In the first of a series, Sarah Holt talks to dedicated server engineer Nicola Halls about her career in technology…
Under the stairs, where most people keep their hoover, coats and maybe the shoe rack, Nicola Halls (27) has a server stack.
It’s one of the few out-of-hours signs that Nicola works in tech – that, in fact, she’s part of the small 17 percent of the UK’s technical workforce that has a Y chromosome.
“People are surprised when I tell them I work with computers,” explains Nicola. “Even my family don’t really understand what I do. I tell them that when a computer is physically broken, I fix it.”
Nicola’s enrollment into the tech world happened organically. She worked for a bank as a cashier before restlessness encouraged her to seek a new professional direction. She had friends who already worked at UK2’s datacentre, and approached them to see if there would be a place for her in the company.
“I only knew how to turn a computer on when I started,” says Nicola. “But I am a fast learner and I spent time looking at the machines and taking them apart and putting them back together. I asked a lot of questions and realised that computers are just giant jigsaws.”
Nicola is now multilingual as far as any outside could see – she knows the language of code and the lingo of command lines. Not to mention a few too many corny jokes, which have been imparted to her by the 24 men she works with.
“Why did the scarecrow get a promotion?” she asks. “Because he was outstanding in his field. Terrible isn’t it?”
At home, though, the sub-stair server stack is the only clue as to what Nicola does during the day. When she’s not at work, her hobbies are knitting and baking.
“My advice to any women who wants to get into tech is to have confidence,” says Nicola. “You might be surrounded by men, and there might be times when they do challenge you, but you need to take a breath and tell yourself ‘I’m here’.”
As well as being a techie, Nicola is also mum to a seven year old girl. It seems like her daughter has inherited her mum’s sense of ambition.
“She wants to be a vet,” says Nicola. “She tells me ‘mum, I’m going to university’ and she asks me ‘Can I have my money for university?’. I think I need to get saving up.”
To read more about inspiring women in the world of technology, catch up on this article with Amanda Boyle.