In the run up to our ‘Up Next’ event on 2nd October here’s the second in our series of short interviews with some of our panel. This time, we caught up with Holly Cummins, technical lead of IBM’s Bluemix Garage London and the former delivery lead for the WebSphere Liberty Profile. Holly is a co-author of Enterprise OSGi in Action and has spoken at JavaOne, Devoxx, JavaZone, The ServerSide Java Symposium, JAX London, GeeCon and the Great Indian Developer Summit, as well as a number of user groups. Outside of her work Holly enjoys cake engineering (“baking”), running, and sewing.
It’s no secret that tech is a male dominated industry, currently only 5% of leadership positions in tech are held by women and just 3% of women stated that tech was their 1st choice of career. Was it always your ambition to work in tech? Can you give us a brief view of your journey into tech?
My journey into tech wasn’t very direct. When I was at school I wanted to be an architect (of buildings), a graphic designer, an economist, a writer, a scientist and a few other things as well. I studied Physics, Arts and Science (a hybrid degree for people who didn’t know what they wanted to be when they grew up).
After that degree I still didn’t know what I wanted to be, so I went on to do a physics PhD. I realised that I was trying to sneakily turn every problem into a computer problem; I spent much more study time than I should teaching myself Java and writing programs to generate illustrations of the concepts in my thesis. The cool thing about working in tech is that I get to be an economist, a writer, an architect, a scientist and also a computer programmer.
What advice can you give to other women wanting to move into tech?
Tech is one of those disciplines where the required knowledge changes so fast that formal training isn’t as necessary as it is for some either areas. I have a bias, since I didn’t come to tech by a computer science degree or software engineering degree, but in my current team, about half of my colleagues have physics degrees and the other half have computer science degrees. They’re all great developers, the different backgrounds make us stronger as a team. Two of the most innovative developers I’ve worked with at IBM had studied English and philosophy. A great employer will be looking at your long-term potential and be willing to invest, rather focussing just on the technologies currently listed on your CV.
We know that the issue with women working in tech starts at school. What words of wisdom would you give to a school age girl to encourage her to pursue a career in tech? Why is it amazing?!
I love my job! I work with people across all industries, so I’m learning new things about how the world works every day. Some of the problems that businesses have are so surprising and it’s great to be able to come up with solutions.
Is there anything you wish you’d known when you first started working in tech?
I had a Windows machine for six months before I realised I was allowed to re-image it to Linux, those six months with Windows are still one of my biggest regrets! Oh, and wish I’d known that sending short emails is much better than sending long ones, but I think that’s true in every field.
How did you first launch your speaking career? Do you have any tips you can share based on your experience?
I started out by speaking at internal events, like reading groups and lunch and learns. Once I’d built up some practice I was brave and put in an abstract to an international conference, which, to my surprise, got accepted.
It’s important to build up from local events to external events to big events, both for practice and to show conference committees that you have some experience. Blogging can also be a good (and less scary) way of building up a reputation and a voice. It’s important to speak about things you know and are passionate about.
A talk on a niche topic can sometimes catch the attention of conference committees. If there’s lots of other talks on the same topic a talk from a new speaker risks blending in. My first talk was on myths and paradoxes of Java garbage collection, which is really specialised, but I think it was more successful than some of my more generic talks.
What words of reassurance can you offer to someone who is feeling really, really nervous about speaking for the first time?
I was so nervous before my first talk. I felt queasy for about a week beforehand. My top tips are to speak slowly (as @jesslynrose says, you’ll feel strange but look cool) and smile. Smiling shows the audience you’re comfortable and believe what you’re saying. When you smile it puts pressure on a facial nerve that creates happiness, so as well as making the audience feel relaxed, it will even trick your own brain into feeling more comfortable.
What can participants expect to gain from participating in the Up Next event?
There will be lots of good hints, getting started guides, and people to bounce ideas off, so it should be a really great event.
If Holly has inspired you to get involved you can find all the information and register here
p.s. there are limited spaces to don’t wait too long before hitting the button
p.p.s. to make the event as authentic as possible we need an audience. So, if you’re not ready to speak yet but you’d like to come along and watch you’d be very welcome, you register via the same link.