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”Work Hard, Have Fun” – An Interview with the Skinners

This interview has been a long time coming and one which I am very proud to share, it’s truly warmed my heart and got me proper emosh because I know how amazing these ladies are and how hard they’ve worked to get where they are today.

To give you an introduction to the Skinners, Sue, Evie and Nelly. I first met Sue and Nelly when they came along to Codebar as Students. They told me they we’re both interested in technology and travelled all the way from Stroud for the Bristol event. Nel told me her Sister (Evie) was already a developer and that had added to their passion.

You’ll read below from Sue, Evie and Nelly’s mum that when she was growing up that tech didn’t really exist! She bought a computer when the girls were little and started teaching them using computer programmes such as Reader Rabbit, typing programmes, maths programmes and educational games.  When the computer started to take off Sue studied for my ECDL at Stroud College and was keen that the girls also learnt tech. You can read more about that below.

Evie is a self taught Developer and came into the industry through a bootcamp with Sparta Global, now working as a Full Stack Developer at River Agency and a fab Drummer – also a complete boss, a lady who I really respect and who inspires me daily!

Nelly is going to be one to watch! Her answer to her favourite quote is everything ”I did ask my family what they thought ‘my quote’ was and they said something I often say is “I do what I want” haha, I guess what I mean when I say that is, if I want something I’ll go and get it and there’s no one stopping me!” She is currently working through a boot camp with our friends at Mayden Academy. She is still a student at Codebar and hopefully one day will be on the other side of the table as a coach like Evie <3

 Sue x

Mum, tell me about yourself? ????

I am a qualified Occupational Therapist, I have been working in the NHS since 1979 taking 3 years out to train.  I have worked in many different areas of health both physical and mental health and currently manage the Children’s Occupational Therapy Service and the Home Safety Service in Gloucestershire. I am a keen learner having interests in reading, mathematics, technology, diet and lifestyle, health and well-being, guitar and neurology.

You have your own passion for technology is that something you have always had or has it been something that has come from seeing Evie and Daniella move into this industry?

I haven’t always been interested in technology as when I was growing up in my world it didn’t exist!  I bought a computer when the girls were little and started teaching them using computer programmes such as Reader Rabbit, typing programmes, maths programmes and educational games.  When the computer started to take off I studied for my ECDL at Stroud College and was keen that the girls also learnt tech.  Nel took it at GCSE and Evie did ECDL.  I tried to steer them towards STEM in school.  Having completed GCSE maths (and really enjoyed it) when Evie was struggling with maths in primary school realising that my messages to her that I was rubbish at maths may have been contributing to this.  I am proud to say they are both fab at maths.  When they were choosing A Levels I remember encouraging them both to go to the computer section but it was pretty uninspiring and the perception given a the time was that it seemed to be only for people who were a bit geeky!

In Sept 2016 In National Coding Week I saw and completed a codex computer coding course.  Intro to the world of coding. This Included some basic HTML and CSS and computing fundamentals.  I was very proud of myself and sent my certificate to the girls.  Both girls were unsure what to do in terms of a career both of the being skilled in languages (Nel (Daniella) has a university Cert in maths with the Open University, Evie studied Astronomy and was interested in a Robotics, both girls having sturdied with the OU whilst at school) and having an interest in maths/science. I often talked to them about careers in engineering and for Christmas 2017 I bought Evie a book called Get Coding  which she devoured with gusto over Christmas and the New Year. This started Evies coding journey.

What do you think schools can do to encourage the next generation into technology?

I think they need to change the image of it show kids that all types of people work in this industry and that it is creative and fun.  I used to tell the girls that maths was a language like other languages and fun and creative and make games out of using maths (I think this helped their transition from languages to coding)I studied teaching Maths with the OU and made fun games.  I think school can do the same with tech, make it fun and show kids the exciting things you can do with it.

What do you like about Technology?

I love its creativity and variety.  I think it’s exciting the possible things that it can do in different industries.  However now I have, all be it a very small amount of knowledge In tech, I get frustrated that for example in health it is not used more to make services more efficient and effective.

You must be super proud of them both. What advice would you give to parents of young women who want to follow a career in tech?

I am so so proud of my super talented, super emotionally intelligent girls.  I would tell parents to be careful of the messages you inadvertently give to your girls, tell them STEM is not just for boys and they can do anything.  (When I was at school I wanted to study Physics but was told that I couldn’t as this was just for boys, the girls did Domestic Science which was cooking!, this affected my career choices). I would tell them tech is creative, fun and exciting and that girls in particular are needed in this industry because they have the skills and are often  better at social communication so would make good team leaders and Scrum masters so they will excel.

What is your fav quote?

When the girls were growing up when they went out the door we have always said

Steve (husband) “work hard”

Sue (mum) “have fun”

“It’s all good learning” probably my favourite closely followed by “Go,Live your Life” Borat

 Evie x

How did you get started in your career as a software developer?

