National Audit Office – Ira Ashia, Data Science Intern

We interviewed Ira Ashia, Data Science Intern at National Audit Office on her experience and thoughts on women in tech.

1. What does your job role involve?

This role involves in helping the office produce insights into the data we receive from government departments. It also gives the opportunity to take on a diverse range of data science challenges by rotating in different teams such as web-scraping, and RShiny app development.


2. What made you choose a career in technology?

I have always been fascinated by the power of data and the insights that can be gained by using the right technological tools. Technology has changed dramatically over the course of years and it has become a part of our daily life. Therefore, Technology is the ultimate portable career, the range of job roles and industries that fall under the technology umbrella is huge. I thoroughly enjoy being in tech, because of the very changing world of technology. I love the idea of being able to learn so much and still not know enough.


3. Did you study an IT or technology related subject at A-Level or University?

I did my bachelor’s in economics and that is when I was introduced to the power of data analysis that encouraged me to pursue a master’s in business Analytics. This master gave me the ability to gain knowledge in coding, machine learning but also understand the different business strategies required to succeed.


4. Did you get any work experience in IT or technology before this role?

This internship at National Audit Office is my first technical role. However, I feel like I have already gained a vast amount of knowledge and experience in this role in a very short time. This is thanks to the intensive training where I have been given plenty of space to learn various data science languages like R and PySpark.


5. Do you think there is a lack of females in the IT and tech sector?

I think the gender gap is narrowing in the IT sector but at a very slow rate, so yes definitely, there is still a long way to go! I think females who end up pursuing computer science at university level, they find themselves being outnumbered by males, probably with one of the highest gender disparities in course subjects.


6. Do you find there is a stereotype that a career in IT or technology is just for men?

Unfortunately, yes. A possible reason for why more girls don’t pursue maths and science related degrees is due to the ‘pinkification’ of girls in early age. Toys, clothes and job possibilities are still marketed towards either gender, despite recent developments in breaking this historic trend. The shortfall of women in IT can actually be traced all the way back to grade school. I don’t remember being encouraged enough to partake in math and science related activities during my early studies. I believe that this stereotype has become a norm in many societies to the point where many girls often don’t believe to have the potentials to pursue a STEM related subject


7. What would entice women to study technology related courses?

I think the best way to ensure equivalent participation of female and male students in STEM degrees is to promote career discovery programmes for young female students that allow them to explore their potential, curiosity and passion for innovation. I also believe that women need to feel welcomed and be heard in such a male-dominated sector. For that, I think we need more female role models working in STEM role, however there are not many.


8. Are there barriers when it comes to women getting into tech?

As I mentioned earlier, I believe not having enough female role models in this sector can intimidate many women to pursue a career in tech. I also believe that there are many misconceptions when it comes to tech roles. For instance, there is this image of tech as being dry, code-heavy and void of creativity, secondly, the myth that tech is complex and mastering it requires a lot of technical knowledge.


9. How could we encourage more women to start a career in tech?

I believe it is important to promote the roles in tech and should be done at an early stage when girls are still in secondary school. Schools can do more to encourage young women into the technology sector. We also need more women to move through the ranks to inspire young girls to dream of a career in tech. What I really liked while applying to NAO is how they did not expect me to have any programming language knowledge for this role because they would provide with the training necessary for the job. We need to see more of that in job applications to not discourage women to apply and clearing the misconception that learning to code is very difficult.


10. What advice would you give young women today at the start of their career?

Don’t be afraid of the challenges, and make your voice heard.