female data scientist, woman leading team

Standing out from the crowd as a female in Network Engineering

female data scientist, woman leading team

By Maddy Norris, Principal Network Consultant at Hamilton Barnes, the leading provider of talent solutions to the Network Engineering sector.

As the Host of Hamilton BarnesThe Route to Networking podcast spin-off series that focuses on women in the space, I’ve been privileged to interview a number of highly successful women in the Network Engineering industry. These incredible discussions have allowed me to draw conclusions on a few key areas.

Firstly, attitude. Attitude played an important role for these women in having the mindset to not be defined by their gender. They felt like they had to work twice as hard to prove themselves in a male-dominated industry, but Rita Younger, a Global Manager at an ISP, explained, “I didn’t realise I was a woman in technology, I just wanted to be the best damn engineer there was”. Having started her career as a graphic designer, she shifted into technical training and ultimately started on her Networking journey.

Secondly, the ability to bounce back from any adversity is critical to the success of these females. Take Lexie Cooper, who started her career as a legal assistant but struggled to find satisfaction in this role, instead making the brave decision to go back to school. Her first degree was in English Literature, so the shock of being in her first ‘Introduction to Networking’ class was amplified when there were roughly 55 people in the classroom and only four were women. Indeed, in this first class, the lecturer singled out the women with derogatory comments and Lexi was almost turned off Networking for good. Fortunately, she had the strength of character to attend the second class, where she met her instructor – also a woman. The rest, as they say, is history.

Next, community. Social media platforms offer a powerful means of spreading encouragement of our fellow female professionals and the concept of women empowering women is a strong one. A few of the successful women I spoke with were Networking professionals but also content creators, leveraging their Twitter accounts and hosting weekly podcasts or recording videos for YouTube to openly encourage discussion across the broader community. Knowing that there were other, like-minded individuals in the sector provided these women with solidarity and if the opportunity arises to talk to other women in the space, take it.

One of my guests, Betty DuBois, who runs Packet Detectives, a network performance consulting and training firm, has been so encouraging of other women joining the industry that she devised a conference incentive scheme. Speaking annually at SharkFest, the Wireshark Developer and User Conference, she has forgone her fee and agreed with the conference organisers that more women be allowed to attend for free instead.

This leads me onto early exposure, since it was in Betty’s interview that she encouraged the industry to, “Get ‘em young, treat ‘em right”. A common theme across my guests’ stories was that they ‘fell’ into their role or got into the industry on a whim. Very few of them had intentions of going into tech from an early age, highlighting the lack of exposure to the industry for young girls, where getting an internship during college allows you to gain valuable insight in the industry whilst still being educated on it. More needs to be done to increase awareness of the space whether it’s through better exposure to the opportunities through education and university courses, Networking internships, or female-centric conventions. Progress is being made but not enough, in my opinion.

Is being a female an advantage or disadvantage?

And it’s progress that’s needed in more than just awareness, since there is still a great deal of stereotyping that goes on in the sector. Many of my guests have faced unconscious biases in the workplace, for example being mistaken for somebody’s assistant or being on the receiving end of misogynistic comments. Unfortunately, these biases can result in Imposter Syndrome, with women questioning whether they are in the right area or have the necessary expertise.

That said, in the case of my interviewees, these biases seems to have the opposite effect; they see the challenges that push them out of their comfort zones as positive, using them as fuel to drive their personal growth and development. A message of positivity is one that resonated most strongly with my guests as they are the trailblazers of their gender with an edge over male engineers. Their hard work in spite of difficult odds has delivered results and they’ve proved themselves to be high-performers. As Kori Younger, an Associate Systems Engineer at Cisco and the daughter of Rita, quoted earlier, said, “It’s easy for anyone to look at you when you walk into a room, being young and also a female and obviously I look different than the engineer sitting across the table from me most of the time, but when we pass our exams and validate our knowledge, it bridges a gap naturally.”

With the right role models in technology, like the amazing women who have featured on The Route to Networking podcast, more women can seek the inspiration they need to thrive in the sector, even use being a minority to their advantage. That would be my career advice for women looking to pursue a tech career; don’t be held back for being different, rather leverage these differences to bring a different perspective and dynamic to your work and help you stand out from the (largely male) crowd.

