This presented a new challenge for me as I was given the opportunity to work for Phil as the IT Business Manager. My role involves supporting Phil with the day to day co-ordination of his IT Leadership Team's activities and managing varying projects and initiatives. Working closely with Phil in this role has allowed me to learn more about what makes a great IT department and how to deliver an IT strategy to a fast paced Retail organisation. The learning curve has been steep but I am thoroughly enjoying being at the centre of technology and business change at Specsavers.

Right now I'm not sure what my future holds but I know my career will continue to be in IT. I would encourage anyone (woman or man!) to explore a career in IT. The variety of roles available is vast and as I've found out over the last few years it's not all about writing code!

Preeti Gupta
Business Analyst, Specsavers

20 years ago, when I joined Delhi University (in India) for a Bachelor's degree in Computer Science, there were only 7 girls in my group - less than 25% of the batch of 30 students. 3 years later, I enrolled myself on a Master's degree in the same discipline. The ratio of girls vs boys was even lower here, but I was not too amazed as technology was not very popular for women in India in those days.

As a Science student at school, I was always fascinated by Medicine and wanted to pursue a career as a medical professional. However, looking back now, I consider myself lucky to have a big sister, who guided me at the right time to consider Computer Science (as I was always good at Maths at school). The time was mid 90's, when IT was emerging as a key department in every business / industry.

By the time I finished my post-graduation, there was a big demand of IT professionals globally. It was the turn of the millennium, and the organisations around the world were struggling to resolve the Y2K problem (or the "Millennium Bug"). Another major development happening around that time was the introduction of Euro. This also created opportunities for IT professionals to get involved with upgrading the European Financial IT systems to recognise Euros, instead of local currencies. Exciting times for anyone in IT!!!

My first placement after completing Master's was as a Software Engineer in a small organisation and the initial assignment was to implement the Euro conversions in an ERP system. Shortly after that, I got involved in the development of a CRM system. For a fresher in the industry, working on huge ERP and CRM systems was like a dream come true. Being a small organisation, there were no BAs or Architects involved. All the analysis and system design activities were managed by a small team of young professionals like me - which was a great learning experience.

Having spent around 1.5 years, I moved on to join HCL Technologies and within few weeks, I was on my way to first overseas assignment to Ohio, US. Working for NC Corporation for a couple of years as a Software Consultant, again I gained a lot from all the challenges/ opportunities that came my way. Interestingly, the number of women co-workers I found in a major IT organisation like NCR was not great either - no more than 30% of the total staff.

After getting married, I moved to England with my husband in 2004. Here, I got an opportunity to work for the IT department at Specsavers, as a client for my India based company. I took on various roles over the years - varying from software development to IT support, managing minor IT changes, and finally as a Business Analyst. 11 years on, I am now a permanent member of the BA team at Specsavers. Each role has exposed me to different domains of the business - both from IT and functional aspects, and helped me mature as a professional. I've thoroughly enjoyed all my time in IT and look forward to many more years!

In the past 11 years, I've seen an increase in the number of women taking interest in IT, but we need to do more. I would like to congratulate BCS for this initiative to encourage more women to pursue a career in IT. With technology dominating our lives in so many different ways, there cannot be a better time to join in the revolution and influence the future. There are so many IT courses out there that can give anyone a head-start into their IT career. I'd like to urge all women - whether you're a fresh graduate looking to kick-start your career, or looking for a career change - go on, enrol on to one of the courses and join the IT revolution.

Tiff Wilcox
Manager of the Global Retail IT Programme, Specsavers

Hi... my name is Tiff and I am a woman... in IT!

Apparently it's a big thing being a woman in a world dominated by men. And to be honest I don't know why. It's nothing to do with capability, it just seems to be a stigma attached to IT... that you have to be male! NOT TRUE!!! There are some very cool dudes... and dudettes in IT... doing some really cool stuff.

So, I started my journey in IT as a Systems Administrator for a German Application service provider based in Cape Town, South Africa (There's a whole story there!). I spent my days in a tiny office, my boss, your stereotypical IT guy, ACDC fan, long hair, smoked a thousand cigarettes an hour (in his office, yes it was allowed back then), you get the picture right? This is where I spent my time configuring the Linux mail systems, unix users, creating LAN cables from scratch, setting up and configuring LANs, servers in a remote DC, printer support, you name it... I did it.

It wasn't long before I had memorised a Lan cable configuration (straight or cross over) and got bored of climbing under dirty tables (a girl has to have standards!!!) and dusting off the ash to configure switches, once again telling users to restart their machines (there is only one way to solve a windows problem, how many times do you need me to tell you?!). I attended a conference where I met a few people from a telecommunications company, we had a few drinks and we got on, and that was the start of a beautiful relationship. I moved to the new job, as an installations manager. Here I managed the process of getting a Telecommunications line installed, routers configured for the MPLS network installations, servers, data center connections, you name it, I managed it.

There was an opportunity to expand that company through Africa and I was fortunate enough to be asked to manage that project from a technical perspective. This is where I learnt all about Satellite Technology (we couldn't install cable in Africa... because it kept getting stolen or eaten by monkeys, no jokes). I worked with a brilliant team of guys and girls, long hours, but it we did it. I even got to spend a night in the Serengeti, that was magic! And one of the guys was my MC at my wedding, still is one of my best mates.

In 2004, I decided to quit my job, to take part in an Olympic Sailing Campaign, my other love. We sailed competitively for South Africa for 4 years, sadly we didn't qualify for the Beijing Olympics 2008, however the lessons learnt were invaluable and I'd highly recommend to anyone to DO it, whatever it is... DO IT!! This relates back to my personal and work life.

So now, back in IT... and this time in the UK, I worked for a Fortune 100 company in their Global IT Project Management team for 5 years before I became pregnant with my first son. I resigned from that role to take a job closer to home on the South Coast and was lucky to find a role at Specsavers in a highly dynamic and passionate IT department, managing the Global Retail IT Programme. Now a Mum to two gorgeous boys, working full time, and loving every moment.

There's no doubt that I've been lucky enough to find a job that I love from the start of my career and I've been fortunate enough to get some really cool opportunities to build on it. It happens to be in IT and I happen to be a woman, yes it makes me different to the norm, but I don't see it that way. What would I say to any woman wanting to progress in anything, not just IT... Confidently take your seat at the table and don't stand back, be bold about your abilities and don't be shy about sharing your ideas. As a woman you bring a uniqueness to a binary world, smile and enjoy it!


Laura Whelton graduated from Sussex University in 2010 with a bachelor's degree in Psychology and has worked at Specsavers for the last 5 years. She was awarded a place on the Specsavers Graduate Scheme and has since held a Business Analysis role. Laura was recently offered the opportunity to work directly for the Specsavers' CIO as the IT Business Manager.

Preeti Gupta is a Business Analyst at Specsavers. After completing a Masters in Computer Applications from India, she started her IT career as a software consultant in India, working for US clients like NCR Corporation. She relocated to England from India in 2004 and has taken several roles at Specsavers since then.

Tiff Wilcox qualified in Business Computing in1998 and went on to qualify as a Microsoft Certificated Systems Engineer (MCSE) with A+ before starting her first job as a Systems Administrator for a German Application Service Provider. She then moved into IT Project Management for 6 years, continually learning and updating her skills, before participating in her Olympic sailing campaign. She then returned to IT in 2008 and has successfully moved from Project to Programme Management of complex global IT programmes.