Cisco UK & Ireland Blog

Inspiring the next generation on International Girls in ICT Day

May 3, 2017

As a tech start-up, what could possibly be more terrifying than pitching to a potential new customer?

How about presenting to a room full of a hundred teenage girls?

That’s exactly what two of our IDEALondon start-up founders did, and it was all in the name of International Girls in ICT Day.

The day is all about introducing young girls to a career in tech in a way that perhaps they haven’t seen before, in the hope they’ll be encouraged to enter the sector once they’re done with education.

It’s no secret that women are hugely underrepresented in tech (only 17% of UK tech workers are female, according to recent research). Days like this are hugely important to try and improve that diversity in future.

If we can have some influence over that and inspire even a handful of girls to think about a career in tech, that’s got to be worth our time and effort.

In light of that, we brought in two of our resident start-up founders – Owen McCormack from Hoxton Analytics and Amy Lai from Wittos – to offer some words of wisdom.

Here’s what they had to say…

Go out and do things your way

Owen was first up, introducing himself with the caveat that while he’s quite clearly not a woman he does want to encourage more of them into tech.

“It can be a very male-dominated industry,” he said. “It’s often difficult to hire women, and that’s a pity.”

Owen explained how he came to start his own tech business.

“I was always good at maths,” he said. “So as is common with people who are good with numbers I got a job in finance. But it frustrated me. It’s a rigid industry in which it’s hard to make any change or progress.”

So Owen decided to build his own company instead and do things his way. He went back to university to study a masters in machine learning and then Hoxton Analytics was born.

“What really drove me to start a company is I like to solve problems,” Owen explained. “Lots of you will come across problems, things you think you could improve. I encourage all of you to think about products or technologies that could help.”

“That’s the mindset that leads to becoming an entrepreneur,” he added. “It’s not just about technical skills, although that helps – it’s the mindset of being brave and taking on problems.”

Owen also stressed that working in tech doesn’t have to mean a technical role like programming. There are any number of different jobs, from sales to design and everything in between.”

Again, however, Owen said it can be difficult to find women to fill those roles.

Find a great mentor

Next up was Amy, who was one of the earliest entrepreneurs to join IDEALondon.

She kicked off by asking how many of the girls had thought about what they’re going to do when they finish school. Many of them put their hands up. Then Amy asked how many of them were planning on doing something similar to their family or the people around them. Again a number of hands went up.

The point here, as Amy explained, is that young people have a choice to pursue something that actually matches their interests. To effectively do what they love, not what they think they ought to do.

“I changed career paths a number of times while I was getting my education,” Amy said. “In the end I fell into IT simply because there were lots of jobs around. But it’s important to connect your interests with a way of learning more.”

Amy suggested having a role model that matches your interests is the best way to achieve that. She told the story of how she met her biggest role model – a person with whom she had little in common other than a shared passion for using tech to transform the world. That person is still one of her strongest mentors today.

Having that mentor, Amy said, opened her eyes to the possibilities of building her own organisation. So she left the corporate world and hasn’t looked back.

Finally, Amy had some words of wisdom for all the girls in the room.

“Keep your minds open,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to look outside your normal circles – at things you wouldn’t normally consider.”

A proud day for IDEALondon

After the talks the girls had a chance to quiz the entrepreneurs, and I was really impressed with the quality of their questions.

One girl asked how many companies you have to speak to before one accepts your idea. There’s no easy answer to that, of course, but it’s arguably one of the biggest fears for those thinking of starting out on their own – will anyone actually buy my product?

Owen and Amy agreed it’s all about making a few people understand your product and then just building out your network of advocates from there.

Another girl asked them what the hardest part of their job is, to which they both replied: “Not having enough hours in the day.”

The upside, however, as Amy explained, is that when you do succeed it feels so much more gratifying because it’s your own business.

I was really proud to see all the girls taking an interest in the world of tech entrepreneurship, and equally proud at how well Owen and Amy handled the somewhat terrifying task of talking to a room full of teenagers!

But that’s what this event was all about – taking the time to talk to young girls and showing them the value they could bring to the tech world.

If we’ve persuaded even one or two of them to take an interest as a result, I’d say that’s a massive success.

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