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Eileen Brown is CEO of Amastra Ltd and a former Microsoft Evangelist. You can follow her on Twitter @eileenb.
What does a typical day involve for you? I do a lot of remote work for clients around the world so I don’t have a typical 9-5 day. The first thing I do each day is check my social media profiles, update them where necessary and respond to any comments on my blog and Twitter that have arrived overnight. Then, depending on whether I’m doing networking, presales, proposal negotiation, funded client work or Administration, I’ll mould my day around the specific clients I’m working with.
Why did you go into technology? I’ve been fascinated by the way things work since I was at sea (I was a Deck Officer in the Merchant Navy working for Shell Tankers after I left school). Working out how to solve problems using technology has always been more of a hobby and a passion than a job. Talking to people, helping them get the best out of what they have, and enthusing about the possibilities for them has always been the forefront of every conversation I’ve had with customers, connections and friends.
Can you give me a brief career history? I spent ten years in the Merchant navy as a Navigating Officer, 6 years as a container ship planner, managing a fleet of ships on the round the world service. I discovered PCs in 1992, moved into IT, technical IT infrastructure, deploying MS Mail on Windows 95. I moved into technical training, teaching students about the Microsoft Back Office suite of products and then onto consultancy. I then worked for Microsoft for eight years, initially in enterprise presales, latterly in evangelism before leaving to start my own company specialising in using social media to effectively connect with your customers to extend your online brand
What do you love about your job? I love to talk to customers and help them realise the value of using the tools they already have, and the opportunity for them to reach new markets in ways they hadn’t considered before. Social media gives small companies the chance to have global reach, customer engagement and an interactive digital presence, which they didn’t have before web 2.0.
What challenges does your job involve? There are far too few technical women in our industry, and the numbers seem to be in decline, as more women make the move from technology to management in order to break through the glass ceiling and advance in their career. Women use technology as a tool in their careers and often don’t take advantage of opportunities presented to them.
Have you come across any problems or challenges that relate to you being a woman in a male-dominated environment? How have you dealt with them?
Well that question made me smile. I was a female cadet at Shell Tankers – a rare thing in the 1970s, so I had huge challenges overcoming the attitudes in an extremely male dominated environment. Back then, I believed that behaving like a bloke would get me acceptance, so I drank, smoked and swore with the rest of them – well I was usually dressed in a boilersuit, safefy shoes and hard hat and I assumed that this behaviour was the “right way”. Of course, in hindsight, I realised that when I got my officers stripes I was instantly accepted as being able to do the job – so it’s credibility, qualifications and skill in the job that gets acceptance, not laddish behaviour – something that I’ve held true ever since.
Do you have any opinion on the overall “women in IT” debate? Lots and lots. This starts pre-school where mothers discourage children from perusing “boys” activities. This carries on throughout school with peer pressure to be accepted as ‘normal’ and by the time that the girl is ready to face the workplace, she is conditioned to believe that IT is geeky and for boys. But there is hope though. After a successful career at sea, I discovered IT in my early 30’s. The key to helping women in IT is to help them believe in themselves.
If there was one thing you could do to change the situation for women in the technology workplace, or to get more of them involved, what would it be?
Smash the glass ceiling. Force companies to offer easier access to guilt free remote working and flexible hours so we don’t lose female talent after they’ve had children. Prevent women who have ‘sacrificed’ the opportunity to have children, from resenting women who have made that decision and preventing their career progress.
Would you encourage others to go into your industry or specific job, and what advice would you give them? I would encourage any woman to believe in themselves and strive to succeed in IT. With the right encouragement, mentoring, confidence and support, we can, together, reverse this decline.