Bethany Probert is a junior software engineer/consultant at Capgemini Engineering, having joined the organisation when it was Altran UK, working in their High Integrity Software Expertise Centre on a graduate apprenticeship scheme. She was one of the finalists in the 2020 Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) Young Woman Engineer of the Year Awards and was also appointed to the WISE Young Professionals Board in 2020. Bethany is also a member of the National Scout Council.
“I stand on the shoulders of all the women who came before me, from Ada Lovelace, recognised as the world’s first computer programmer, right the way through to my female colleagues at work. I think we all have a responsibility to give back to the communities that have supported us so that they continue to support the next generation.”
Dreams can come true
My dream was to be the first person in my family to go to university. It was a dream that seemed like a bit of a stretch from a practical standpoint. I came from a low-income household and was entitled to free school meals, and I didn’t see many people like me getting into university. Even if I could get in, there was always a thought in the back of my mind about whether or not I could afford to go. But my strong sense of ambition and the support of my mum kept me motivated and helped me ignore some of the doubt.
For my A-levels, I was intending on taking maths, further maths, physics and chemistry thinking that this would give me the best chance of securing a place at university to study astrophysics or astronomy. But the week before I started, I switched out chemistry for philosophy! I think it’s important, at any stage in life, to continue exploring your creative side and this is what taking philosophy allowed me to do.
After finishing sixth form, I was fortunate enough to get an offer from the University of Bath to study on their brand new (at the time!) BSc Physics with Astrophysics programme. I’d also been awarded the Lloyds Banking Group Scholarship, which would provide me with job opportunities and financial support during my time at university.
I learned to code for the first time whilst at university. It wasn’t something I thought I would learn, but coding is an important skill to have across a range of subjects. I found that I really enjoyed coding (even during the times when it frustrated me!). I liked that I was building tangible, working software with my own hands and I quickly realised how much potential coding had to impact not just my life but the wider world.
In my final year of university, I decided I wanted to move into software engineering, partially because I wanted to continue to develop exciting software and partially because I knew that developing strong programming skills would be vital if I wanted to work in the space sector one day.
I joined Capgemini Engineering (which was Altran UK at the time) on their graduate apprenticeship scheme after graduating from university in 2019 so that I could retrain and gain new qualifications as a software engineer. I work full time on cutting-edge projects, as well as being given time to dedicate to studying and furthering my education.
A woman of high integrity
I help to develop and test high integrity software, which is software that is built in such a way that we minimise defects and can mathematically prove an absence of run-time errors.
I like to think of it this way: When your computer freezes due to a software issue, a common resolution to the issue is to try turning it off and on again. Whilst this may be inconvenient, it doesn’t cause any major issues. Now imagine you are a pilot and your control and navigation systems freeze. A pilot can’t afford to switch all of the plane’s systems off and on again! This is where I come in. Our software ensures that safety-critical systems are just that: Safe.
In my role, I have led a team of fantastic engineers to test parts of a rail protection system and was responsible for ensuring that the software is functioning correctly and safely. I have also written requirements, and designed a prototype for a cutting-edge system that will be used by software engineers across the country as part of a research consortium.
My job is much more than just coding. I get to lead teams, give presentations to stakeholders, design systems and collaborate with people and companies who are leaders in their fields, all whilst developing software that makes a difference. I couldn’t ask for more!
Adapting to lockdown working
Whilst software engineers tend to spend a lot of time on their computers, we also spend a lot of time in meetings where we problem solve, brainstorm and chat. Software engineering is a job that thrives on collaboration: knowledge sharing, supporting team members, clear and quick communication. So, adjusting from this to working from home wasn’t easy. We were no longer able to throw ideas onto a whiteboard or sit next to someone as we debugged a problem.
Over time, we have adapted to this new way of working. We were set up with tools like Microsoft Teams which have allowed us to share ideas in a new way. Some of my colleagues have invested in standing desks and new monitors to make their new home offices more comfortable, whereas I decided to invest in a new collection of houseplants!
I am still working from home full time one year on from the first lockdown. Despite its challenges, working from home does have some perks – my favourite being that I don’t need to commute! I’ve recently used this extra time to get back into reading in the mornings, and soon I hope to use this time to get back to the gym!
IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year Awards
Being shortlisted for the IET’s 2020 Young Woman Engineer of the Year Awards was such a surreal experience. I was just one year into my engineering career when I applied, so I didn’t think I would get very far when I was competing against incredible women who had spent many years in their respective fields.
I was encouraged to apply by colleagues at work and other members of the WISE Young Professionals’ Board who believed in me and recognised the hard work I’d put into my job and the impact I’d had on those around me. I had never applied for an award before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was fully supported by my manager, friends and family.
It was such an honour to be representing apprentices and women in software engineering as a finalist. It is the highlight of my professional career so far and I would encourage everyone to apply for the 2021 IET YWE Awards. Don’t underestimate yourself or your abilities! Being a talented engineer is not something that is determined by your background, education and amount of experience – it’s all about your mindset, attitude and impact.
The experience is truly one of a kind and it is magical. The opportunities that have come from it, including speaking with Chancellor Rishi Sunak, are ones I would never have dreamed of!
Great to meet the fantastic #IETywe finalists today @ella_podmore, @neerakukadia, @ShroukELA, @beth_probert, @JimenezMelanie_, @denizepilarta_, @YeWanDae and @EngineerDG on #InternationalWomensDay to discuss the work they’re doing to break down stereotypes in STEM. https://t.co/QyXBTs13wI
— Rishi Sunak (@RishiSunak) March 8, 2021
STEM is for everyone: Standing on the shoulders of all the women before me
I stand on the shoulders of all the women who came before me, from Ada Lovelace, recognised as the world’s first computer programmer, right the way through to my female colleagues at work. I think we all have a responsibility to give back to the communities that have supported us so that they continue to support the next generation.
By sharing my story and engaging with the wider STEM community, I hope to show women and girls that STEM is for them, and in fact, that STEM is for everyone. I use my roles in the STEM community to champion and lift up a diverse range of role models, to show women and girls that there are role models who look like them, who share the same dreams as them, who come from a similar background to them.
Through my role on the WISE Young Professionals’ Board, I have helped to established projects such as our #WISEWomen social media campaign which aims to champion the minority women in STEM and their work. I also support WISE’s My Skills My Life scheme as a role model, where I help promote a diverse range of STEM careers to school girls.
I also actively promote STEM careers to members of my Cub pack, doing science experiments with them and talking to them about their ambitions for the future. I even had the opportunity to run some space workshops with NASA scientists at the World Scout Jamboree in the USA in 2019 where I delivered space-related activities to 50,000 scouts from across the world.
Engaging with and inspiring the next generation is vital. The UK is on its way to a digital skills disaster with fewer children taking IT-related courses at school than each year. If we are going to solve global, complex issues in the future, such as dealing with climate change and preparing for future pandemics, we are going to need a strong, empowered STEM workforce to come out of the current generation of school children.
Advice for girls and women interested in careers in tech: Be brave and see what’s out there
There is no ‘right way’ to get started in a career in tech. University is not the only way to go. So, my first piece of advice for girls and women looking to get into a career in tech is: Be brave and see what’s out there! Be open-minded and investigate every possible route that’s available to you, whether that’s a degree, an apprenticeship, an entry-level job, an internship or skills boot camp. All of them are equally respected routes into tech. What matters more than your education and experience is your drive and motivation – that’s something that can’t be taught.
My other piece of advice would be to reach out to people. Sites like LinkedIn can be a great place to start. Reach out to people who work in roles you are interested in and see what you can learn from them. Attend talks they give and build your network – you never know what opportunities will come from people you meet!
Why diverse teams are better at solving complex problems
Sameness breeds more sameness. Teams that lack diversity also lack imagination and innovation. When you work in a diverse team, you have access to many more points of view and ways of thinking which can help you see solutions and problems you may have otherwise missed. In order to remain at the top of your game, you have to evolve and do things differently over time. This comes easier to diverse teams, with a large set of experiences to draw upon, than un-diverse teams with a narrower world view.
Capgemini Engineering aims to remain at the forefront of engineering research and development, and also to continue to deliver innovative products to its customers. I believe diversity is crucial to this. A global business should represent its global customer base across all levels – from the most junior to the most senior members of staff.
Coming up next
I have just entered into a very exciting chapter with Capgemini Engineering. This new brand, which was previously Altran, was launched earlier this month and I’m sure a lot of new opportunities will come from this. 2021 is set to be a big year for us!
You can watch the IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year Awards 2020 ceremony online here: