One of my favourite quotes is, “at any given IT conference, there are more attendees named Dave than there are women”. Having checked the attendee list at several conferences, it seems a pretty fair rule of thumb.
My first step into IT was to escape a rogue boss, who handled both male and female employees equally, resulting in my predecessor taking a case to tribunal. The local university offered postgraduate qualifications in both IT and accountancy. The first year of IT counted towards both, so I took the path of least resistance. After a year creating expert systems and researching Artificial Life, my choice was made.
Having settled into a technical role with a major network provider, I expressed an interest in moving into the security team, only to be told “you can’t have that job, it’s Dave’s job”. When I insisted, a second opening was found and Dave became a much-valued colleague and friend. When I was promoted to lead the team, it emerged that my salary even after promotion was well below Dave’s and rapid adjustments had to be made.
At around this time I worked alongside a firewall consultant, whose best client had bandwidth beyond our wildest imaginings. She needed cutting edge technology to protect her revenues while engaged in the world’s oldest profession. This consultant, known to use the same password on every system, later put the first firewall into 10 Downing Street. In recent years, I have had the opportunity to research (in a professional capacity) the importance of digital identity in the context of adult services, highlighting the sheer scale of this industry and the important role of technology in this area.
When I first joined Consult Hyperion in 2006, I was asked to organise a workshop for identity experts from across Europe. It was a great opportunity and a real inspiration when Angela Sasse, a leading light in HCI, spoke about the importance of both women and men contributing to systems which are to serve the public. One of my favourite feminists, another Dave, was later to highlight the peculiar assumptions behind some technologies. For instance, the concept of the smart home managed remotely by a man on the move. It may work for people living alone but the ability to turn the lights off or the heating down while partners or family members are at home is not so great.
We are lucky at CHYP to have a diverse and highly skilled team working in Hyperlab, including a Dave. His working proof that an EMV contactless transaction could be completed in under 500ms in a live transit environment was critical to the adoption of the technology by Transport for London, which in turn contributed to the wider implementation of contactless payments. He has also worked on financial inclusion projects in both the UK and Africa, enabling aid to be distributed to farmers in remote areas.
On a personal level, it is always good to see more women joining the industry. It’s a great place to work, with constant change and exciting new challenges. I respect initiatives such as Microsoft’s Girls in STEM, although it has caused upset in my household, as my son was very disappointed that there was no equivalent for Boys in STEM. He has a truly inspirational IT teacher, who spent much of her career working in the industry and is equally at home with coding and infrastructure (or ‘the boring stuff’, as my son likes to call my main area of interest). Despite every possible encouragement, there are no girls taking Computer Science in his year. The local girls’ school does not even offer the subject at A level. However, whatever profession you adopt, chances are you will need technology to achieve your goals. At a time of huge opportunity, it is important to remember that there are many different paths into a career in technology. For instance, privacy requires strong legal and technical underpinnings. It is therefore vital that from the earliest years, we encourage children to engage with technology in whatever way best suits their own individual passions.
I’ve run up against some interesting attitudes in my working life: “you don’t look like a techie”, “girls can’t do firewalls”, “a female consultant?” and, disappointingly, female colleagues refusing to take on “men’s work”. Having spent my formative years around a boys’ prep school, where women were mostly ‘below stairs’, I learned early to take this kind of thing in my stride.
 In this article, the term ‘Dave’ is used to denote anyone with the given name of ‘David’.
To paraphrase Plato: the cost of not taking part is to be subject to the decisions of those less capable than you.