Tech is a sector in which anyone with drive and ability can achieve great things

The Archives of IT oral history interviews have captured the experiences of individuals making their mark on the world of technology from the 1950s to the present day.

Recent research into the archive highlighted that success in IT industries was possible regardless of family or social background, gender or race. Indeed, many have used the barriers they faced as motivation.

Creating opportunity from nothing

“Anybody is able to make a valuable contribution to the UK IT industry irrespective of their wealth and social class.”

Abigail Cox, a second year History student at Swansea University recently used the Archives of IT for her research into the formative years of 20 high achievers in the Tech industries. Listen to the summary here and find out more about it on the Research pages at Archives of IT.

Many of the interviewees in the AIT archive told us about their challenging childhoods and the struggles they and their families faced. For some, their parents and teachers gave up on them offering no encouragement to succeed, others faced growing up in a time of widespread discrimination that made opportunities even harder to find.

The path to success was often not the usual one of privilege and support that so many leaders of industry have. Was this because IT was an emerging sector, open to anyone, and not tied to any traditional models of achievement? Our interviews with current tech leaders suggest the industry still presents opportunities for all.

Sir Kenneth Olisa grew up as the only black child in his Nottingham neighbourhood, in a single parent family dealing with poverty but with an incredibly supportive mother.

In addition to major achievements in the world of IT with IBM and Interregnum, he was the first British-born black man to serve on the Board of a major UK public company with Reuters. He was appointed OBE in 2010, became the first black Lord-Lieutenant of Greater London in 2015, and was appointed Knight Bachelor in 2018.

Dr Steve Garnett was the youngest of 4 children. His mother was a cleaner, and his father a docker who sadly died when Steve was only 8 years old.

Steve joined Logica in 1983, and progressed to Oracle (at that time headed by Geoff Squire), Siebel Systems and then Salesforce, retiring from his position as Chairman, EMEA in 2016, having helped to make them the fastest growing Enterprise Software company ever.

Jacqueline de Rojas faced many challenges in her childhood, running away from a violent father at age 8, and then struggling with a step-father who was envious of her academic achievements. Jacqueline used these formative experiences as opportunities to become the “best version of myself” and a driver to succeed.

David Barker left school after his GCSEs to do a YTS apprenticeship, knowing that he wanted a career in technology. His careers teacher discouraged him, suggesting that “because of your background and where you’re from” he should limit his aspirations if he wasn’t going to university.

David says “I know from my own experience of being in the technology industry that you don’t actually need to have academic qualifications to be amazing… but I know that through wisdom, through experience. Back at sixteen, I just felt, I’m still going to try because it’s what I really want to do, on a belief I can find a way, not that I know I can.”

Lisa Goodchild, Co-Founder of Digilearning, used her ‘chaotic’ upbringing to motivate her and believes the experience of growing up in a difficult environment taught her many skills that have been an advantage in the world of tech and business.

Find YOUR opportunity

Did you know?

Tech leadership is highly international.

TechNation reported that 18% of tech directors are of non-British nationality, compared to 13% in all other sectors, and 13.8% in the UK population as a whole. The 2021 TechNation Reportfound that “tech has a marginally higher proportion of BAME people than the labour market as a whole, 11.8% for all occupations, and 15.2% for tech.”

Iain Compton, Lead Systems Designer at Jagex, talks about the importance of representation and diversity in the gaming industry and the benefits this brings for more interesting and diverse games.

On the other hand …

Gender diversity in the industry is lower than throughout the rest of the UK workforce. The BCS Diversity Report of 2020 stated that women accounted for 50% of the working age population in 2019 (aged 16-64), but that the 249,000 female IT specialists in the UK workforce only accounted for 17% of the industry at that time.

But Many of our industry leaders are women – see how they have done it and overcome the obstacles along the way…

Professor Danielle George, past president of the Institute of Engineering and Technology (the second woman to hold the post), recalls how she tackled gender bias early in her career as an engineer.

Dame Wendy Hall faced sexism when starting out in her career but she rose above it to become the University of Southampton’s first female professor of engineering, and President of the BCS, among many other great successes.

Her advice for anyone considering tech as a career is:

“This is the future, and this is where the top rank, top paying careers are going to be in the future. And you can change the world by being an engineer. So, you know, get involved!”

Andy Ayim grew up in Tottenham, North London, with his Ghanaian parents and two brothers. The entrepreneurship he saw in his family and community was a big inspiration for him. He set up the music platform Mixtape Madness with some friends and this kick started his passion for building technology, product management and venture capitalism.

Andy created The Angel Investing School (AIS) to teach professionals from all backgrounds how to start investing in startups. He aims to democratise access to opportunity so that more women and people of colour invest in the world’s leading startups and technology becomes more representative of society.

Stephanie Bazeley studied computer games at Abertay University and found herself working with a group of students who had a great idea for their practical project. Rather than going to work for established games companies after graduating, their decided to stay together and start their own business Team Junkfish.

See how people like you have succeeded in different areas of Tech – HERE

Be inspired through our collection of the incredible stories of UK technology from the pioneers who built the industry, to the present day role models who champion diversity and representation in the sector, encouraging success for all.