To listen to the The Route to Networking; The Women in Tech interviews in full, please visit: https://hamilton-barnes.com/podcasts/.

Nicole and Gabriella with Darina Shopova, engineering

Why we shouldn't underestimate the value mentorship schemes offer to female engineers

Nicole and Gabriella with Darina Shopova, engineering

By Darina Shopova, design engineer at Envair Technology

There is no doubt that the number of women pursuing careers in engineering in the UK is on the rise. A recent survey by EngineeringUK found that there are now 936,000 women employed in the industry – which is almost two thirds more than we had in 2010.

While this is a significant increase, it only represents 16.5% of the total engineering workforce. There is still a lot to do if we want to redress that imbalance. And this is why Envair Technology took part in this year’s Women’s Engineering Society’s work shadowing scheme.

The initiative gives young women access to real working environments and an opportunity to get advice from experienced engineers about starting their career journey.

Entering the industry

I’m one of those engineers, and I know first-hand how hard it can be for women to forge a career in engineering without schemes such as this. I studied civil engineering in my native Bulgaria and gained a degree from the Technical University of Varna. But after relocating to the UK with my family, I found my English was not developed enough to take on a technical engineering role.

I worked in administration for a long time following that move but my dream of working in engineering never left me. So, in my forties, I took the decision to go back to college and qualify as a mechanical engineer. This was not an easy option. Completing the course required me to juggle family commitments, accept a pay cut and take out a loan to pay for fees.

It crossed my mind on more than one occasion that I should just give up on the idea. That was until I landed a place on an apprenticeship scheme in advanced manufacturing engineering. As it turned out, I was probably as old as many of my classmates’ parents, and one of only three women on the scheme – but it was the break I needed. And, ultimately, it resulted in me gaining my job in design engineering here at Envair Technology.

Opening doors

That’s why I was so keen to get involved in this work shadowing programme. If it can open a door that helps other women enter the industry, I want to get on board.

Two female students recently completed work shadowing days with us at Envair Technology: Nicole, an A-level student in Year 12, and Gabriella, who is an undergraduate in biochemistry at the University of Birmingham. The programme we provided gave them an opportunity to work on a project to create a mobile phone holder, from concept through to finished product.

This project gave Nicole and Gabriella insight into the stages a new product goes through before it is brought to life. They were involved in initial research, using industry software to design 3D models and heading to the shop floor to watch their prototypes undergo laser cutting and polishing.

The practical approach seemed to have the desired impact. Gabriella explained to me that while she has previously done work experience in large companies, she hadn’t been given a project like this before and it really helped. As she said to me: “We had the chance to do hands-on work and we learned so much that will be relevant to our future careers.”

Inspiring the next generation

While the introduction to cutting-edge tools was great for them, I think they will have gained the most valuable insight from seeing how our teams come together to achieve a common goal. That’s not something you can pick up from a textbook.

Nicole told me that she had spoken to one of our engineers, who was enthusiastically talking about a new solution we are working on that will be used to manufacture chemotherapy drugs that will ultimately treat cancer. You could tell how much this inspired her.

She went as far as to say that she had only really considered working in the automotive or aerospace sectors previously, but she was now looking at the pharmaceutical industry. As she explained: “You can impact so many lives with these solutions.”

Helping women be aspirational

Nicole believes there is still a lack of awareness among school-aged girls about the opportunities that exist in engineering. She said: “It’s only through mentorships like this one that you get to meet people and hear their experiences.”

It made me reflect on how beneficial it was for me to get a place on an apprenticeship scheme. There were times before that where I nearly gave up on my aspirations, but then I was fortunate. It’s clear we need to continue to encourage women to pursue their interests and not give up on technology and engineering. But they do need help.

There are still too few women in the industry for the next generation to turn to for inspiration. That’s why mentorship schemes are crucial for young women like Nicole and Gabriella – they are a much needed boost to the future engineering workforce in the UK.