Tag Archives: female computing student

What International Women’s Day means to me

So yesterday was International Women’s Day, an annual celebration of all things female.  I do see myself as a feminist, but I’m not one of the bra-burny types – I can’t afford to burn bras at £20 a go, I’m a student!  Neither am I a fan of this day of celebration, however.  Do we really need a day to celebrate our womanliness and promote gender equality, when we are struggling against misogynistic prejudice every single day?  I don’t think we do.

The news has been filled recently with stories of courage and triumph in the face of adversity.  From the annual SlutWalks held across the world to the fantastically brave and inspiring Malala Yousafzai being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, women are voicing their opinions and celebrating their femininity on a daily basis.  We are constantly fighting for equal rights in our professional and personal lives.  We fight for equal rights as a whole for the simple reason that both sexes are just that – equal.  The only differences between women and men are biological, nothing else.  Anyway, this isn’t a political blog so I’ll stop there before I get too carried away…

Now, for those of us in the field of computing, we accept that we still have a long way to go but we soldier on and see that things are gradually changing.  When I encounter some old-fashioned man who thinks that computing isn’t “a very girly subject” (yep, someone actually said that to me once), I just smile, say nothing and get on with the job at hand, leaving them to squirm when they realise that yes, I do actually know what to do when presented with a Windows command prompt.  Organisations such as LadyGeek in particularare a breath of fresh air for women; I particularly enjoyed their recent ICT School Takeover, where they visited several schools and showed female pupils the opportunities and empowerment to be had in choosing a career in computing.  We need more events like these to get schoolgirls into computing, not some token day that most women I know don’t know or even care about.

I’m sure you’ll have come across Code.org‘s fantastic video, which has had over 9 million views in just two weeks.  I watched the video when it was first released and wholly support its message, but what I really enjoyed was the inclusion of several women.  Their stories are just what is needed to encourage more women to change their thinking, to show that computing is just as accessible to women as it is to the men.  I recently met a professional who mentioned that although women are still very much in the minority, there is a certain amount of kudos to be had as a lady working in tech; I thought about it afterwards and realised that she’s right and it’s not a bad strength to play to either.  I’m not saying that we should be showing more cleavage or anything when going for a job interview, more that we shouldn’t be afraid to keep our CVs androgynous so that potential employers will be more likely to invite us to interview if they think we’re a bloke.

In short, I think every day is our day.  We need to focus less on token celebrations such as IWD and more on knuckling down and showing those sexist sods that we are just as capable as men.  I spent the day playing Tomb Raider, loving the rebirth of Lara Croft as a normal woman playing on her strengths to get the job done instead of being a pouting pixellated sex symbol and thoroughly enjoying Rhianna Pratchett‘s utterly superb storyline.  That’s what feminism is all about, ladies, and long may it continue!

Trip to China

Last week I was for picked for the university‘s trip to Zhengzhou University of Light Industry.  China, baby! *jumps up and down excitedly*

The trip consists of a mixed group of lecturers and Napier students, spending three weeks with the students in Zhengzhou to teach them the basics of SQL and web design.  In addition to gaining lots of teaching experience and working on our Mandarin, we will also have the opportunity to explore the city and surrounding province.  A trip to the Great Wall is planned for when we arrive in Beijing and we’ll also have the opportunity to visit the Terracotta Army.  We plan to document our trip and create a lasting legacy by combining our super awesome computing talents and putting together a kickass blog.  The group (three girls, three guys) already seems to have a nice dynamic and we’ve been bouncing ideas off each other like crazy in our Facebook group.

On a more personal note, I’m looking forward to learning more about one of the oldest civilisations in the world and immersing myself in Chinese culture.  I hear from friends that China is like nothing I have ever experienced before, so I’m already thinking about the difficulties I will face as an obvious foreigner in a country where English isn’t spoken widely and the written language is based on an entirely different alphabet from the one I know.  But hey, I love a challenge!

However, the trip isn’t free and so we are now in the process of fundraising.  It’s been suggested that I take orders for cheap goods and bring lots of fake handbags etc in a spare suitcase, but I’d much rather take a more traditional (and less dodgy) route to fund the trip.  My daughter has made me promise to bring her back lots of Hello Kitty stuff so there won’t be any room to bring stuff back for the Del Boys.  Sorry folks, you’ll have to find another supplier!

