Angela Cullen discusses being told she wasn't good enough to make it in coding, how this inspired her to prove every employer wrong and how male dominated companies failed to instil loyalty in her career.

Name, Job Title 

Angela Cullen, UI Developer

Where do you work now and what is your job title?

I work as a UI Developer at SThree, in the Online Delivery Team.

What did you study at university?

Teesside University - 1st Class BA(Hons) Digital Character Animation (I specialised in Flash and ActionScript)

Did you have to complete any training or attain specialised qualifications to get into your field?

No, but being able to demonstrate skill and understanding in specific platforms / coding languages relevant to the job is always vital. A lot of companies want to see competence and skill without necessarily requiring a specific qualification, though there are exceptions.

What was your first job?

I got a job working for a graduate start-up straight out of university. I was hired to work on a specific project making an interactive CD-Rom for primary school children. At the time I was specialising in Flash animation. It was a very tough but rewarding creative challenge; I managed to single-handedly produce over 30 minutes of animation in under three months.

Was it hard getting a technical job being a female?

It was certainly very tough early on in my educational career. The science and maths A level classes at my sixth form felt like a 'boys club' which wasn't tackled by the teachers or school administration of the time. I was too intimidated to take Maths A level and I quit physics after the first year. At university I had a very hard time dealing with my male peers - despite having a passionate enthusiasm for all things code-related I was frequently told that programming was 'too hard' for me and that I should 'stick to the easy stuff like design'. Notably these attitudes were not so much expressed by lecturers, but by the male students with whom I would be competing for future jobs!

Completing my education surrounded by such a negative peer group had a strong impact on my confidence and self-esteem, which I carried with me into my professional career. It was only after my second or third job that I started to realise that the negative attitudes I learned from university were creating a vicious circle - I had been repeatedly told I was inferior as a programmer, so I believed I was inferior, which in turn led me to be overly self-deprecating in the workplace and afraid to speak up or put forward ideas. Unlearning this self-defeating thought process is what enabled me to step up and be confident in myself and my own abilities. You can't go anywhere without ambition, and you can't have ambition without confidence.

How did you work your way up the career ladder?

In my early jobs I found there was no 'ladder' - I started my career just as the economic downturn kicked in back in early 2009. I found that this increased the number of workplaces wanting to hire graduates for junior positions and low pay, but without any prospect of moving into more senior positions or earning a pay rise. In response to this I made sure to keep my head down and learn as much as I could from each job. As soon as I felt my CV and experience was strong enough, I would look for a new role with higher pay and better prospects. This has worked much better for me than staying in one place and hoping for a promotion, as I now have a much broader range of experience. I am also very at ease with interview situations!

What advice do you have for an aspiring UI Developer?

Aim to have a realistic awareness of challenging attitudes you might face in your career, but be optimistic and take a positive and proactive approach to new roles. Be confident in yourself and your abilities - don't be overly apologetic or defensive. Be the kind of team player you would want to work with.

What would you do differently knowing what you know now?

I would take Physics and Maths A levels and refuse to quit. I would pursue a BSc instead of a BA, but only at a university that also offered life drawing classes, as I believe that having a high standard of draftsmanship is one of the most valuable skills anyone in a creative field can have, even if 'drawing' isn't a primary requirement of your job. I wouldn't change very much about my post-university career.

In your career, as a female, have you felt that your career opportunities have been limited?

I think it would be reasonable to say that the systemic ignorance and discrimination existing in the education system at the time I was in school had an impact on my career ambitions - I was encouraged early on to aim low and stick to 'easy' subjects, instead of challenging myself. However, as an adult in the workplace I have found these attitudes to be much more rare, and the people who still retain these attitudes are fast becoming the minority.

Where will you go from here?

I want to stay with SThree! This is a great company to work for and I have a lot to bring to the table. I'm hoping to get involved with educational projects and help students make informed choices about their future careers.