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Why software engineering can be “for women like you”

By Natasja Laurie, Software Engineer, A Million Ads

These articles have been written by the latest cohort of the Practice Makes UnPerfect programme – a course that helps people find and finesse their public voices.

Careers advice is littered with don’ts. Don’t be too ambitious. Don’t try anything too risky. Don’t move outside what you know. Well, I’m here to tell you to ignore that advice. Even if it came from your mum

My name’s Tasja and I’m a full time software engineer and a coding teacher. I was pretty average academically in school  growing up, and after studying a musical related field at university, I worked in several industries I knew weren’t for me long term. Four years ago I eventually found a career in something that loved ones and certainly I didn’t expect: software engineering.

Yep.

I am sure when you hear the term “software engineering”, you might think of a group of young, antisocial guys huddled in a dark office basement, hunched over computers for hours and hours. I promise you it’s nothing like this. 

My own journey of becoming an engineer starts with a very creative background. I flew through childhood and my teens playing the clarinet, and was in a metal band playing guitar with hours spent painting and drawing. After university, I “fell” into recruitment despite wanting to stay in music. The work life balance felt like you could never switch off, and I just wasn’t particularly good at the job. I wasn’t sure what to do or what my career would look like, until I started learning how to code and becoming a programmer.

The average day as a coder means you’re writing code in a specific language – think of the “code” you used to hack together to make your Myspace profile look awesome. Code itself makes up a list of instructions, or programs, for a computer to read and carry out an action. The code you write can then be taken to form various products – you could use it to build an internationally visited shopping website, or the next big mobile dating app (that doesn’t match you with timewasters), or perhaps contribute code towards the next sex tech product. 

Literally anything you think of in this digital day and age, women like you could literally build it! 

Are you the problem solver in everyone’s life? The friend everyone comes to, to sort their life out, then you’ll love coding as there’s plenty of little problems and puzzles you get to solve along the way. I love that “a-ha” moment I get daily from learning something new or solving part of the puzzle by myself – this job feeds my brain and challenges me. The learning never stops, and you are constantly expanding your knowledge. You’re never in your comfort zone, so you’re not just developing applications, you’re constantly developing yourself.

Truth is, you can’t be what you can’t see. PwC found that when asked to name a role model who has inspired them to pursue a career in technology, 83% of women respondents couldn’t, so let me name just a few. We’ve got Jade Raymond – a video game developer, who led the creation of Assassin’s Creed, and founded her own development company recently, Haven Studios. How about Shaheen Sayed, who’s Head of Technology for one of the biggest global tech consultancies – Accenture, and also voted woman of the year at the Women in IT Awards London 2020. There’s also Sara Haider, an engineer for Android apps at Twitter, who lead the development for Vine that had 200 million users at its peak. There are lots of great women working in the field – we just need to shout about it more.

There’s plenty of avenues for learning to code – if you want to do a formal university course, there are degrees in computer science or software engineering. There’s “bootcamp” options (something I did myself) which work well if you can take ten weeks out to learn something new – I met several women who partook in a bootcamp towards the end of their maternity leave and now work as engineers! There’s also tons of free coding options online that offer direction and a community for support, such as Codecadamy and FreeCodeCamp.

As for me, the longer I’ve been in the industry the more perks I’ve seen. During COVID, the tech industry didn’t seem to stop as we adapted to fully remote working. From We Work Remotely’s top 21 companies that allow permanent remote work, they’re all technology companies – that’s saying something. Now I work one day a week in the office, and remotely from home the rest of the time – perfect for socialising each week with my team, and a great work life balance from much more time at home. When looking for a job, do your company research. As well as flexibility, PwC found 83% of British female millennials stated that they actively seek out employers with a strong record on diversity, equality and inclusion. 

Another perk is the industry wage, with an average starting salary Indeed.com says is £35,000 per year nationally in the UK.  British software engineers saw a pay increase of 13% (£8,400) from 2018-19 according to the State of Software Engineers Report 2020 from Hired. This means the average salary for a software engineer is now around £74,000 a year.

But these great perks don’t come without a cost. Upskilling yourself in a whole new skillset takes time and dedication. You have the potential to work your way up from a junior engineer through to senior, even to CTO. However, a recent Tech Nation report revealed that 77% of tech director roles are filled by men. Also, according to WISE, 23% of the people working in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) roles across the UK are female, so it’s still a male dominated industry. 

In my four years of coding, I’ve met plenty of wonderful women (and men) that have inspired and supported me to transform my career. My favourite quote is ‘’If you build it, they will come’’ – now where’s that hammer to smash the glass ceiling?

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