On a more serious note though, I am open to funding suggestions should the initial application fail. If you have any suggestions for me, please let me know!

Class tests and exams

Because I’m so rock and roll I’m spending my Saturday night revising for Monday’s networking class test.  I’ve successfully navigated three weeks of lecture notes and lab exercises so I think a cup of tea is in order before I tackle the rest of my notes.  Tea makes everything better and is good for you, hurray!

I must make a confession though; I don’t like class tests or exams.  I managed to get through my school exams and am proud of my Standard Grade and Higher results, but if there’s one method of assessment I don’t perform well in it’s the old closed book test.  When I am faced with one I tend to suffer from brain freeze; I know the material, I’m confident I’ll answer the questions well, but as soon as I sit down all my knowledge seems to run off and hide as I sit there desperately trying to remember what 2+2 makes or how many bits there are in a byte (the answers are four and eight respectively, ha!) while the clock ticks on.   I had a class test last week and didn’t do as well as I’d hoped (I still passed though, I’m not a total failure), but mind you, popping two co-codamol to soothe my poor back before the test probably wasn’t the brightest idea I’ve ever had…

I wish I knew why my brain does this to me though as I like to think I’m a good student.  I don’t spend my entire student loan on beer and Xbox games, I participate in lectures and lab discussions and revise like a madwoman before tests, but as soon as I sit down and turn that first page over everything I’ve worked hard to memorise and understand just…goes.  Sometimes I wonder if it’s because rote learning doesn’t work for every subject and some modules work better for students when they are asked to submit practical coursework, but then I wonder if it’s just me that suffers from memory wipe.  Is it just me, or does anyone else find themselves in the same predicament?

Ah well, wish me luck for Monday!

Preparing for the professional world

I might only be in my first year, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from people at the various events I’ve attended in the past few months alone it’s this:  don’t be shy to sing your own praises and promote yourself.  I’ve admittedly neglected this area as I’m actually kinda shy when it comes to this sort of thing – hard to believe, I know…

However, I’m determined to go places after graduation and I think it makes total sense to plan my route right at the very beginning of my journey.  Today I’d like to share with you some excellent tips that I’ve picked up so far:

1. Web Presence

The vast amount of social media sites that people recommend can be overwhelming, but once they’re set up they’re easy to maintain.  I recently set up an About.me page, which acts as a handy starting point for all the social media sites I’m signed up to and includes a link to direct folk to my biography.  If you’re on Twitter, it’s very easy to create and manage a separate, professional account if you want to keep your personal life away from your professional presence.

However, maintaining so many profiles can get messy so I decided to buy myself a domain and set up a website to showcase everything I’m involved in.  I like the idea of having a central point of contact and I can also have a section on my radio experience.  Luckily I’m married to a web developer so I can sit back and eat cake while he’s making the magic happen, but for those who aren’t so lucky, trust me when I say putting a website together is easier than you think (EDIT:  my husband says that he didn’t work like a dog for his degree in Web Technologies for me to say that web design is easy.  I’m now contractually obliged to tell you that web design is up there with rocket science).  WordPress itself has a lot of handy tools to help novices build a decent looking site and its modular design means you can cobble something decent together in minutes with a little bit of drag and drop.

2.  Business Cards

The first time I was asked for my business card (by the wonderful Dr Sue Black, no less) I was really flattered that someone would actually ask me for one!  When I mentioned that I didn’t have any, Dr Black strongly advised me to order some cards as they come in very useful at networking events and will help the people you meet to remember who you are.  I took her up on her advice and am now awaiting my first batch of 50 cards.

In addition to sticking a mugshot on the card to help with the whole names-to-faces thing, I’ve added my course and university details, my new website, email address, Twitter name, phone number and About.me page.  I’ve picked up a few business cards from people already and I’m find them very handy, usually when I’m talking to a friend about who I’ve met and I need to remind myself who it was I met!

