Do you know any girls who are good at fixing gadgets or doing ‘tech support’ for family members? If so, there could be a great career ahead of them in the tech industry.
We spoke to Selvi Nachiyar and Chantelle Ioannou, BI and data developers at Headforwards in Pool. Growing up in India and Cornwall respectively, their early enjoyment of fixing things led them both to study technology - and to discover a love of turning data into meaningful information.
Could you tell us what Headforwards does, and the kind of clients it works with?
Selvi: Headforwards is an outsource software development company that builds systems for clients in different industries, using agile strategies.
We have clients in insurance and telecoms among other sectors, and we’re also working on a number of business intelligence (BI) and data projects for a large local authority. BI and data is quite a new area for Headforwards, but it’s one that’s growing fast.
What do your roles there involve?
Selvi: I’m a developer in the BI and data team, and I work with our local authority client to turn their data into reports and dashboards that give them information they can use to develop better services.
The council collects huge amounts of data, about everything from schools to hospitals, and we’re bringing it all together in a central repository. Then we use Microsoft’s Power BI tool to create reports and dashboards that show people from the council the information they need in one place.
Chantelle: I’m in the same team but I work at the back end of the system, writing the code that gets the data ready for loading into the central repository.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Selvi: I really enjoy the colourful data visualisations, and the fact that BI can be used in any industry. I like the challenge of taking data and turning it into meaningful insight in a way that the audience will like.
I like the challenge of taking data and turning it into meaningful insight in a way that the audience will like.
Chantelle: I like the problem-solving side. I like to find solutions, and I like to make data retrieval perform fast and efficiently. You might have a website that's relying on data, so you have to make sure the data is there in time. I like the reporting side because you have lots of colourful graphs and charts to deliver the data. And I just enjoy coding and technology generally.
Could you tell us a bit about the path that brought you both to Headforwards?
Selvi: I’ve been working in data and BI for 10 years. I started my career in India, as a BI developer at Cognizant Technology Solutions. Then I worked at AstraZeneca, and then Standard Chartered Bank.
I visited the UK twice while I was at AstraZeneca and I really liked the culture here, so I decided to move here. Some of my friends referred me to Headforwards, and I joined just as this BI and data project was starting, so I was one of the first people to join the BI team.
Chantelle: I didn't know what I wanted to do when I finished school, but I’d always been good with technology. I used to call my uncle to help with internet issues at home, but then I got curious as to how to solve it myself.
That got me into computer repair and solving technology issues, which led me to do a computing course at Cornwall College in Camborne. Then I did a university degree, also in Cornwall – actually in the Opie Building where I work now, because Headforwards is based there!
I’ve always enjoyed puzzles and things like the Rubik's cube, and working out how to fix things. That love of problem solving led me into the programming area of computing. I found that I was pretty good at SQL and object-orientated programming, so I focused on getting a job in that area.
I’ve always enjoyed puzzles and working out how to fix things. That love of problem-solving led me into the programming area of computing.
Selvi, was there anything early on that got you interested in studying computing?
Selvi: I actually enjoyed biology most at school. But I also had a passion for computing and I'm good at maths. I naturally developed problem-solving skills, and I'm good at troubleshooting and finding the root cause for issues. I was always the person at home and at school that people came to with their computer problems.
As women, did you find you were in the minority on the courses you studied?
Selvi: In India equal numbers of men and women study computing. But in terms of the people who go on to a job after education, the ratio of men is higher. Out of around 30 girls on my course, only five or six went into IT jobs. A lot of them faced personal barriers, but I always wanted to continue – so I’m the one who’s gone on to have an IT career.
Chantelle: Very much so. On the college course I was the only girl out of about 30 people. But I already knew some of the boys on the course, so I felt OK joining it. On the university course, there was one other girl on the first day, and she never came back. Another lady was doing an ecommerce course and studied some modules with us. So there were two women out of around 15 of us.
What advice would you give to girls who enjoy coding at school and might be thinking about a future career?
Chantelle: Technology is used everywhere now, so it's a very useful area to get into because there are so many jobs. Even hospitals are moving from paper to technology, so if you want to work in healthcare, you can put your skills to use on the data side. In fact, girls can apply technology to any interest they might have, and it can lead to a future career. The possibilities are genuinely endless.
And what about parents/carers – how can they help girls find a career in tech?
Selvi: There are lots of opportunities for girls to deepen their skills – there are coding camps for girls from as young as six. And you can emphasise to girls that this is an area where they can easily work from home when they’re older, they can work part-time, they can work around care commitments. It’s a very flexible career option.
Chantelle: Tech skills are really needed in areas that many girls are interested in, like helping the environment. It’s really important for parents to know there are alternative routes than university. I didn’t know about this when I was studying, but apprenticeships are a great way of getting into a technology career without having to do a degree and get into huge amounts of debt.
It’s really important for parents to know there are alternative routes than university. Apprenticeships are a great way into a technology career without getting into huge amounts of debt.
Games are another great way in. Kids love playing videogames, but they don’t always know they could turn that passion into a career in the games industry. There are even games that teach you how to code, which can also help girls develop their skills.