My Journey in Technology by Shannon Laird

This month’s blog post is from Shannon Laird from Ireland, who graduated from Letterkenny Institute of Technology.


Come and find your crowd in womENcourage like Shannon.

Introduction

My time at womENcourage completely changed my perception of women in the field of computing. It is no secret that stereotypically, those who study or work with computers are seen as different or out of the ordinary. They are perceived as quiet, reserved people who do not enjoy social situations. If you are a woman in the field of computing, however, you are perceived as all those things and more! Computing is very much male-dominated, with only 20% of computer science professionals being women. Nobody knows why women are not as inclined to go into computing. After all, we are just as capable of problem-solving as men are.

Why computers?

I have been exposed to computers from a young age. At around the age of 5, I was playing computer games and using the internet every evening. Unlike most 5-year-old girls, I was never interested in barbie dolls- instead, I was just so excited to turn on the computer every day! Every Christmas I wanted to get something to do with technology, whether that be a games console, an MP3 player, a laptop- that’s all I ever desired. I was always the person in the family to help with any technical-related issues. I believe that, because I began playing with computers at such a young age, I will be fascinated with them for the rest of my life. In our modern world, I think that slowly introducing children to computers at a young age is important if you want them to become comfortable with technology, as long as it’s used in moderation.

College

When I first started studying computer science, I didn’t know what to expect. As it was a college setting, I was so excited to make friends and have a fun college experience as well as learning about something that I am interested in. I am an extremely outgoing and sociable person and I thrive being around and working with other people. I also love makeup, fashion and I am very feminine. However, the computing field generally gives out an aura that, if you are a woman who happens to be studying or working with computers, you must be the opposite of these things. Upon realising and coming to terms with this I began feeling unsure about my career path. I started to wonder if I had made the right decision, thinking about how I would deal with being around people who do not want to engage in the conversation each day. Friends and family would not make matters any better, asking what on earth made me want to study something as ‘boring’ as computers. I would hear things like ‘Isn’t that a man thing?’ and ‘Why not do something more girly such as hairdressing or nails?’. All these factors have often provoked me to think I do not belong in this field of study. I wondered if I would ever fit in. I wondered if people would think I was studying computers just to try and be different. I wondered if people would not take me seriously because of my bleach-blonde hair. I wondered if I would ever be happy.

I had my ups and downs in my first year of college. It was no surprise that my class was filled with 95% of males. Most of these people, although very nice, were generally shy and reserved as I had imagined. I began to ask myself if I would ever make friends on this course. My friends from secondary school who started college at the same time seemed to be socialising and making loads of friends without any problems. This caused me to feel extremely left out and made me wonder what I’m missing. Every day I would try and remind myself of the reasons why I’m there. I had to tell myself that having friends is not as important as focusing on your studies and getting a degree. But due to my extroverted nature, I struggled to believe this. I never felt truly happy about going to college. 

womENcourage

Getting the opportunity to attend this year’s womENcourage was amazing. It was my first womENcourage, and as soon as I heard of the event and its purpose, I knew that I needed to attend! I believe it is such a good idea as it allows women in computing to feel that they matter and recognise them for their talents in such a male-dominated field. At the event, I loved that there was a huge diversity of attendees. Meeting women from so many different countries, different races and learning about their cultures was so interesting. Attending all the various workshops over the course of the event was so engaging and really got me thinking of the true reasons why I decided to go into computing. Those who spoke at the event made me feel extremely motivated and happy to be studying such an interesting subject. I made friends who I know I will always keep in touch with and this was one of the highlights of the whole conference.

My initial thoughts of feeling isolated and different due to studying computers had vanished after attending this event. I realised that there are in fact women out there just like myself. I realised I shouldn’t feel so alone because there are plenty of women who feel this way. But we shouldn’t. Events like this are the reason some women keep going- it gives us the push we need to realise that what we are doing is an amazing thing, even if it is not considered the norm. The conference allows like-minded women to meet one another, to share their experiences and different backgrounds, to lift-up and encourage one another and, most importantly, in my opinion, to feel they do belong in a technology-related field, despite what society tells them. I believe that each woman who considers computers as a significant part of their life should consider attending womENcourage at least once. It gives women the confidence to believe they are good enough and shows them that they are just as important as the men in the field. I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to attend the event and I hope that womENcourage will continue to change the lives of women in computer science for the foreseeable future.



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