#IWD2021 Interview: Cerys May, Cyber Security Intern
What’s it like to be a female in Computer Science?
I’m the only girl in my computing class at school. It’s a fairly common statement across the country, where these ridiculously skewed gender balances are the norm and classes with two girls, one girl or even none are standard. In a class of 30 at GCSE, I was the only girl, and I continue to be the only girl in my A level class.
It’s honestly quite bizarre, in my opinion, as there have been so many incredible schemes aimed at girls across the country in attempts to spark an interest in the subject, and yet there still seems to be a major gender bias in classes. On the other hand, the gender ratios at degree level are better, with recent HESA data showing that roughly 1 in 5 computer science students are female.
In my opinion, one of the main reasons for this could be the depth of the subject advertised to students, with the different modules and options at the forefront of the decision making when choosing a course. This isn’t often the case with choosing your GCSE’s in year 9, instead the focus is put on what teachers consider to be the ‘cool’ parts of the course, particularly so with technology heavy subjects such as engineering, IT and computing.
When I was going around, thinking about what to like about each subject, I noticed that the programming and hardware was the main focus of the computing teachers, and seems to be all people expect of the subject. The theoretical side of computing was hardly mentioned at all, and aspects of the course such as cyber and AI were completely ignored, which I believe that, if more the focus, might have interested more girls with more niche hobbies and inspired them to take the course.
I honestly didn’t even really want to do computing at that age, I really wanted to follow in my parents footsteps and do engineering. My mother was a huge inspiration for me at that age, being a female engineer with an incredible ability to push boundaries. However, I ended up taking computer science instead and, looking back on it now, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Why did you choose Cyber Security?
I first really found my niche in cyber when I was lucky enough to attend the cyberfirst defenders course in the summer of 2018. My teacher was the one who pushed me to go in the end, and I’m so glad I did, as it was an unforgettable experience. Having the chance to get some hands-on experience in the many different aspects of cyber was amazing, and it was a major boost of confidence within the subject.
One particular experience on that course which really stood out to me was the open source intelligence exercises – finding one man’s signature from a photo of his car, with only the magical power of Google as a starting point. I just remember getting to the end point and thinking ‘Woah, I did that? I can actually do this?’.
What was also fantastic was the 50:50 gender split and the chance to make friends with other girls with the same interests as me, which 15 year old me was sorely desperate for. That experience was the push I needed, and has kept me fairly confident about doing cyber as a career, especially when faced with particular challenges.
What advice would you give to 14 – 16 year olds?
I believe that finding your niche is a huge part of what choosing a career should be about, particularly at a young age. Looking for the most interesting aspects of a career can be a huge inspiration, and improve your drive for a subject massively, as that want to learn is a major morale boost when faced with certain kinds of animosity.
‘Do what you love’ is often thrown around, especially when picking subjects, but I personally believe that ‘Do what you find interesting’ is more helpful. It can be difficult to find an area of a subject that you enjoy, but there are so many different opportunities and resources to discover that it’s never worth giving up. It can be that someone mentioned something in passing that takes you down a wikipedia rabbit hole, or it could be one of the foundational aspects of a course.
Either way, if you think it’s interesting, you shouldn’t worry about what other people think of what you’re studying, because in the end they aren’t writing your essays for you. I have been told quite a few times that computing is not a great subject for me, or that it’s not a ‘girly’ subject, but I keep going with the knowledge that the subject I’m studying is really, really awesome, and a driving force behind the world’s future.
My only advice to other students trying to muddle through their choices would be to study what you find interesting, and take support where you can get it. People will come to their own conclusions whatever you study, so do what you want, and let people think what they want. Again, in the end it’s your education, so let it be for you, not everyone else.