My inspiring afternoon at Number 10

In the middle of last week I received an email informing me that I’d been chosen to attend an event organised by Girls in Tech to meet some of the Inspiring Fifty – inspiring women in tech of Europe.  The surprising part was that it would be hosted at Number 10 Downing Street!

The first question I asked myself was “what did I do to get picked?” closely followed by “what the hell am I going to wear?”.  I mentally perused my wardrobe of jeans and geek t-shirts and figured I’d best go out and buy a trouser suit.

Upon passing through multiple levels of security to enter 10 Downing Street, our phones and other electronics had to be left at the entrance and so sadly I have no pictures from inside.

The event started with sparkling elderflower juice in a room with the Ada Lovelace portrait watching over us – I tickles me to think this was a deliberate decision. Drinks were followed by a tour around the building.

The best way I can describe the house is as a “living museum”.  The building is filled with precious furniture, art and relics of its history, with none locked away behind glass or a red rope.  One of the staff members who guided us quite proudly stated that he felt such furniture should be enjoyed and I agree with him.  We were filed into a plain boardroom which turned out to be the Cabinet Office and discovered we’d been sat in the chairs from Disraeli’s time.  The simple room belies its lengthy history.

After the tour the mentees filed into another boardroom and were sat around the edges.  The attending members of the Inspiring Fifty had been partaking in a round table with Baroness Joanna Shields, chair of TechCityUk, regarding initiatives they believe the government could undertake to improve Europe’s digital economy.

Half of the mentors – the Inspiring Fifty – stood up in turn and and introduced themselves with a short 2 minute speech.  Some spoke about how they see tech as a growing area which more women need to take advantage of.  Some spoke of how they defied sexist assumptions in their youth to become founders and board members of tech companies. Others spoke about how young women need to be informed that tech is not just for the boys.  A few others spoke about the gender imbalance in tech, from developers to founders.  Each had something inspiring to say.

Sarah Wood, co-founder and COO of Unruly Media, stated that we need to do more to bring the older generation closer to tech. As technology becomes more central to our lives those who did not grow up with it may find themselves becoming isolated.

Neelie Kroes, Ex-Vice President of the European Commission, spoke about how Europe must come together more and embrace its burgeoning tech startup culture, in particular supporting women.

A few of them used words to the effect of being in tech is not just about “sitting in a dark room coding”, which of course it isn’t, but I couldn’t help feeling like my chosen career was being deemed as insufficient and something I should strive my way out of via entrepreneurship.  I felt myself unwittingly sinking into my chair feeling like some kind of interloper at this prestigious event.

Afterwards we headed back out for more elderflower and mingling in a format loosely based on ‘speed networking‘.  I managed to speak with Sue Black, Sarah Wood and Sherry Coutu.  I asked for advice on career building as an Engineer and received a few tips, for which I’m grateful, although I couldn’t shake the feeling that I didn’t belong there.

Finally, there were photos outside number 10, where even I could not resist the temptation to take a selfie!

The event was about women leadership, and that is definitely something I wish to learn more about and harness in myself, but the way it was presented felt that it would need to be at the expense of my Software Engineering career – I like coding and we could certainly do with more women Software Engineers.

Leadership isn’t confined to entrepreneurs; from Grace Hopper and Molly Holzschlag to Anna Shipman, engineers have demonstrated such qualities.  These are skills and traits that need to be nurtured in people at every level and chosen career path.  I would like to see the encouragement of role models in tech include all aspects of tech and not made to feel like a race to the boardroom.

The event has inspired me to be on the look out for mentorships aimed at women software engineers, preferably by women.  Senior Engineers, Architects, Tech Leads, CTOs, etc.  I follow the idea that it’s difficult to believe you can be something if you can’t see other people like yourself already being it.  If it doesn’t already exist, well, I may have to make it myself.

The event was a wonderful opportunity for entrepreneurs now can we have one for engineers?

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