Mature student Lea-Anna hopes her blog will prove that anyone, from any background, with any type of experience can succeed and strive in the technology industry
Lea-Anna Gaffney is a past pupil of Presentation Secondary School in Clonmel. She is a graduate of Higher Certificate in Culinary Arts and returned to WIT as a mature student to study BSc in Information Technology and is now finished her third year.
I returned to college when I was 27 to study computing. I was good with technology but I had very little experience and hadn't even written a line of code before I started my course, so it was a big step into the unknown for me. I knew that the content would be taught from the very beginning so I wasn't too worried about that, but I hadn't a clue what area I wanted to focus on and found it tough choosing a computing course.
I went with the BSc in Information Technology as it is very broad and doesn't focus on one particular area, and it is also only a three year course with the optional fourth year. I never realised how under-represented women are in the tech industry until I started college and I wanted to try and help combat this.
When I thought about what I would liked to have known or had access to when deciding on my career path, I had the idea to start a blog. I created a blog called Have a Cuppa Tech with my aim being to motivate and inspire young girls and women interested in technology. There are student stories on there where they talk about if they were interested in technology growing up, why they chose the course they did and how they are finding college. There are also professional stories on there where women talk about how they ended up in their current role, what kind of qualifications they have and how they find working in the tech industry.
If you are undecided about choosing a career in computing and are not sure if you would be able for it, I highly recommend you have a read of some of the stories. They are all so different and proves that you don't have to have loved computers from a young age, and that there is more to the tech industry than programming and writing code all day.
Women in technology
The more traction and feedback that I got from the blog, the more I realised that young girls need to hear this in person. Thanks to the efforts of another fellow student, Laura Hennessy, we both got the opportunity to speak to girls in secondary schools about women in technology and were able to get the point across that computing is just as achievable for girls as it for boys which was amazing. We both also set up a Women in STEM society which gives women who may be the only girl in their course the chance to meet other women with similar interests.
All computing courses also give you the opportunity to go on work placement and I was lucky enough to be offered an internship with Red Hat. It was an incredible experience and I wrote a blog post every month which I urge you to read.
What attracted you to study at Waterford Institute of Technology?
I had completed the Higher Certificate in Culinary Arts in WIT prior to me choosing to study the BSc in Information Technology, so I was familiar with the college already and when I decided to return to college again, WIT was my first choice.
I live in Clonmel, so the location is also perfect for me and doesn't require me to have to move to Waterford as I can drive every day.
What have you done in life prior to studying here?
I have a very varied work history and have worked in many different industries. When I left school I had no clue what I wanted to do. I worked in a supermarket for a while and I then worked in a factory for five years.
It was in this role that I decided to return to education. I was very interested in becoming a chef, so I studied the Higher Certificate in Culinary Arts. I graduated from this in 2015 and then worked as a chef for 2 years until I decided that it was no longer for me. I started working in retail and then returned to college again in 2017 to study the BSc in Information Technology.
What words of advice do you have for new students?
If you are unsure of what you want to do or if you even want to go to college, don't panic or let it stress you out. You are not alone. I felt this way for a long time and have only recently discovered what I want to do, it only took me over 12 years to figure out!
My advice is to go to the college Open Days or even reach out to course leaders, you will find all of their emails on the WIT website, and ask questions! They are more than happy to help and offer advice.
Also remember that if you choose a course and you don't end up enjoying it, there are options there in the beginning which allow you to change course, so it is not the end of the world if you end up choosing a course that you don't like.
Starting college can be a daunting time, whether you are fresh out of school or are an adult returning to education. The main advice I can offer you is to attend everything.
Computing courses in particular are very practical based and if you are not there, you will fall behind very quickly. Getting a grasp of the fundamentals is really important and everything you learn will be based on these fundamentals.
Attending all classes and really making it your mission to understand and grasp what you are doing will make life so much easier for you as your course progresses, and is something that any student who didn't attend classes in their first year will tell you.
What have been the highlights of your college experience?
I have had so many highlights in college. I really put the effort in to try and do the best I could and to see my grades and the opportunities that have come about because of that has been amazing. Yes the study and exams are hard and tiring, but the feeling you get when you achieve the grades that you aimed for is so worthwhile.
Also, to have been asked to speak to students on multiple occasions about women in technology and my own personal journey, and to be recognised for my efforts, has been extremely rewarding. I feel like I have made an impression and have been a small source of inspiration for others and I honestly can't describe how that feels.
My internship in Red Hat as part of my college work placement was also another major highlight. To be honest, my entire college journey has been fantastic and has really just been one big highlight for me.
How else did you add to your college experience?
Getting involved in activities outside of college is of huge benefit. Yes your grades are very important, but it is what you get involved in outside of what you are required to do that gets you noticed by employers.
Myself and a fellow student, Laura Hennessy, held coffee mornings for women in technology in second year and set up the Women in STEM Society in third year and it really helped us to network with other female students and it was a great conversation topic in interviews also.
I completed a 6 month internship in Red Hat for my work placement and it completely changed my mind-set around careers in computing. I witnessed all of the possible career paths that I could take and I learned so much that you just cannot experience in college.
Going out of my comfort zone and speaking in public in front of secondary school students really helped with my confidence also and made any presentations that needed to be done as part of my course a lot easier.
What motivated you to return to education as a mature student?
My biggest motivation in returning to college was that I wanted a career. I wanted a job that when someone asked me what I worked at, I would be proud to tell them. As a mature student I had a different set of priorities than what younger people would have. I wanted a secure, well-paying job with good working hours and benefits that would allow me to buy my own house and have a nice car.
A career in the tech sector ticked a lot of those boxes for me, and I knew it would be something that I would enjoy too. I knew I would need a degree to be able to achieve this, which is what gave me the push to return to college.