I got started in my career by changing from a different career: I was originally training to be a French and Spanish teacher in Newcastle, but dropped out in 2018 after scraping miserably through my first teaching placement. Inspired partly by James Franco’s character in ‘Why Him’ and partly by my wonderful Mum, I used my time in unemployment to teach myself to code out of a book; then I progressed to doing an online course which led me to applying for junior roles across the country. My big opportunity came from a company called Sparta Global, who accepted me on their bootcamp course in London. I trained as a full stack Ruby on Rails developer and Ruby SDET (test automation engineer); and Sparta managed to get me an excellent job as a C# developer at a financial services company. They secured me this job a week before the end of my course, and I was due to start the following Monday; at that time Sparta did not have a C# training programme, so for that last week I had to just pivot from Ruby and teach myself! That first job was a great springboard for me to get into the world of .Net.

What has been the biggest struggle in your career so far?

Summoning up the nerve to leave teaching and make the jump into the unknown was very hard. At the time, I was in a very bad way even after I dropped out. My various negative experiences during the teacher training with occupational stress, workplace bullying and generally fighting to stay healthy knocked my confidence a lot. Overall, the relief of knowing I never had to do that again was very healing! You know you’re in the wrong job if you’re having to compromise on sleep, food and exercise for work.

What has been the biggest success?

Going from never having written a line of code in my life to getting my first software engineering job in six months ????

You have just secured a new role at River – congratulations. What is something you are hoping to bring to the team?

Thanks so much! I feel so lucky to have my job at River. I want to bring dynamism, imagination and warmth to my team. I want to start a meditation club there and also find a way to get us involved in the Tech Talent Charter! What’s more, before my arrival there were only two women software engineers at River: I think the business are pleased to see a bit more variation in the team, as different perspectives can only strengthen us.

We love that you come and support and coach at Codebar, would it be something you recommend?

Aww I love it too! Yes I wholeheartedly recommend Codebar to anyone who is either learning to code or keen to get experience sharing their knowledge: they are truly doing some great work all over the world. The first time I attended, I was a bootcamp student struggling with JavaScript; now thanks to their help, I’m a coach myself, and I’ve made a lot of meaningful connections with fascinating people in our industry. If you’re an engineer and you’ve always wanted to coach but feel hesitant, then I’d say just jump in! The atmosphere is so laid back and no-one expects you to know everything. I’ve coached on several occasions where the student wants to learn something that’s not my strong suit, and we’ve ended up learning it together!

You are a big inspiration to me. I love how positive you are and how much energy you bring to everything the times we’ve been together. So you are one of my tech role models. Who are your role models?

My heart is bursting with joy reading this babe <3  That’s crazy because you are actually a big inspiration to me! It sounds cheesy, but honestly my philosophy is that I know I’m going to die one day so I am compelled to make the most of my short time here by helping others and enjoying life. We can’t possibly be positive a hundred percent of the time, but when we are we have to ride that wave to the best of our abilities! My main role models are not actually technology people: as a drummer, I’ve always looked up to Travis Barker from Blink 182, for several reasons. His work ethic is second to none; he has worked hard to cultivate versatility as his main skill; and he is someone who is open minded enough to collaborate with people in all kinds of musical genres, which has made him one of the most well-connected people in the industry. He’s also seen a lot of negativity in his life and has managed to bounce back stronger from those experiences.

What is your favourite quote?

Before I go on stage with my band or have a job interview, I always sing ‘The Boss’ by James Brown in my head. My fave quote is the chorus: “I paid the cost to be the boss”. We all know James Brown was no angel, but in my view what he’s saying in that song is “I am a legend because of my experiences, not despite them.”, which I think is a good motto to live by. Own it!

D & E: I’m sure you’ll both agree with me when I say I wish I had more exposure to technology when I was in school. What do you think schools can do to encourage more young women to follow technology as a future career?

I think society can do more to make girls and non-binary people think “Oh yeah, I can give that a go”. Nell and I were lucky to have a mother who taught us things like “This is how you give a firm handshake, don’t let anyone mess you about” or “Have you thought about learning this cool thing?”. I think other parents of girls out there should be doing that too. As far as schools go, it’s difficult for them to identify the root cause of the problem when, for example, many girls show enthusiasm for computer science in Year 7, but drop out at the end of Year 8. My friend Jeni Thakrar runs an initiative called Inspiring Girls Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire, which facilitates days for women in male-dominated industries to give talks to schoolgirls to inspire them to consider careers in those industries. Some people forget that a teacher is not there to parent your child: that’s your job. I think we need to work together, not just pile more pressure on teachers!

 Nelly x

Where does your passion for technology come from?

