Womens Engineering Society: Inspiring women as engineers, scientists and technical leaders

Role Models

Beth Hutchinson

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Beth Hutchinson

Awards: WES - Karen Burt 2001; FBCS


Beth has worked in IT for 27 years. Although she took a 1-year computing option at University, she did not intend to take it up as a career. However, when she was analysing the results of her PhD experiments, she realised that the computing part of it was much more interesting than the physics!

All the jobs Beth has had were in computing, though the first few were also science-related: analysing data at the European Space Agency centre in Germany, and working at the Atomic Research Authority.

She started off contracting, then chose to settle down, working for a computer-aided architecture company, writing the programs used to design Milton Keynes District Hospital, amongst others.

In parallel, her husband and she founded their own small company, manufacturing disk drives for Apple computers, and after 4 years it was stable enough for her to join him full-time. She was immediately promoted to Software Director and started worrying about independent test teams, and library systems, as well as continuing to write code. She says that it was really hard work, but very rewarding.

After a career break, Beth deliberately chose a large company - IBM - when she went back to work. She wanted to see what was done differently, how to develop software 'properly'. Now she knows - there is no 'silver bullet' - software development everywhere depends on bright people thinking clearly about the design and logic of their programs.

Beth believes that one of the advantages of a large corporation is that you can change job without changing company. She started as a programmer, then moved on to design and team leading. She spent a couple of years as a delivery manager, responsible for getting the product developed, tested, packaged and shipped to customers. She then decided to concentrate on a technical career, and took on responsibility for the performance of Java™ on IBM's platforms, and for re-defining the architecture of the Virtual Machine to work well in very different environments.

In 2002, Beth moved to her current role as a Web Services Architect. Web Services allow businesses to interoperate flexibly across the Internet, through the concepts of Dynamic Discovery and Late Binding. This is an exciting and far-reaching technology, which could become as fundamental to business use of the Internet as browsers are to individuals. As an architect, she is responsible for understanding marketplace requirements, and the technologies and initiatives, and deciding how they can be fitted together into IBM's products. She writes design documents, but no code any more.

Beth really enjoys working with new technologies, keeping up to date with the latest Internet standards, and working with other companies to determine the direction for the next generation of computer systems. Her biggest challenge is both technical and personal - joining a new team, getting up to speed, and contributing at the level she expects of herself. Adjusting her expectations is as important as learning the new subject.

On a daily level, Beth says that the challenge is to know when to stop, when to accept that the e-mail will still be there tomorrow.

She is thoroughly enjoying her career in software engineering, and wants to persuade others, particularly women, that it is a fulfilling and fun career choice. She also wants to ensure that within the profession women have equal opportunities, and equal confidence to make the most of those opportunities.

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