Computing felt like a very natural career path for me.
It’s often considered a male subject, but there were six girls in my A-level class at school and around 90 on my degree course. That perception is still there today, I think – and it was certainly true when I was starting out in the world of work. But for me, it’s always been about the individuals you work with, not about generalising or making assumptions, and I’ve always had really positive experiences.
Having the opportunity to spend a year in industry as part of my degree was life-changing. I worked with the Metropolitan Police and it was absolutely brilliant. It helped me to see the bigger picture and realise that there was a lot more to computing than complicated mathematics and coding. I learned about things like setting up networks and customer support that really played to my strengths. It opened my eyes.
I’m a people person
I’m a people person – I love being part of a team.
When I look back at my early career choices, I can see that’s the common thread. At Surrey County Council I did a lot of trouble-shooting, a lot of going out and meeting people and supporting them in a very direct way. Then at Cap Gemini, Quintiles and then Esso and Exxon, I was always travelling, always meeting new people and gaining an awareness of IT across so many sectors. It really isn’t all about sitting in a darkened room writing code.
A new beginning
I went into teaching for practical reasons, but it’s where I found my niche.
At the time when I had my first child, companies weren’t as geared up to flexible working as they are now. I ended up doing a much less interesting job, so when my employer told me they were making me redundant it was a blessing in disguise. I’d been thinking about teaching for a while, so I applied for a part-time lecturer role at Brooklands College. I think they offered me the job before I’d even sat down! It was a natural fit.
My first six months as a secondary school teacher were the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I moved to Sunbury Manor School because I wanted to further my career. I was looking for a challenge and boy did I get it! I remember thinking at the time, this is make or break. The duty of care you have to these young people can feel overwhelming.
I had to start believing in myself.
I used to worry that I wasn’t loud enough, that I wouldn’t be able to make myself heard. But I realised that actually being firm and consistent matters more than making a lot of noise. If you say what you mean, and stick to it, you’ll start to build a strong foundation of respect and trust.
From Surrey to Wiltshire
When I quit my job and moved from Surrey to Wiltshire in 2016, people thought I was brave (or perhaps crazy!)
But sometimes you need to take a gamble. I’d made some good contacts at the Chartered Institute for IT (BCS) and with Computing At School (CAS) through some little bits of consultancy – I was the subject-matter expert for some of the BBC’s Bitesize videos on computational thinking, and I’d worked with the Department for Education on a video promoting the new computing national curriculum. It felt like time to go out on my own. Plus, I’d found love – that’s important too!
A book writer
It’s incredible how much has happened over the last 18 months. I still can’t quite believe it. It started with a two-day project on robots for BCS. That went so well, they asked me to write a book for computing teachers entering the profession. I got the brief in November 2016, and they asked me to deliver a draft manuscript in December! It was ambitious (and crazy), but I did it. I learned so much from that – about what goes into creating a book, and about what you can do when you really, really have to! I’m also working for CAS, supporting teachers across the south-west region to use computing in their lessons, and I recently joined the board. I’m a volunteer for Barefoot Computing, which works with primary school teachers in particular to help them incorporate computing into their teaching across all subjects, and I write articles including for the TES.
The opportunities are out there – you just have to be willing to embrace them. I’d been thinking about the growing importance of artificial intelligence (AI). It’s something that’s going to affect all our lives and it’s not really being taught in schools. So I collaborated with the technology company Nvidia, which specialises in AI, and now we’ve developed a scheme of work to bring AI to pupils at Key Stage 3. Off the back of that have come more great experiences such as speaking at the BETT education trade show on AI and being invited to speak to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Artificial Intelligence at the House of Lords, making the case for AI to be taught and asking for funding to make that a reality.
Advice: Believe in yourself
My advice to my younger self would be, believe in yourself. Don’t take setbacks to heart. When one door closes another one opens. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and don’t be scared to try something new. Not everything works out all the time, but you’ll learn from it anyway.