We interviewed Barbara Bellis, Head of Registry Engineering at Nominet on her experience and thoughts on women in tech.
Senior management of a software development function of 20-30 people.
Because I was/am good at maths and programming and it’s well paid and interesting.
Yes – computer studies O-level (I am very old), computer science A Level, MSC in Computing. I went to an all-girls school and there were two classes of 20 girls doing computer studies O-level/CSE. At that time it never occurred to me that it was a thing for boys only. Only 4 of those girls went on to do A level, which we joined with about 15 boys in a nearby boys school. The ratios in my MSC were about 4 women to 30 men.
I did work experience in a software development company when I was at school and have had previous roles in software development
Yes – I’m the only one currently in my function, although this will change soon. I think there is particularly a lack in software development, systems administration/operational type roles.
It’s definitely worse now than it was 25-30 years ago. I had my first graduate job in 1993, it wasn’t explicitly in IT, although I used programming as a tool for the job I was doing, but there were women that did have jobs in IT, and I remember one who was pretty senior. My second job was in a software services company in 1997-2001, and there were a number of female software developers there, probably similar ratios to on my A-level and MSc course. The ratios in software development now are probably half what they were then.
I’ve never thought that, but I think that people do widely believe that.
My daughter’s university is currently including mandatory coding courses on their psychology degree because it is female dominated and so introduces more women to coding. Having more women on the courses – it can be daunting to turn up somewhere and be the only woman.
About 20 years ago, I worked in an office that was all men apart from me. Some of these men had “girly” pictures on the wall. This was considered as acceptable then and the reception I got when I complained wasn’t positive.
I don’t believe this would be countenanced now in most organisations, the barriers include that there are so many men and so few women that you’re always going to be the odd one out. That can be a good thing though.
Tech also has the impression of requiring long hours – even if that’s not explicitly required by the company, there are a lot of men that work in tech that do work long hours and the impression that you won’t get ahead without doing that.
I have seen a male interviewer want to reject one of the most well-rounded candidates for a developer job that we’ve ever had who happened to be female because she didn’t have the encyclopedic recall of the Java language that he was testing for. If we had done that, we would have missed out on someone who went on to be op-apps lead and then head of engineering in another organisation. We need to value things like multi-tasking and organisation that women can be very good at, and which actually are necessary for more senior roles.
There are no easy answers to this I think – the more women there are in tech, the more that will go into it, and unfortunately the trajectory has been downwards. It has to start early, in school, university and on graduate intakes to increase the numbers.
Do what you enjoy. If you like problem solving and get satisfaction from seeing something you’ve built working or providing value then consider software development. Being proactive, organised, multi-tasking can really help you do well. Also remember that the origins of programming were definitely a place for women – the programming team behind the moon missions was led by a woman; the first person to design a compiler for a programming language was a woman, a lot of the cryptography done to break the Enigma code during WWII was done by women; programming the first computers in the 1940s and 1950s was done by women; much of the design of the programming language COBOL, which most banks were dependent on, was done by women; code for the Voyager deep space mission was written by women – and there’s no reason why programming shouldn’t be a place for any woman now.