There aren't many role models, and if you're deemed "bright", career advisors at school push you into subjects like Law or Medicine.
When I was at school engineering was never mentioned, and there was never any suggestion that you should do what you’re good at and what you enjoy. But if you want a really rewarding career, that’s what you should do!
When I was making my university choices, I listened to the career advisors, and went off to study medicine. I hated it! The first year was all about memorising anatomy. Learning by heart is not one of my strengths, so it forced me to perform some self-examination. What had I enjoyed at school? What had I been good at?
STEM classes in coeducational schools get dominated by the boys, and with large classes it’s difficult for teachers to address this. I loved the logic and the beauty of maths and physics, but I didn’t always enjoy the lessons. We did cover electronics in physics, but there wasn’t much kit left over for those who weren’t prepared to push their way to the front.
I was lucky though. I had an amazing role model in my Dad. He took me into his workplace aged seven, before the time of home computers, so I could start learning to program simple things. A couple of years older and I got an electronics kit for Christmas – nothing that came in a packet but boxes of components and a breadboard with an accompanying book of ideas to try. I made an electric motor, and a keyboard formed from an old tin can. My Dad even helped me wire up my doll’s house. So, I knew that I loved coding, and I knew that I loved the creativity of engineering, of being able to write something or build something that you can then see working.
At nineteen, unhappy with my choices, I decided it was time to take the plunge and change course and study electronic engineering. It was mostly men, but I wasn't the only woman, and I got used to it very quickly. I’ve worked in the male-dominated electronics industry for over 20 years now, I’m often the only woman in meetings, and most of the time I don’t even notice. It’s a great career: there are always new challenges, new problems to solve, and new things to learn. My colleagues, both male and female, are a lovely bunch of people who are always supportive.
My message to those considering their university choices, or to parents advising their children, or to anyone considering a change of career: think about what you love doing! Let’s face it, we all spend a lot of hours at work so they might as well be enjoyable. And if some of the things you love are logic, and problem solving, then engineering could be the choice for you. You don’t need to have been coding from a young age like me (don’t tell anyone but it’s not that hard to pick up), you don’t need a role model at home – there are plenty of people in STEM with online presences. Many tech companies like Imagination Technologies offer work experience so that you can go and get a taster of what working there might be like. Don’t be put off by thinking that it’s not for people like you – there is a great diversity of people in engineering – go for it!
As for me, my decision at aged nineteen was absolutely the right one, and I couldn’t think of a more rewarding career.
|Author: Brigid Smith, Director of Hardware Engineering, Imagination Technologies|