20 Jun 2019

Letter to My Teenage Self: Karen


We’ve asked womxn in STEM to write a letter to their younger self to see what advice they would give. Today’s letter comes from Karen Senior who works at HPE.

Dear Teenage Karen,

Do not be afraid. Repeat DO NOT BE AFRAID. It will all work out. Your personality, drive, problem-solving and mainly mathematical ability will carry you through the IT world without you needing to worry.

Spreadsheets are boring, but never underestimate the power of being to manipulate a spreadsheet well (it will make you a goddess). Take extra courses (free, online) and get really good at that stuff as it will help you immeasurably.

Letter To My Teenage Self: Karen - spreadsheet queen gif | Stemettes Zine

Whilst you are teenage you don’t know where life will lead you – you cannot begin to guess. You are good at Science. You like Biology and Statistics and will struggle through Chemistry & Pure Maths. It doesn´t matter, what you have will be more than enough for a successful IT business career.

All that stuff that you don’t understand in A-level, just do what you have to do to get the piece of paper. Hanging out with your boyfriend is technically not a way to study Maths, by the way. You will pass, a nice regular C grade (that was okay back in 1991) but you will not set the world on fire with either your Scientific or Mathematical brilliance. What you will learn on the way through is that you are really good at understanding complex models in Science and then explaining them really simply for everyone else. This will become your core skill in the world of IT & will make you loads of money. You could be a teacher… or you could join the Tech companies and earn loads of cash. You will still be educating people in tricky stuff but without them throwing things at your head – you will get less holiday though.

Letter To My Teenage Self: Karen - money gif | Stemettes Zine

Seize each opportunity if you are able to do so – there are so many possibilities available when you are young, mobile & without kids. Use that time to have a blast. Travel. Go to conferences. Be bold with your employer about what you want to do & what you want to learn next. As you will later discover almost all companies have schemes for personal development which almost no employee utilizes (especially no woman). Most big corporates have passed the buck to the employee in the name of cost-saving – this is a typical sentence to help you recognize it “we have empowered our employees to determine their own personal development path”. Let me translate it for you… it means the following:

  • We need to have a development path because we are a big corporation
  • We let everyone decide what they want to do because 90% of the workforce won’t do it & we won’t need to spend any cash
  • We will proactively support the ladies because then we can show that not only are we investing in people but we are investing in GIRLS & then we will write about it a lot to make our company look better

Girl – you are SILLY if you don’t use this opportunity. The money is there, your manager doesn’t care – but you can do a lot if you just step up & use the resources. Be selfish in bettering yourself at someone else’s expense.

Know that there are snakes everywhere. As a successful woman, you will laugh at the “Wolf of Wall Street” because all of that exists in the IT industry. You will be propositioned, empowered, demeaned, treated like a secretary, asked to get coffee, been one of the boys, not been one of the golfers, treated like a lover, a sister & a mother more times than you can guess. Take it in your stride – it is part of life. You don’t have to like it, but don’t let it become your only driver. Know when to make enemies & when to do the right thing. Sometimes DON’T press SEND on the email.

Letter To My Teenage Self: Karen - typing gif | Stemettes Zine

Trust your reasoning. You are able to make complex and smart decisions. You need to just make them & stand by them.

Reach out through the Women’s networks and find inspiring and strong women who you can learn from. They have experience that they will gladly pass on. All successful women that I know now believe in the sisterhood and we support young women in this tricky industry as often as possible. Look at W.I.N. Women´s International Networking. It will help you break free of the Island mentality and grow in unexpected directions. Work on your networking every couple of months, stay in touch, post articles, discover new stuff. That way you will probably find your next job. People like people who collaborate easily, they hate energy vampires, really really try not to be one of these. Word to the wise, if you find yourself working with an energy vampire, try to find out why they are so negative. There is surely something in their life going wrong, everyone has challenges through life, so try to be kind. Your kindness will be repaid back to you, at least it always has been in my lifetime. If you become an energy vampire yourself then something is seriously wrong – change it. It won’t improve the longer you procrastinate over it, so just be brave, you have nothing to lose. No one will put a spell on you for changing stuff.

Be adaptable. Try to manage change well. Everyone loves an early adopter, so read about change management and apply it to yourself. Be a leader, not an anchor.

Don’t forget yourself. It’s hard when you work in a cubicle to remember that you love rock pooling on the beach, discovering nature, running experiments, being outdoors. Make time for yourself to reclaim your true loves even when work leads you further into corporate life.

Beige buildings, cubicles, beige hotels, travel (but only to & from the office) – try to make time within your schedule for the discovery of something new, a new perspective, a rewarding conversation, bird watch on the way to work.

Get Insight Timer – Meditation will help you manage the ridiculous stress within the industry, it will help you more than you know.

Women easily forget themselves between work, relationships, kids, deadlines – take care of yourself. You are precious. You will go far. The IT industry is gasping for women like you. I am proud of you already.

This is part of our ‘Letters to my Teenage Self’ series and has been written by Karen Senior who works at HPE.

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