Women in tech: “Be good at what you do.”
Two years ago, we launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Gemma Allen, Consulting Systems Engineer at Barracuda Networks.
A research study by The National Center for Women & Information Technology showed that “gender diversity has specific benefits in technology settings,” which could explain why tech companies have started to invest in initiatives that aim to boost the number of female applicants, recruit them in a more effective way, retain them for longer, and give them the opportunity to advance. But is it enough?
Two years ago, we launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in tech to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Gemma Allen, Consulting Systems Engineer at Barracuda Networks.
Profile: Gemma Allen
Gemma Allen is a Consulting Systems Engineer at Barracuda Networks.
What got you interested in tech?
At secondary school we were taught touch typing on computers, which prompted me to beg my parents for one so I could do other things possible. A year later and I was paying the dial up bills for internet access and learning how to upgrade the software and hardware as no one else in my family had any experience of computers.
Background, career, and obstacles
I got lucky at first, I was offered a job out of college from a friend of the family who knew I liked computers and needed a desktop support technician. I have probably been quite fortunate since as I’ve managed to build my skills and find the next role to develop them further. Rather boringly I don’t perceive I’ve had any obstacles placed in front of me, I have just applied myself to performing to the fullest of my abilities and seen where that has taken me.
Did you receive support from your family?
My family have always been supportive, from buying my first computer to encouraging me to take do what I felt was right with my career. I was always told I could do whatever I wanted so I guess I took that to heart.
Be good at what you do, confident in that knowledge and most people will respect you regardless of gender.
Did anyone ever try to stop you?
When I was out looking for my second job, I do recall interviewing for a Server Engineer role where I would go onsite and install servers etc. I succeeded at the interview stage and got called back and offered a job. However, they indicated they weren’t comfortable offering me the travelling role and wanted me partially in the office for phone support as I was a young female and they were uncertain it would suit me. It’s really the only occasion where I feel I would have been held back from what I was capable of and needless to say I found another role that allowed me to fulfil the entire job description.
A day in Gemma’s life
My workdays are very varied now; I may be keeping my technical skills up to date by building a POC or developing on a new solution for a customer. I could be training partners on our technical solutions or I could be creating a presentation for a webinar or event. I enjoy the customer interaction as there is always something new to learn and it’s rewarding to find a solution for their problems.
What are you most proud of in your career?
My career to date really. I feel I’ve made my progression based on my abilities from a junior to senior level and I am currently in a role that I really enjoy, both for the role but also the work environment.
Why aren’t there more women in tech?
“Tech” as a career hasn’t really been around that long and in some ways its growth has been running in parallel with gender equality in the workplace campaigns. Certainly, during my education girls were not discouraged from the technology subjects but there were very few girls in those classes when I chose them. Personally, I feel that sometimes self-confidence has held women back, starting in school it may have been be the lack of confidence to leave groups of friends and sit in a class where you are the only female. In recently years there has been more positive encouragement to join tech and I think this will assist those who have the aptitude but not the confidence in those situations.
Challenges (or obstacles) women in tech face
In my experience I think I’ve had relatively few that I think a man wouldn’t face or perhaps I am thick skinned and don’t notice them. Occasionally you encounter someone who assumes I’m not in a technical role or wants to talk to a man, but this is rare for me. I think the challenges are more of how women perceive what it’s going to be like working in male dominated environments or assumptions made on women’s behalf to “protect” us. I can’t say I’ve ever noticed anything less than equal treatment from male colleagues once we’ve all understood our respective abilities in the role.
Would our world be different if more women worked in STEM?
That’s a hard question, for certain there would be longer queues for the ladies’ rooms and that’s a perk I’ve been enjoying for years. To be honest I think other shifts like remote working are going to have more impact and perhaps these changes will help encourage women to take technology roles as they will have more flexibility for family responsibilities (although really men should be able to take some of these on) and it may also offer an escape from a male majority office that some women may not enjoy.
The discussion about diversity is gaining momentum. How long will it take to see results from the current debate?
Ideally each new generation entering education should introduce more women to technology subjects but I don’t think the results will be instant. Like everything in society change takes time and needs to build upon each previous generation work. There are more women in tech now since I started so it is improving each year.
Perhaps this is naive, but my advice to women who want any career would be to go and do whatever they want, be good at what you do, confident in that knowledge and most people will respect you regardless of gender. Don’t assume all men in tech are against women or that working in a department where you are the only women is a bad thing. There are challenges and obstacles in any career, but don’t assume what they will be, go find and overcome them.
Don’t miss our Women in Tech profiles:
- Tips for women in tech: “Setbacks and ‘failures’ are really learning opportunities”
- “I think women in tech should try to step out of their comfort zone more, speak up more without having imposter syndrome.”
- Women in tech: Drawn to technology like a moth to a flame
- Diversity talk: “You can’t be afraid of failure. If you don’t try, you will never succeed.”
- Advice for women in tech: “Women should seize the opportunity.”