3.  Events

My first big event was Target Jobs’s IT’s Not Just For The Boys! in London last November.  The event was primarily a careers event made up of around 120 STEM students and representatives from many different companies.  I was lucky enough to be offered a place for the event and thoroughly enjoyed myself, taking advantage of the opportunity to network like mad and make some good contacts.  I’m also off to the BCS Women Scotland Kickoff event next week and am looking forward to tomorrow’s Tech Talk, hosted by the university’s Institute for Informatics & Digital Innovation (IIDI).  I also attended the Connect Networking Lunch last Friday and had a great time mingling with STEM students and staff.

Before you nod off, my intention isn’t to bore you silly with the above, it’s to demonstrate the sheer amount of events and networking opportunities there are out there for female STEM students.  There are literally dozens of events every month where students are welcome and I would actively encourage you to attend as many as possible.

Don’t be scared if you’ve just started your degree – I’m only in first year myself, but I’ve never found that to be an issue.  From what I’ve experienced, people tend to be impressed with students taking the opportunity to attend events and network from the off and I truly believe that keeping up the momentum is beneficial to your future career.  The more you’re seen at events, the more likely people are to remember you and it’s a fantastic – and cheap! – way to build up a professional network.  Keep an eye out for any events your university is running, but don’t be shy to go along to any events held in your area.  I like to keep an eye on Eventbrite to see what’s coming up and they also offer a good smartphone app.

I hope you find the above advice as useful as I have and I hope you have as much fun as I do as you schmooze your way around the lectures and events.

First week back

Ah, it’s good to be back at uni after four weeks off!

A lot of my free time has been taken up by sorting out my timetable and reading up on resources and study materials.  I’ve also been busy with my student rep duties and preparing for the Lovelace Colloquium (you don’t want to know how many times I typed that word until I was happy with the spelling) with the lovely Hazel Hall.

This semester sees us moving away from doing the same modules to starting on the core modules for our individual courses.  I miss many of my friends already, but I’m also enjoying getting properly stuck into the (metaphorical) meat of my course (I’m a vegetarian).  Today was spent quite productively mucking around with the likes of ipconfig and tracert and wondering if the website we were all pinging thought it was under a DDoS attack.

On a more personal note, this week also saw us welcoming a new addition to the family:


Betty is a Lab X Collie from the Edinburgh Dog and Cat Home and is absolutely mental, but is also very loving and has settled in really well.  Her owners sadly had to give her up when they moved house so we are fortunate that she came to us with basic training and house manners.  However, Betty does tend to pull on the lead as she’s always desperate to have a good run across the fields, but I daren’t let her loose just yet as I’m not sure she’d come back!  I blame the rabbit warrens dotted all over the place…

New year, new beginnings

Happy 2013!  Now then, that’s the formalities over and done with so I’ll get cracking with introducing myself 😉

I’m a female computing student (yes, we do exist lads) at Edinburgh Napier University, currently in my first year of a BEng (Hons) Computer Systems and Networks degree.  I’m what is known as a mature student and have a wonderful husband and daughter, so although I don’t spend as much of my student loan on booze as my younger counterparts, I have still fully embraced university life and am thoroughly enjoying myself as an undergrad.

The idea of keeping a blog to accompany my studies was first suggested by a tutor, so in addition to creating a LinkedIn profile I decided that my blog will focus on my personal take of being one of the few female students in the School of Computing, especially those of us not studying design or business related subjects.  However, we are fortunate in that there is actually quite a strong female presence in our school, which is headed by the lovely Sally Smith, and we have the Connect group which invites the female students to regular meetings for coffee, guest speakers and general discussions.

It is strange to be a member of two minority groups.  By being both female and a mature student, I was very curious as to how I would be received by the more ‘traditional’ computing student; I’m sure I don’t need to paint a picture and so I don’t offend anyone, I won’t!  However, I’ve met some lovely folks and although the younger students generally have no idea what the oldies are talking about when we start to wax lyrical about BBC Micros and Spectrums, I like to think I get on well with most in my year.

Although I’m currently on holiday and the new semester doesn’t start for another week or so, I’m really looking forward to getting stuck in again.  The first semester saw most of the year taking the same modules, whereas this semester sees us starting on the more specialised modules relating to our degrees.  Sadly this means I won’t see as much of some of my friends as before, however it does mean that I will be spending more time with those on the same degree as myself.  It means I’ll be in an even smaller minority as I’m the only female on my degree course and that will be strange, but that’s the world of computing for you!