Kate's Comment

Thoughts on British ICT, energy & environment, cloud computing and security from Memset's MD

35 under 35, and why IT at school needs to change

Yesterday I was in the Sunday Times thanks to being included in Management Today’s ’35 Women Under 35’ 2009 List; I snuck in with a healthy margin of 2.5 years. Obviously I am delighted to be among such prestigious company, but was dissapointed to see that I was the only female technologist in the list.

The Times saw fit to make the point that close to two-thirds of the women included in Management Today’s list studied what some still think of as “male subjects” at university and more than half work in “traditionally male sectors”. The very fact that they sought to make such a distinction highlights the problems with getting girls into STEM subjects; people still think they are “subjects for boys”!

Now, before you start shouting “What about Lisa Myers?”, yes she is indeed in the list and does indeed work within the IT sector. I know Lisa in fact; she has helped with the optimisation of memset.com. However, unlike me she is not a technologist – she is a marketeer, and has entered the sector in that role. That is not to dismiss her talents (which are prodigious, and I would recommend her), but we already have a good representation of women working in non-IT roles within the sector (40%).

What I am deeply concerned about the lack of girls entering the profession. According to the BERR, Intellect & BCS Women in IT scorecard, women now account for less than 11% of IT professionals working within the sector.

The IT sector is ever-more critical to our nation’s economic prosperity, with the knowledge economy employing 41% of our workforce. Further, ICT has been identified by the WWF, Gartner & McKinsey as being the key to reducing our society’s collective carbon emissions. The lack of diversity in IT threatens to compromise our sector’s potential.

I was a self-taught computer programmer,and my first job was with Arthur Andersen business consulting as IT consultant. I was their fastest “Internet poach” went on to head business development for Easyspace and subsequently formed Memset with Nick in 2002, and am now a renowned business woman. Hopefully, girls looking at their career choices today will be able to see the potential in examples like me (even if I did not start out quite like them!) and go for a career in IT.

However, at present something is turning them off IT, and that is the courses at schools. Ask any 11-15 year old about IT, and you’ll hear about how boring it is because they have to do stuff with word processing and Access databases, and clueless teachers try to teach them now to use Google (which they can do in their sleep). We is alienating a generation because of bad course design and bad teaching. Perhaps renaming courses “computer science” and actually making it interesting might help?

At age 11 I was working my way through “Datalog”; BASIC programming for the BBC Micro. It was fun – a lot of fun! I got to make the computer play bad tunes, and draw pretty shapes on the screen. My passion for technology is borne out of those days. Why have we taken such a giant leap backwards, and why are we now muddying IT’s good name by forcing kids to do pointless, boring user-activities instead of showing them the wonder that is information technology?