#PressforProgress: Carving a Path One Step at a Time

  • techUK techUK
    Monday05Mar 2018

    Guest blog: Amanda Cooper from Thales UK for techUK's International Women's Day campaign week, imparting career advice for women looking to get into STEM careers.

Some years ago when I failed one of my three critical university-entry A-levels I really didn’t think I’d end up writing a blog about how to have a successful career.

Amanda Cooper v4 2 002I’d originally planned to take a Maths and Computing degree at university. I had no idea what my final career would be, but I loved STEM subjects and was good at them, so I just knew I wanted to work with computers somehow. When I opened my A-Level results to find I’d failed A-Level Further Maths it was a complete shock and it felt like the end of the world. I threw myself into a pit of despair, gave up on uni and headed to the local Careers Office to find out what local courses or jobs I might be suitable for. I was convinced that my career was ruined before it even started!

Luckily for me the local college was running a Software Engineering Higher National Diploma apprenticeship in partnership with a large technology company. Like most people I assumed engineering involved some sort of overalls but was assured that it really was about software development and would lead to a rewarding career developing exciting bits of high tech kit! But what about the apprenticeship bit? My image of apprenticeships involved more vocational jobs...”are you sure I won’t be wearing overalls..?”

Almost three decades later I am a huge advocate for both women engineers and apprenticeships – I learnt my profession on the job, earning money and being supported both academically and professionally. I had no student debt to pay off (in fact I’d bought a car with my earnings), I passed my HND with a Distinction and was offered a very good job with my sponsor company. I didn’t have to go through the daunting step of finding a job without having any work experience.

My next hurdle was how to advance my career. What job did I want to hold in 20 years..? 10 years..? 5 years..? I had no idea. I enjoyed being a Software Engineer and worked on some incredibly exciting projects but didn’t know how to progress. In the end I found that my career developed one role at a time. One day my Software Project Manager called me into her office and said she thought I should try leading a team of engineers. What a terrifying thought! But she told me she knew I’d be good at it, and if it didn’t work out I could return to my old job. Little did she realise the confidence-monster she’d create..!

Once I understood that I could succeed at a job with more responsibility each career step was just that – a step. I went into each position knowing probably less than 50% of the stuff needed for that role, but I’ve always been a quick learner and I enjoyed the challenge. I realised that no-one expected me to know everything on day 1 – that was a revelation! It’s easy to be intimidated by a job, but when you look around at the people already doing similar roles you realise they’re just as human as you are. They also had to learn the job and develop themselves.

After that I put myself forward for roles, and even suggested that new ones could be created where I saw I could make a difference. These days I’m Head of Supply Chain Interfaces for Thales UK and the girl that failed to get into university never would have dreamed that she would go on to hold a UK-level position for such a large international company. So never be intimidated by what the future holds – just take it one step at a time

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