Friday, 7 April 2017

Women in Technology at IBM

Fiona Lambert, SELA Cohort 2016

Leaving Sheffield Hallam University at 6am on Thursday 16th March 2017, 19 students from both Sheffield Hallam and University of Sheffield departed for the long journey south to the IBM Headquarters at Hursley, near Winchester. I was lucky to be one of two SELA members joining the trip. On arrival, we were greeted by Emma and Waleed, who were graduates of Sheffield Hallam and the University of Sheffield respectively. They gave us a warm welcome and a quick introduction before going for lunch. After lunch, we had a talk from a Senior Software Engineer and Master Inventor, followed by a series of 5-minute lightning talks from female interns and graduates in Technology, Design, Offering Management, Sales and another Master Inventor. These talks were especially inspiring and empowering as all the speakers emphasised the excellent work-life balance that IBM can provide with flexible working hours and you can still have time for a family and a successful career, something I would want. The talks also helped me improve my personal vision and being able to see some of their career goals has encouraged me in setting my own targets for the future. Many of the speakers also talked about their self-awareness and that whilst working for IBM, there are plenty of opportunities to improve learning by attending extra-curricular activities and setting up their own events, such as being part of a mentoring scheme.

These talks were then followed by a short networking session, this was a great chance to ask the current graduates about their experiences and their recruitment process from assessment centres to the interview stages as well as finding out a bit more about their specific roles within IBM. This networking session provided me with the perfect opportunity to practice some of the skills and tips I had learnt from a previous SELA networking workshop with Will Kintish, a professional speaker and business networker. My top tips to have a positive networking experience are: 
  • Be yourself – networking is all about building relationships so you want to get across who you are and your personality from the beginning.
  • Ask questions – show an interest in what the person does/who they are, where they come from and try to find a common interest that drive the conversation without either party having to think too much. 
  • Smile – smiling goes hand in hand with open body language, it is an easy way to show you are friendly, approachable and eager to listen. 
  • Follow up – what was the point in engaging and starting to build a relationship with someone if you don’t continue the conversation at a later date? Ask your conversation partner the best way to stay in touch and try to make contact within 48 hours of the event, to show you are interested.
Once I got home from IBM I logged straight onto LinkedIn and connected with someone who I had spoken to during this session.

A tour around some of the facilities at Hursley included a thorough guide through the Emerging Technology lab where the work is very fast paced and the technology is built in a few days to produce prototypes of new ideas that can be shown to clients. Here I had the opportunity to try out a Virtual Reality headset which was set in the International Space Station. My experience was both surreal and incredible and I was able to guide myself through the space station and out of a hatch to just float in space, looking down on Earth and looking back at NASA’s Space Station. The tour also included a quick look around Hursley House with a lovely walk around the grounds and mature woodland area.

Once we returned to the classroom we could have our CVs checked, here we received some useful feedback from people who know what they are looking for and gave us some insightful tips on how to improve our CVs before applying to jobs.

That evening a group of us ventured into Southampton and enjoyed an evening meal at a pizzeria.

The next day we returned to IBM ready to take part in a mock assessment centre. This was a useful experience as most companies now use assessment centres as part of their recruitment process and IBM is no different. It was great to take part in one in slightly relaxed conditions, but it still got us to think and work efficiently as a team to solve a problem. Then we were introduced to a technology called Node-RED which is used for programming and got to have a go, spending the remainder of the morning learning how to use the software and producing some nodes that could then be accessed through a URL link and tested to see if they could recognise a foreign language. This was great fun and left me with a yearning to find out more and complete another two labs at home! We had lunch and then departed for Sheffield having had an excellent visit to IBM. Thank you IBM, the visit was an extremely valuable and unique experience for me; I’ve made some new friends, worked with other students from Sheffield Hallam University, gained some contacts at IBM and had a memorable and thought provoking time over a busy two days.

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