I’m a girl, I’m a geek and that’s ok

I’ve decided to write this blog because, for a number of reasons I feel more responsibility to try and inspire the next generation of girl geeks, and to be perfectly honest, after recent events stand up for women in general because we rock! And no one, no matter how powerful they are, or how much money they have has the right to tell us otherwise!  So this is my story…

Where I started

I haven’t always been a geek.  In fact as a child I didn’t really have much interest in school, I went because I had to and didn’t know any better, I was much happier at home playing.  Like some children I imagine, my school reports normally stated:

“Chantele could do better if she applied herself more…”

“Chantele talks too much in class and is easily distracted…”

I even have one very strong memory of primary school teacher telling me I’d never make anything of myself! My SATs (exams taken by 11 year olds in English primary schools) were distinctly average, and to be perfectly honest my reading level wasn’t great for my age and I couldn’t tell the time.  So yeah I didn’t have the academic signs of someone who now writes computer software for a living!

However, I’d always had an interest in technology and the way things worked.  Christmas gift must haves were a Gameboy Colour and my first ever computer an Amiga 1200!  – So retro and I would give anything to still have them now, but this was by no means a sign of things to come.

Starting to grow up

When I moved up to secondary school something must have happened that summer, because (as one of my amazing learning mentors likes to remind me) I was a very quiet well behaved student, who just kept my head down and got on with my work.  Such that, having started of in “middle of the road” sets for my ability, I soon moved up to the top sets and realized I actually quite liked learning.

That doesn’t mean secondary school was easy.  Even though I was finally getting to grips with the academic stuff, it was the bullying that was an issue in secondary school.  As you can probably imagine the slightly fat kid, who wore glasses and was called the “boff” became an easy target for bullies, not that I ever really told anyone.  Over the course of my secondary school life I was, threatened, hit, had chairs and books thrown at me, and many other things.

Really none of the bullying mattered, because it was here where I was exposed to strong female role models outside of my immediate family, who made me see I could be anything thing I wanted to be.  What I wanted to be was better than the people who bullied me and when I was 13/14, school took a group of us to some Universities, one of which was Durham.  At the time I didn’t know what subject I was going to take, but I knew that was the place I was going to take it!

However, this bullying was one of the reason I become so interested in IT, as my awesome form tutor and IT teacher (Miss Randall) would let my friends and I hangout in the computer room at breaks.  So when it was time to pick subject options IT was on the list, along with history and french.  I ended up in 17 IT lessons a week! and on a path to 13 GCSEs.



So exam time came and I cannot remember how many exams I took but it was a lot!  and I had to make a lot of sacrifices to be ready.  I stopped all out of school social activities, at the time I did karate and drama, but I put a stop to it and basically became a recluse in order to revise.  Which led to a fair few arguments with my parents when I wanted to miss family dinners :/ but these were my choices and I don’t regret them.  Sometimes you have to work hard and sacrifice things to do well.

Taking it seriously

So my GCSEs were over, and now i’m at 6th form college studying A-Levels in Computing, IT, English and Law.  Whilst the three on that list were seemingly normal subjects, Computing not so much.  IT was my first stint in to real programming and I loved it!  However, I was the only girl in the class!  This didn’t really bother me that much, but made me see that I was going in to something that was predominantly a male career.

I did have reservations about this, but thought why should I let this stop me!  Especially when I was doing better than some of the boys! If women don’t put themselves forward and fight for change nothing will ever change!

Unfortunately something else happened whilst I was at sixth form.  After my first year, my AS-Level results were no where near good enough to meet Durham requirements.  They’d taken a colossal nose dive!  In order to fix this, the only thing I could think to do was resit every exam.  So at great expense that’s what i did.  I think the resits cost me somewhere in the region of £300.  This was a lot when my job only paid £400 a month!  Not only this I had to beg my tutors to predict me grades that were well above what it looked like i was going to achieve, in order to be accepted into Durham.

So once again I became a recluse, doing nothing but work.  I didn’t feel like I had any other option when the thought of doing 27 exams was just around the corner!  Yeah 27 (All of my A-Level exams and all of my AS-Level exams).  On my final day of exams I have 5 on the same day, and by my final 2 exams I was the last person in the exam hall all on my own with the invigilators, but I didn’t care.  I was doing what needed to be done.

Happy Ending??

Well you may or may not be pleased to know that I made it to Durham, on a Software Engineering degree, and for three years I was one of only three girls and 60+ boys. During that time I had my up’s and downs but I graduated with honors.  I have since done an MSc in Enterprise Systems and I’m now and ICT Technical Specialist at Barnsley MBC.  Also I’ve just spoken at a conference on the work I’m doing at Barnsley and hope to speak at more in future.

Women and girls of the world. We have the power to do anything, but as you can see from my story it may not easy or straight forward and we may come up against obstacles and challenges, but don’t let that stop you achieving your goals!  For every person trying to knock you down, there is an army waiting to you get back up!

My name is Chantele Smith, I’m a Girl, I’m Geek and that’s fucking awesome!

Update 08/03/2017 : I am now and ICT Manager, with 9 staff underneath me who support two major systems in the Council.  Not bad for a 28 year old female 🙂 Happy International Women’s Day!


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