Working in tech gives me an adrenaline rush, it’s addictive
Like many women in tech, Fidema O’Reilly had a roundabout route to the speciality: originally she took a degree in modern history and a higher education teaching qualification. She joined the Department of Health and Social Security (DHSS) as a benefit administration team leader, and later trained as a programmer for one simple reason. “The pay was better,” she said. “up until that point I had never thought of technology as a career.”
Fidema may have joined the profession for financial reasons, but she soon realised she had found her passion. Now a Transition Services Lead at the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), her role involves rolling out new technology across the organisation. “I get to provide colleagues with great new equipment and software that gives a new way of working, at home, in the office and on the move. I love the adrenalin rush of the white heat of delivery and the constant variety of challenges and issues thrown up by such a large and diverse customer base.”
As befits a history graduate, Fidema is thoughtful about the changing role of technology within government: “Originally technology changed people’s working lives for the better by removing mundane and repetitive tasks. It can now do so much more: through big data and modern tooling, we can tailor people’s interaction with and experience of government to their individual needs, taking the stress out of important interactions like applying for your pension, and making it easier for people to register to vote and so on.”
She applies the same analytical thoroughness to considering her thirty years’ experience as a woman in tech. “There weren’t many of us in the beginning and you had to be “one of the boys”. That has changed gradually over time and technology is now a much less macho environment. Women have proved they can code and design and deliver technology just as well as their male colleagues, to the point where I believe gender is no longer an issue. “
She wants to let girls know that, contrary to popular belief, technology is not ‘hard’ – “The image that you have to be really technical isn’t true: a lot of technology roles don’t require a deep understanding of technology”. But the profession does have its challenges. “Don’t go into technology as a career unless you thrive on change, because as a technologist that is your core business,” she says. “If you like challenge, pressure, taking risks and variety it is probably for you. It’s never boring and it’s always creative, irrespective of your role. It is a profession and it has that professional rigour, you need to be prepared to learn your trade and learn from your mistakes. Nothing beats learning on the job. But above all it’s fun!”
Looking to the future, retirement is on Fidema’s horizon, but she hopes to go part time first. “I can’t give this up yet, I’m having too much fun. I have never lost the need to keep on learning new things which my role in technology feeds on a daily basis. I can’t give that up yet – it’s addictive!” she says.