It started as an interest that has grown the more I have learnt! At school I always had a keen interest in STEM subjects as well as a love for language. I took Maths Sciences and Spanish at A level and this interest in many subject areas caused me somewhat of a dilemma when it came to choosing a career path. I deliberated between chemical engineering, to Spanish, to Mathematics, and ended up choosing to study Speech and Language Sciences as it offered me the ability to study both language and science. Software engineering/programming/coding weren’t career options that were apparent when I was at school, I didn’t even know it existed at that time and there certainly weren’t any coding courses available at school. My tech journey started when my sister told me about a company called Code Fist Girls who were offering free courses. I attended a course in Bristol in February 2019 which consisted of weekly evening classes: I absolutely loved it! I don’t know what I was expecting from the course but it surprised me how creative and fun coding is! After this I carried on teaching myself at home in the evenings and weekends using online resources. At the time I was working as a clinician (Speech and Language Therapist) in the NHS and my new found technical knowledge inspired me in many ways with possibilities for technology a) to support those with speech, language and communication needs and b) to improve the efficiency of our healthcare system in general. These are both goals I intend to achieve in the future. So I thought why not let’s make this as a career!

You are currently completing the Mayden Academy bootcamp, would you recommend it to someone who wants to start a career in tech?

First of all I would absolutely recommend a coding bootcamp in general, especially if you’re the sort of person who learns better with structure, routine and surrounded by other people (there’s only so much I can learn in one go alone in my bedroom!) And secondly I would recommend Mayden Academy in particular (I know I’m biased) but the content is up to date, relevant, and stimulating; the structure of the course is excellent with theory and projects spaced out evenly so you have opportunities to put in practise what you learnt during theory week; and the atmosphere at the Academy is second to none, everyone is so relaxed, friendly and supportive and we have such a laugh which makes learning so much fun. I am just over halfway through the course but I don’t want it to end!

Any websites or books you would recommend to help others on their tech journey?

Yes, I’ve used mainly online resources but there are probably loads of great books too! Some of the ones I’ve found most helpful are courses on Udemy, W3schools, Codecademy, Sololearn and the Codebar resources. There  are also lots of free tutorials on youtube, if you search what you need help with, there is usually someone who’s recorded a tutorial on it.

You are a student at Codebar, is it something you’d recommend to others and how has it helped you?

I would definitely recommend it! It’s helped me learn new technical skills and also it has been so great to make new friends and connections with others who love tech. I have had a lot of interesting discussions at Codebar with students and coaches about why they love coding, and what sorts of opportunities are out there. There is a great sense of community and everyone supports each other. Going to Codebar has definitely contributed towards having the confidence to go for this career change! (And the free food is a bonus!!)

What’s next for you?

Getting through the course and graduating in one piece! After completing my studies I will be applying for jobs and thinking about where I will move next! In the near future I am also hoping to find a mentor to support me on my journey into my first junior software engineering role.

You are definitely going to be one to watch Daniella and I feel proud to have watched you from your first Codebar workshop with your mum to where you are now and I’m excited to see what you move on to. So like Evie you are also an inspiration and a role model. Who is yours?

Thanks Alicia! I also very much admire your business savvy and what you have achieved and that is inspirational to me too! I honestly would say my role model is my mum. I am constantly inspired by her positive, learning mindset and I know it sounds cheesy but she makes me feel like anything is possible if you work hard enough for it and want it badly enough. Also she is such a fun-loving spirit and is so open minded, and she’s always open to new experiences (whatever ventures I drag her along to!) I think she has instilled into both my sister and I a thirst for learning.

What’s your fav quote?

It’s so hard to choose a favourite as there are so many quotes I love! But I would say its “Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself in your way of thinking.”- Marcus Aurelius. Because I think that perception and your attitude towards things that happen to you plays a massive part in happiness and adopting a positive mindset makes life so much fuller.  I did ask my family what they thought ‘my quote’ was and they said something I often say is “I do what I want” haha, I guess what I mean when I say that is, if I want something I’ll go and get it and there’s no one stopping me!

D & E: I’m sure you’ll both agree with me when I say I wish I had more exposure to technology when I was in school. What do you think schools can do to encourage more young women to follow technology as a future career?

I also wish I had more exposure to tech and the opportunities that existed. I think schools should show women how creative this career is and that they need all sorts of individuals in this growing industry. Unfortunately there is a stereotype that exists about people who study computer science (often the geeky guy who is a bit socially awkward, loves video gaming etc.) and that if you’re not like this you won’t be suited to this career or good at it, I am also guilty of thinking this myself at one point. We need to show people this is simply not the case! Schools should organise more opportunities for young women to find out about coding e.g. external speakers, taster sessions, Q&A sessions run by women who are currently working in the industry.

You 3 are why I started Women Rock and are true role models for the tech industry! Keep doing you and I’ll support you everyday. Also owe you a chippy dinner!

An interview by Alicia Teagle 

A voice for diversity in tech <3

I: @womenrockbristol

T: @womenrockbrstl

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