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FVT:11/18:ISS001 | PDF Version

Alexa, you're a pussy
Feminist technology education
What can conferences do to attract more women speakers?
Interview: Lucy Southall, senior digital platforms officer
The women and technology loop
Driving smart home innovation with the gender dimension
Online violence: beyond just an act
Why role models are important
The IRL-digital loop of shitty-ness
Anatomy of an AI assistant

Interview: Lucy Southall,
senior digital platforms officer

 

FVT: You previously worked in events and hospitality management. What made you decide to study computer science and commence a career in technology?

LS: I have reinvented myself through changing the course of my life; from riding instructor, bituminous materials technician, to Major Events and Hospitality Management. When I had my children I decided I wanted to be there for them and that the events industry involved too much weekend and evening work.

Having always been interested in computing systems and also art I saw that the emerging Web Design industry might offer me the opportunity to work from home and facilitate me being there for my family. Things worked out a little differently than planned, as initially I was only going to do a 10 week course. This lead to the tutors encouraging me continue on to take a Foundation Degree which then lead to me completing a Degree at Kingston University.

The plan was still to set up my own business but then a role became available at the local college to manage their websites which I applied for and was successful. I do have a few small clients but have now decided working on the bigger systems in a team is more rewarding so I am now working for the charity Mind and offering support on their Digital Platforms.

FVT: Were you into computing when you where a child/teenager, or is it something you became interested in later in life?

LS: I was always interested in computing and took Computer Studies at 'O'Level. Careers and opportunities were very different then and relatively limited. My interest in computers and systems was reignited when I started working in the hospitality industry with the use of databases and the expansion of the internet.

opportunities in the industry were a lot broader than I originally thought

FVT: Can you describe what it was like on your computer science degree course? Did you find that is was male-dominated or notice any gender bias?

LS: The course was very empowering and made me realise that the opportunities in the industry were a lot broader than I originally thought. The degree allowed me to develop a broad range of skills which have been tremendously useful within my roles. There was a gender bias and it is a very male dominated course, this didn't lead to any issues as everyone treated each other as equals. I have noticed within the industry that there is a gender bias, but more women are taking up roles particularly in the project and account management side.

FVT: What is your typical working day like?

LS: I work within the digital team at Mind as a Senior Digital Platforms Officer, Mind has a main website which has over 1 Million visitors a month, there are also various satellite websites, some built in partnerships with other organisations other for particular campaigns. The other aspect of the digital service we offer is working with the Local Mind network through a custom built intranet/ communications interface. My job involves project managing some of the projects, acting as consultant and offering advice to other teams who have digital aspects to their work, dealing with day to day issues on the various websites. This involves liaising with suppliers, contract negotiation, managing budgets and ensuring we are getting value for money from our suppliers.

FVT: What advice would you give women and girls thinking of entering the technology field?

LS: If you enjoy technology then this is a great industry to join as there are lots of opportunities. I have found it to be a skill-based industry where if you are good at your job you are respected and I haven't experienced any negative feedback/ bias against women from males in the industry.

There is a misconception that you have to be good at coding or into how computers are built to enter the industry

FVT: The tech world is predominantly made up of white males. What do you think should/could be done to encourage greater diversity in the field?

LS: The education sector is still playing catch up with its understanding of the industry and in teaching the sector. There is a misconception that you have to be good at coding or into how computers are built to enter the industry - this is only a small part of the tech world and there are many other skills which are involved in the design and development of systems. If the teaching and careers guidance was more inspirational and rounded then this could encourage more students to pursue a career in the sector.

The other area is the industry self promoting itself and shouting about the opportunities which are available for a great career. For example to build a game there are UX, testers, artists, storyboard writers, coders etc... involved in the development and the gaming industry skills are now being used in developing surgical instruments which is all very exciting and inspirational. Many roles can give you the opportunity to travel the world and move to different sectors as tech is involved in everything nowadays.

FVT: During the late 1980s, the number of women enrolling in computer science studies declined steeply and has never recovered, do you have any thoughts, feelings, ideas why women might have felt that computer science wasn't for them?

LS: This is when the industry started to get a reputation for being only suitable for nerdy boys who locked themselves in their bedroom all day and just coded! The industry has never really done anything to try and get away from this image, however, there many other careers within the computer science field which do not involve coding.

 

Lucy Southall currently works as a Senior Digital Platforms Officer for the charity Mind. She hold a First class Honours Degree in Computer Science from Kingston University.