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How I became a Software Developer

Alison Kinloch
Software Engineer

There are two things that recently made me reflect on how I ended up in my job as a software engineer – a job which I love and look forward to going to every day. 

It started when a colleague recently wrote something that struck a chord with me:

“It does seem important to ensure that strong women are active role models, showing young women that using technology isn’t just a thing for the boys.”

Then I was asked to participate on a panel and describe my “journey” as a woman in technology.

In my case, it was having a strong female role model (the formidable Mrs McCormack who I will come back to) that really inspired and encouraged me to enter a male-dominated industry which had a reputation that you had to be a “geek” to be in. 

I’m a child of the ’80s. I’m the product of the BBC Micro and Amstrad generation, and I benefited from the first wave of PCs into schools. I grew up in a small Shropshire village, and I attended the nearest town’s Comprehensive – a school with less than 600 pupils.

Before my GCSE choices had to be made, my female maths teacher encouraged us all to play with these brand-new PCs. She opened the classroom during lunchtimes for us to explore and learn further. During these times, there was a lot of code that we copied out of magazines, and we watched pixels move across the screen. This wasn’t seen as geeky. It was just something exciting and interesting to mess around with. I was hooked. It was the thought of creating something that really appealed to me – and, of course, the almost instant gratification of watching it happen on screen.   

Later it was time to make GCSE choices. My school was so small that we would have to go to the local Technical College for Computer Science. A small group of us, seven boys and three girls, met the female lecturer who was also an ex RAF officer. Mrs McCormack had worked in the “real world”, and she shared all sorts of stories about how code made planes fly or how it helped plan military operations.

By now, I was completely hooked. Mrs McCormack encouraged us to find work which had a real-life application, so I became a master of spreadsheet macros. That then led to doing ‘A’ levels with the same lecturers.     

At the time, my mother – having left nursing – was a barmaid, and my father operated diggers in a quarry. We didn’t have a telephone until I was 10. So, even though neither of them could teach me about using technology, they did teach me to problem solve. I learnt how to hang a shelf on a wonky wall. I had to show them that I could change a wheel on a car before they’d allow me to drive it. They both had traditional home roles, but they always encouraged me to do whatever interested me even though they couldn’t understand my fascination with computers and why I really really wanted a Commodore 64 (that was going to cost more than a family holiday would have).   

Thanks to Mrs McCormack, I already knew how much a computer could help office staff with their number crunching. This was to become my ‘A’ level project and having mentioned it to my father’s quarry, they paid me to do it for them – there I was, 16 years old, and I had already been paid for writing software.   

That was it! My path had been set for a career in Software Development.

I completed a degree at the University of Edinburgh in Comp Science and Artificial Intelligence and took on an internship in an Investment Bank in London who I then went to work for after graduating. Again – I had strong role models in the women on the trading floor, and the team I was in had a great culture of mentoring and being proud of the work we produced. 

After some more roles in the City, I then moved up North and eventually found myself at BJSS where I passionately support initiatives that encourage young women to become the next generation of IT talent.