Profile | Michelle Sherrard
Trailblazing in ‘male dominated’ IT
Following on from our International Women’s Day article, we profile Michelle Sherrard, who heads up the global IT company CGI’ s new office in Northern Ireland.
Michelle, who has more than 25 years of experience in the IT sector, hopes International Women’s Day can inspire more girls and women in Northern Ireland to look to the future and consider careers in STEM, especially the thriving technology sector.
She hopes that her own story of succeeding in the sector can inspire others to follow in her footsteps in an IT industry still seen as male-dominated.
Michelle says there are now far more opportunities for graduates than when she was in school, with the likes of CGI joined by PwC and Deloitte in growing a presence in Northern Ireland. “IT is one of the biggest industries in Northern Ireland. The opportunities are there for girls as it’s a growing industry, with lots of graduate jobs and apprenticeships available.”
“My career really grew out of a love of STEM at school. I started studying computer science in my first year in secondary school, and continued through to GCSE and A-Level.
“I was lucky in two ways. I had a very inspiring teacher in computer classes who was absolutely a joy to listen to. He was my tutor all the way through to A-Level, and he just made the subject come to life. That really fed my love of the subject, something I still have today.
“But my father also bought me a computer in the early days of home computing – it was an Amstrad. At the time home computers were really expensive, about £400-£500, and he didn’t fully understand why I needed it, but he put his faith in me when I told him I needed it for my work.
“I also chose economics and biology as my other A-Levels, both are STEM subjects as well. I did ponder going into medicine, but in the end I chose IT.”
Michelle went on to achieve a BA Honours in Business Studies, from the University of Ulster to give her more “wide-ranging skills” for any sector before gaining an MSc in Computer Science from Queen’s University, Belfast and then entering the IT sector with ICL.
Now, years later, Michelle has extensive leadership experience and a successful track record in IT and the public sector, closing "new name" business deals up to £25m.
Her advice to young girls is this: “If you love something at school, and you have a teacher that can bring it to life, then I’m proof that you can take it and make a career out of it. Perhaps I had the naivety of youth on my side as well, I believed I could do it without thinking too much about it.
“But I would very much encourage girls to not be afraid of IT, try it. You don’t have to be a coder, there are jobs that require other STEM skills which are available in the industry – project managers, service managers, sales and communications.
“But the world is your oyster. If I manage to inspire one girl to consider IT this International Women’s Day then I’ll be delighted.”