As part of our The Future is Female campaign, showcasing the success of brilliant women in tech. In our last blog post, we discussed great tech initiatives for women, but this week we’re putting the spotlight on Chelsea Walker, an apprentice with Leeds City Council. Chelsea shares her journey as a woman in tech, tips on how to break into the industry, as well as how to prepare yourself for success in IT.
Q: So, did you always expect to have a career in tech?
Chelsea: No, I always had an interest in IT; I did a lot in school, but never saw it as a career until later. I found I really enjoyed taking computers apart, and putting them back together. It’s just like putting together a toy, except you just have to make sure the parts don’t go BOOM! (she laughs) IT never seemed like a real option for me until later.
Q: Is there a reason that IT didn’t seem like an option for you?
Chelsea: When I was in school it was the norm for girls to do teaching, and childcare, whereas boys did IT, and tech. When I did career searches, it placed administrative roles at the top as people often associate these with women. There aren’t as many women in tech; we have more than one woman in our office, but there are definitely more men. I think there are more women doing admin roles in IT, but not as many do technical roles. They are there, and they are creeping in; we’re getting out there.
Q: How did you overcome these limitations?
Chelsea: I scrolled past the administrative roles, and continued searching. I went places other people wouldn’t go; I looked at the second page of Google, and I didn’t give up. The opportunities are out there; you just need to look for them. If you have a passion for something, you should do it. I also had female teachers at school who taught IT – they’d obviously pursued a career in this industry so it made me think; why can’t I?
Q: You mentioned that some teachers inspired you, but is there anyone in the tech industry you aspire to be like?
Chelsea: My teachers were important, but there isn’t anyone I’d like to be other than myself. I want to blaze my own trail. Lots of girls think they have to be a certain way, or act a certain way, but I think just be you. If you want to be the next Steve Jobs, or Bill Gates, then go for it, but you should aspire to where you want to be. You may want to run your own business, but don’t push for it to be the most successful in the world because that’s a stroke of luck – no big company was created by itself. It’s not just you – it’s all about teamwork. Don’t aim to be the next Steve Jobs, you should want to be the first you – you don’t want to be everyone else.
Q: As the first Chelsea Walker, do you have any tips for success in the tech industry?
Chelsea: I’ve always been brought up with the idea that you don’t have to fix everything first time; if you get it wrong it’s ok, you can try again. When I first started, I bought a cheap computer and worked on taking it apart and putting it back together. I found it helpful to take a photo each step of the way so I could see how the parts all fit together again when I was assembling it. But if you get stuck, don’t be afraid to ask for help – don’t be afraid that you have to do it by yourself. If you can’t do something don’t’ worry about it, someone else can show you how to do it. If you’re struggling – shout.
Q: So, why did you choose to take an apprenticeship to start your career in IT?
Chelsea: I actually turned down my place at university, in favour of doing this apprenticeship. I knew university wasn’t for me; I’m a hands-on learner, and I knew that an apprenticeship would allow me to gain all the skills I need, and earn a decent wage. University is not the only option; there are lots of other ways to study out there. There isn’t a single road for anyone. Thankfully, Baltic helped me find the perfect role for me at Leeds City Council.
Q: Tell us a bit about what you do at Leeds City Council.
Chelsea: I fix computers! When I first started, I worked on the help desk talking to customers, lodging their service errors, and fixing their problems. Anything more technical was sent off to more experienced departments to resolve. Now I’m more experienced, I work in the main IT service office dealing with the more complex issues. I’m thankful my position has so many opportunities to grow, and develop to where I am now.
Q: What is your favourite part about your role?
Chelsea: My favourite part is the Assistive Technology Service programme. We provide specialist equipment to people who have special requirements in the workplace. It’s nice to support people, and to help them by using technology in a meaningful way. It’s amazing to see how much tech can benefit someone’s life. The equipment is much more complex to fix too, and I enjoy that challenge. A standard computer is easier as you don’t account for specialist software needed for the device to function correctly; with the Assistive Technology, you have to work your fixes around other programmes so it’s a more technical fix.
Q: Did you have a lot of technical knowledge before you started your position?
Chelsea: No, there was a lot I didn’t know. There were aspects like knowledge of specific technical components, like servers, which I didn’t know. I don’t think anyone is ever going to know everything – I don’t know every technical aspect, but I’m willing to learn. When I first started looking for apprenticeships, I didn’t apply when I didn’t match all the criteria. Eventually, I got to the point where I realised I’d never tick every single box, but I was willing to learn whatever was needed. It’s less of a case of ticking every box, but ticking two or three of the criteria, and being willing to work towards bridging your knowledge to understand the rest. When I said I didn’t know all the parts in the role, my interviewer just said that they’d teach me.
Q: What advice would you like to give someone else looking to start a career in tech?
Chelsea: Don’t look at something and think, am I good enough? Don’t look with a limited attitude. Think that you’re good enough for it, you just need to develop within that area. Don’t think you can’t do it; think you can’t do it yet. As long as you are willing to adapt and learn, then the possibilities are open; never say never.
Q: Is there anything you’d specifically like to say to women trying to break into the tech industry?
Chelsea: Go for it. Don’t think they won’t employ me because I’m a girl, or I don’t have experience. Just do it. It’s about how you present what you know; present your strengths not your weaknesses. No one is going to be perfect for a role; start preparing for the role you want – look at what you want, look at what you can do.
We also asked Chelsea, and our Sales and Marketing Executive, Amanda McCombie, some quick fire questions on Facebook Live.
Are you feeling inspired? We loved talking to Chelsea about her story, but you can start your story now too; take a look at our vacancies online here.
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