Two of the first women to complete the degree apprenticeship at Capgemini tell Computer Weekly about the challenges and advantages of being a woman in the IT industry.
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When Huguette Makamu’s interest in IT was spotted by a colleague while she was volunteering at a charity, her journey into the IT industry began.
At the time, Makamu, originally from the Republic of Congo in West Africa, was studying for a BTEC in IT services and doing some charity work in her spare time. “I met a lady in the charity where I was volunteering who saw my interest in IT,” she said. “She had a sister working at Capgemini, and at the time, it was advertising its first degree apprenticeship scheme. She asked if I was interested and sent me a link to apply.
“I applied, did all the interviews and a day assessment, and I was selected.” She joined Capgemini in 2011 as part of the first intake of apprentices, and since completing it, she is now a Salesforce consultant building cloud applications for some of Capgemini’s enterprise customers.
Makuma said that before the scheme she had informal experience in IT which mainly involved fixing computers for friends in her spare time. “It was a passion from when I was very young. I liked to open stuff, so I stared doing it with computers and learned how they work,” she said. She moved on from hardware repairs to fixing software bugs.
When she arrived in the UK from the Republic of Congo, French-speaking Makuma was yet to learn English and found it difficult to go to college straight away.
“But I didn’t want to waste three years learning English, so I found a college that did IT support as a BTEC and explained in the interview my lack of English.” She took the necessary tests and was offered a place on the course, which meant she could study while she learnt English.
It was close to the end of the BTEC when she was given the link to the Capgemini scheme.
The challenge of learning a new language was not the only obstacle to overcome. She also had to put the male bias in IT out of her mind. “IT is always seen as a man’s role by many girls and women.”
But she put this aside and soon realised there is actually a lot of stuff that women are particularly good at. This includes dealing with clients and understanding requirements, she said. “You have to have good negotiating skills and women are really good at that.”
This in fact came as a surprise to her as she expected to be more techie. “I find myself less technical than I was when I started because I was instinctively leaning towards soft skills.”
Her degree apprenticeship saw her gain a Business Analysis degree and become a full-time Capgemini employee. She said throughout the programme work took up about 80% of the time and studied the rest.
She said that going forward she hope to continue learning. “It’s a continuous journey. Yesterday we were talking about C. No one talks about that now we have Java,” she said. “We have cloud now when just 10 years ago we had servers. Tomorrow we are going to talk about artificial intelligence. I love it. It is my passion.”
Questioning the education system
If Amy Grange, who joined Capgemini around the same time, had not questioned what she was told by teachers, she might not be on the exciting career path she finds herself on today.
She was in sixth form studying A-levels in the sciences and was doing IT as well because of her passion for it. “I was led to believe by the education system that perhaps IT wasn’t for me. This was because of a lack of opportunities and because the teachers, all of which were men, referred to those in the IT sector as males. It became a thing for me and I thought maybe it wasn’t for me.”
“I chose a new path and decided to do psychology instead. Then the tuition fees went up to £9,000, and I thought I would end up in a lot of debt and decided I didn’t really want to do psychology.”
She had a scout online and came across the opportunity at Capgemini to get a degree for free. “I immediately applied,” she said.
To help prevent girls in her position from missing out on opportunities, she now supports Capgemini when visiting schools to promote careers in IT – specifically to girls. “If you want to do something, just go out and carve your own path and don’t let anyone talk you out of it,” she said. She added that there is gradually a changing mindset but admitted it is a slow process.
In contrast to Mukuma, she entered the programme thinking she would not be particularly technical, but as a result of the degree, training and experience has emerged as a fully fledged technical consultant. She now leads a team of developers that are creating Oracle applications – back-end systems specifically – and integrating them for clients.
She is new to the team leader role but is “taking the bull by the horns”.
Grange does not regret taking the apprenticeship path despite the fact all of her friends ended up going to university. “One friend actually went to university to study the same degree I got through the programme,” she said. “I remember saying to her, ‘why don’t you come on an apprentice scheme and get some hands-on experience – and be paid for it?”
“Some people seem to prefer the university lifestyle but I thought experience might be very important to get into the IT sector.”
Grange has her eyes set on working her way up the industry. “One of the things I have always aspired to be is senior management, so I can give back the same way that people gave to me when I was starting my career. I am slowly but surely trying to work my way up the grades and get to those positions by learning from the people around me.
She is currently focused on cloud computing and sees a big future in the Oracle space.