My senior school had a well stocked computer lab (all BBC Micros) which I think we all had to interact with in our first year at school. The school offered a Computing GCSE, which I did, along with a reasonable number of others, probably 30-40 or so out of a year of 120. I did ok, I got a B. We had a really supportive teacher, who went out of his way to ensure that the girls in the class got as much time on the computers as the boys. My Mum always said she thought he was the biggest influence in my continuing to study computing. He had influenced and encouraged at exactly the right time.
My Sixth form college was brand new when we arrived to do A levels. Again we had a well stocked computer room (all RM Nimbus machines) and after a small fight I was accepted to do Computing A Level (the fight was because the teacher thought I’d be better off to retaking my physics GCSE so that I had a science behind me). Good job I did, it was the one A level I did well in! (The others were Maths and French in case you’re interested)
It’s interesting but looking back I don’t remember quite how much my parents influenced my choices, I suspect quite a bit. I do remember conversations with my Dad telling me that “Computers Are The Future”, and I should continue to learn about them. He supported me all the way on the computing over physics thing. He had watched his industry, he was a tool-maker by trade, start to move towards mechanisation and computerisation. I have in my purse a small flat metal elephant shape that was laser (I guess) cut from a sheet of steel. This was one of the first things they’d cut (I suspect it was a pre-programmed shape that they were using for training) and he brought it home to show me and to explain how hard it would have been to achieve that clean a cut on such a thin piece of steel using traditional methods. He saw this as proof that computers were going to be powerful, and that I should at least consider it in whatever I chose to do.
When it came to choosing universities, I decided to focus on Maths, as I really liked maths, even though I was struggling a bit. When A level results came through, it was pretty clear that my maths just wasn’t that strong, but my computing wasn’t so bad. My first choice University, Newcastle Upon Tyne, rang up and asked if I’d consider doing a Computing Science degree. Mum and I headed off up there to take a look, met some of the teaching staff (who were just like you’d expect Computer Science professors to look like), liked the City a lot, and so I decided to do it.
In our first year, we did part of the Year 1 maths curriculum anyway, and at the end of year one, notionally, I had the option to switch. But, by this point, I’d been left far behind, and had discovered that I could hold my own in this computing thing. Some of the courses I chose in my 2nd and 3rd years were fascinating and have truly stood me in good stead (I only recently realised that my default position of trying to building reliable systems, or at least those that are reliable enough to tell me when they’ve got problems, probably stems from a module on Reliability and Fault tolerance which was taught excellently by Professor Pete Lee), others were badly taught and/or dull (and I technically failed the exam in the Operating Systems module). It wasn’t all amazingly inspirational stuff. But it was enough. It caught my interest and showed the variety of areas that, notionally at least, I could become involved with.
So, I didn’t set out to become a developer, or necessarily to “work with computers” (which is how my parents used to explain what I did). It just kind of happened. I’m glad it did.