How Red Hat helps young girls reach for tech gold stars

We spoke to female leaders at Red Hat about their careers and how the software business encourages young girls into STEM roles. First to share is Senior Software Engineer Rebecca Simmonds.

In her role as Senior Software Engineer, Rebecca works in a cross-disciplinary team with data scientists and developers to help Red Hat’s work making intelligent applications. Her research focuses on new insights in machine learning and artificial intelligence to support the development of intelligent applications.

Rebecca, what led you to Red Hat?

I started my journey as an undergraduate at Newcastle University, doing computing science. I then went on to complete a PhD in scalable geospatial Twitter analysis. This gave me the skills and the confidence to enter a career in tech.

I joined a start-up which helped young people make better career decisions using a data analytics platform. This allowed me to make a positive impact on young people in the North East of England and involved me attending STEM events to help support more women in tech.

I then moved to a Java EE company for housing, followed by Red Hat. Red Hat has given me a chance to improve my data science skills and work on projects that I feel passionate about. I am now hoping to shift from my contributor role into management to help and support young people looking to build careers in tech. 

Why a career in technology?

I had an inspirational IT teacher in secondary school who gave me the confidence and drive to reach for the stars and achieve my goals. From there, I decided that I wanted to pursue a BSC in computing science.

It felt daunting at the time; not only was I one of the only females in the course, but I had also never programmed in the course’s chosen language before. This experience truly helped me build strength; with the driving force being a career in technology. 

Was it an easy topic to study at university?

Enrolling into university was a daunting experience. I was one of three female students in my year. At first, it was a challenge to get to know the other students and build relationships; however, by graduation, I had made many lifelong friends, which was a wonderful reward. 

What, as a woman, has challenged you the most in your tech career?

Having to prove myself within the sector has been a huge challenge to overcome and accept.

I feel that I have to make an impression when meeting someone for the first time because there’s a certain stigma associated with being a female in tech.

I constantly feel like I have to prove that I know as much as a male counterpart. I have also found the stereotype of “a ditzy blonde” hard to overcome as this is ingrained in people’s minds. However, having said this, it made me want to try even harder and support fighting these stereotypes.

Who have been your biggest supporters?

I have always been very lucky to receive support from family and friends, especially my parents and sister who helped fund me through university as well as always giving me the drive to reach for the stars.

My grandma is my role model. She tirelessly fought for more equality in the places she worked. She inspired me to have drive and ambition and most importantly, that gender is not a flaw or something that should hold me back. 

What does inclusion mean to you?

It means being able to be who you are without having to worry about what other people may think. This applies not only to gender and women in tech but of course to all other sectors and minorities in the world. 

How does Red Hat encourage young girls into STEM?

At Red Hat, we are run different STEM initiatives aiming to excite young people about computer science. For example, our CO.LAB groups introduce middle school girls to principles of open source technologies, showing them how interesting working in IT can be.

I am also part of a school event for children in the northeast called ‘Bring it on’. If companies could take more of a leading role and help educate children and parents into STEM, it would help build a more inclusive future.

What advice would you give male colleagues to make women feel more comfortable in tech?

I would tell them not to feel apprehensive or worried about talking to us – about work or even personal things. After all, we are all the same. Giving equality a chance means having the courage to talk to each other and talk about the ideas we have. 

What are you doing to encourage more girls into STEM?

I am representing Red Hat at an event called ‘Bring it on’ North East, encouraging young people to enter tech careers by showing them fun and interactive activities. I am also a STEM ambassador, helping children to feel more enthusiastic about science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
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