Top women in tech 2023: Lauren Lawson
Third up for Holyrood’s top women in tech profiles is software engineer Lauren Lawson, who recently won the Young Tech Champion of the Year Award at the SWiT (Scottish Women in Technology) awards.
Looking to become a future women leader in the industry, she was commended by the judges for her mentoring of school pupils and being a STEM ambassador. She was also given plaudits for her work in creating maths resources for schools to encourage STEM learning.
A software engineer at Leidos, Lawson says her passion for computer science was sparked by playing video games with her older brother and a desire to understand how the games and websites were constructed.
What is your first tech-related memory?
I would say my first encounter with technology involved me watching my older brother play video games. So, when I finally got the opportunity to play the games myself, such as Star Wars and the Simpsons games, it really did feel like a lightbulb moment and it really sparked my curiosity of how these sort of games were made.
And when exactly did you decide to get into the sector?
I sort of made that decision when I picked computing science as one of my subjects in high school, because I did want to understand the constructs of video games and websites. So, I would say picking it in school and slowly getting more experience with it was when I really decided I wanted to pursue a career in tech.
Who/what was your biggest influence to come into the sector?
I was fortunate enough to have many influences but I would have to say my mentors during my summer internship at Leidos. They were the ones to introduce me to the graduate apprenticeship program and encouraged me to take the leap and enrol into it.
Having the opportunity to see that and what it entails really inspired me and made me want to pursue tech. Their mentorship was pivotal in shaping my career path in tech, I'd say.
Did you feel as supported as your male colleagues during your academic years to take on opportunities within this sector?
I think throughout my academic journey, from school to college to university and during my time at Leidos, I felt incredibly supported in pursuing opportunities within the tech sector. This support wasn't limited by my gender but based on my dedication and passion for technology as a whole. I was fortunate enough to be in environments where everyone valued everyone's potential and everyone was encouraged to do different things and take opportunities regardless of gender biases.
And what is a key moment of your career you're most proud?
I'm quite proud of a few things, but I would say being awarded the SWiT Young Tech Champion of the Year Award this year sort of allowed me to reflect on my journey and recognise the extent of my achievements at this early stage of my career.
Have you ever felt you wanted to throw in the towel just because of how competitive the industry can become?
I think it's been okay. As I said, I've been lucky enough to receive consistent support throughout my career, so I personally haven't felt like I've wanted to throw in the towel. However, one thing I have noticed is that when I do mention my job title it sometimes surprises people. And this reaction might stem from the idea that tech careers are primarily for men, but of course that's not accurate. The computing field, the tech field is open to anyone, regardless of gender or any other biases.
What projects are you most interested in at the moment?
I'm really interested in AI projects such as Midjourney and Chat GPT. Midjourney is working on making technology more visual for users, whereas Chat GPT is about improving how we assemble and use that information. Both these projects are pushing the boundaries of AI, and I'm excited to see how it will change the technology that we use.
I actually plan to develop my own self-driving car application using neural networks and machine learning.
What do you think are the biggest challenges the industry is facing right now?
Cybersecurity threats pose ongoing risks in the tech industry, ranging from sophisticated hack attempts to data breaches, as technology integrates deeper into our lives. Ensuring robust measures to safeguard against these threats are crucial.
At the same time, the ethical use of technology is also important, so ensuring that there's a responsible development of AI and data privacy, and the mitigation of biases and algorithms too, I guess making sure that the new techs are fair and doing the right thing.
Do you believe there are certain areas that need to be the focal point of training going forward?
Yes, focused training on cybersecurity – that’s really important for digital threats. Of course, to understand AI and machine learning as a whole and how to ethically use it too.
And additionally, I would say cloud computing training to ensure the efficiency, utilisation and security of cloud services. That's quite a big one.
Do you believe that schools should embed more digital skills into the curriculum?
In the recent years I've observed Scottish schools integrate more digital skills, benefiting young learners. However, keeping up with the rapidly evolving technology in the curriculum is a challenge so I advocate for schools to establish connections with professionals who can provide insights into the latest technologies and their real-world applications to bridge this gap in education.
Do you believe the digital skills gap gender gap is closing?
I would say there's been a noticeable shift in the recent years towards closing the digital skills gender gap. Government and industry efforts have made skills more accessible, offering increased support through mentoring programs like Career Ready, which I went on myself.
The embrace of flexible working options as well, such as hybrid models or remote working, has also played a significant role to help with that gap. So, these steps have collectively narrowed the gap and fostered a more inclusive tech landscape.
It's an encouraging path itself, but of course sustained efforts remain crucial for further progress.
What would you do to raise awareness amongst women that there's opportunities that they can take in the industry?
What I personally do and will continue to do is support outreach programmes targeting schools and communities so collaborating with educational institutes, hosting workshops and participating in panels or fairs aimed at highlighting diverse roles in tech, is always impactful for those who attend, especially for women. Leidos itself is proactive with the STEM programs that reach out to primary and secondary schools, college and universities, and educates the pupils on emerging technologies including space technologies that serve the Nasa space station itself.
What do you think is the impact the digital skills gap may have on the future of the industry?
I'd say as technology continues to advance, any gap could hinder individuals and businesses from fully leveraging the benefits of technologies. It could create disparities in job opportunities, potentially leaving many individuals behind in the rapidly evolving job market. So, closing this gap is crucial to ensure that everyone has the skills needed to thrive in an increasingly digital world and drive that innovation.
What are your long-term plans in the industry?
I think I definitely have a passion for software. I'd really like to continue down that road, learning new technologies and sort of implementing them as well, especially AI, which is quite an interesting area for myself and a lot of people.
I really aim to keep role modelling and trying to inspire anyone into STEM as well, particularly young women.
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