Transform the Future – INWED 2019 #4

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Transform the Future - INWED 2019 #4

Here's another inspiring story of our International Women in Engineering Day week, this time by Helen, one of Hitachi Infocon's Engineers:

How I managed to have it all – just not all at the same time!

Most of the people I work with have very similar back stories. They left school, went to university, graduated and started full time work. As graduates the one thing they had in common was that the jobs they went into were a stepping stone to better things. They had Prospects!

At the same age I had left school with no plan, direction or ambition and had three children in four years. This kept me busy for a while. Had my partner been a millionaire I would probably had a few more children and continued to aimlessly potter on. That wasn’t the case so given that children grow out of their clothes and shoes and require food and shelter on a regular basis it became apparent that paid work would have to come into the equation somewhere along the line. So paid work I did! Over the years I pulled pints, flipped burgers, stacked shelves, cleaned things, delivered free papers and sold coffee over the phone. The one thing all these jobs had in common was that they could be fitted in round the children and they paid, albeit badly given that this was before the minimum wage came along.

Fast Forward: I’m broke, shattered and bored. Also older and wiser. There’s no shame in being poor but it’s no picnic either. I decided I wanted to change things so did some research. It seemed that anything to do with computers was the way to go. As I had never even touched a computer at that point I decided to go to an open evening at the local college to find out about evening classes with the vague idea that if I could find out how to use a word processor it might be a Good Thing. Judging by the hourly rates quoted in the Sits Vac columns of the time it would certainly be a way of earning a lot more money.

I went along to the open evening and met the person who would be my tutor for the next two years while I completed a full time HND in Business and Information Technology. Quite how I went from finding out about learning a skill that would pay at evening classes to signing up to become a full time mature student for two years is probably a whole book in itself but without the guidance and support I received that evening it would never have happened. I couldn’t see it happening when I signed up for the course but two years later I walked out of college with an HND and the confidence to sign up for a further year of study – a conversion course leading to a BSc in European Software Engineering.

The new course involved a term a term each at an English, Irish and French university. After I had spent the first 12 weeks driving up to Huddersfield on a Sunday night and back home on a Friday I was ready to quit! The family, children included, spent the fortnight’s Christmas holiday giving me ‘pep talks’. Mainly of the JFDI variety!

Early the next January the children and I loaded as many of our possessions as would fit into my battered Skoda and boarded a ferry to Ireland to spend three months in Cork – me at college and the children at school. It did us all the world of good and we got on the ferry to come back to England in a distinctly tearful mood.

The scene above repeated itself for the final term of the course, this time France. A condition of starting the course modules in any location was passing all those at the end of the previous term I had scraped through (just) at Huddersfield but did much better in Cork. The third term in France was the decider but when I put the last full stop on the last exam paper I couldn’t have cared less about the end result – I had stayed the course! (I passed.)

A big reality check followed on returning to England. I had a brand new shiny degree but now had to decide what to do with it. The HND and degree course timetables gave me the same long holidays as the children. I couldn’t possible hold down a full time job during the school holidays could I?? Think again. Plenty of other people were doing just that – how did they do it? I did some more research, worked it out and went to an agency. They found me a full time job as a Technical Assistant for six months. Four months in I was offered a permanent position which I declined. My long-suffering (they must have been – I was there for 13 years in the end) employers asked why. I explained that I had left one thing off my CV when applying to the agency – my degree. My reasoning at the time was that if the childcare thing didn’t work out I wouldn’t have a blot on my record – or rather my hard-won shiny degree. I figures I would get round to using it eventually but it might have to wait.

Much to my surprise instead of dismissing me as one of the terminally faint hearted my employers offered to sign me up for their graduate trainee programme. I said ‘Yes please!’ I had a riot! I was never bored at work, I learned a lot, I got promoted a lot, I travelled and I met many interesting people.

Fast Forward 13 years: All good things come to an end. The company I was working for was taken over by a much larger company and when voluntary redundancy was put on the table I was one of the takers. Walking out of the place for the last time without a job to go to was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. However, the week before I left I had attended an interview at a very small company – headcount 40 – and the only ray of hope was a second interview the following Monday. I got the job!

Fast Forward 7 years: Today I am Head of Company Assurance for Hitachi Information Control Systems (Europe) Ltd (HICSE), the new name of the small company I went to work for, following its acquisition by Hitachi. My youngest child is 30 and I have a 14 year old granddaughter. I have learnt a lot over the course of the years, the most important things being;-

  1. It is NEVER too late to do anything. There are eighty year olds (and older) running marathons!
  2. You can have it all but probably not at the same time. The hard part for me was working out what ‘it’ was. ‘It’ is different for all of us. Step 2 is working out the ‘when’.
  3. Other people’s opinions are nice to have if good and awful if bad. Don’t ignore either but learn to be your own best critic. If I had listened to other people all those years ago when they said I was crazy to consider going back to college ‘at your age’ I probably would still be broke, bored and exhausted!

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