THE technology sector is flourishing. Opportunities that come with skilled jobs are continuing to grow apace in Scotland.

But for young girls with a real aptitude for science, technology, engineering and maths, that world of opportunity can feel light years away. Recent figures show when it comes to technical roles, 25% of the workforce is women.

As part of International Women's Day, six women in their 20s who work for IT and business consulting firm CGI in Scotland explain how they got into the tech sector, and how they themselves hope to inspire more girls to consider STEM careers, and jobs in tech.

Chloe Gallacher, 25, software engineer

Gallacher (below) grew up in Glasgow, where she went to John Paul Academy in Summerston. There she enjoyed STEM subjects such as maths and computing, and was determined to excel in computing especially as “a lot of girls did not pursue it”.

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However, she did not have a set idea of what route to take after finishing school.

She said: “I didn’t feel like university was for me. I didn’t want to spend another four years studying, especially when I wasn’t confident in what I wanted to do.”

Chloe discovered CGI’s Modern Apprenticeship programme, which was “perfect for her” as it provided her with what she was looking for: practical, hands-on experience of work. She began as a Software Engineer modern apprentice, progressing to a Graduate level apprentice with Glasgow Caledonian University. At GCU, she completed a BSc Software Development for business degree while also working for CGI, which provided her with a salary.

Chloe then joined a new CGI career path, a graduate apprenticeship, completing an MSc in Cyber Security, and has been a fully qualified Software Engineer for two years now.

It was during her time at Glasgow Caledonian University that Chloe became an Early Careers Ambassador for CGI. This role sees Chloe go out into the community to speak to students about the various career options available in IT. She said: “I really had a burning desire to raise awareness of the different paths that young women could take in the tech sector, particularly to give them hope of exciting careers that they may not have known about in school.”

She has since spoken to thousands of students in primary and secondary education across Glasgow, visiting three to four schools a year over the past five years. Chloe also likes to get the children involved with hands-on learning where possible. Among them were younger students at STEMFest at the Glasgow Science Centre, a 2-day annual event which provides young people with the opportunity to engage more with potential STEM careers.

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Chloe said: “At STEMFest we had Marty the Robots which showcase robots and programming. The younger kids really loved the Martys and learning how to programme it, while the older ones enjoyed seeing the workings of the programming in person.”

In February 2024, Chloe was one of four students across Glasgow Caledonian University’s schools who won the Alumni of the Year award. The achievement recognised the work Chloe actively does for women in STEM and for bringing more young women into the tech sector.

The award also acknowledged the collaborations that Chloe has worked on with Glasgow Caledonian University during her CGI apprenticeship, which all focus on bringing women into IT.

Chloe believes young women shouldn’t fear the tech sector. She said: “Have confidence to give it a try. I was quite nervous before because I didn’t know what I was doing. But there are no silly questions, if you don’t know something just ask and learn from those around you who are there to support you.”

Rachael Young, 24, junior project manager

Rachael (below) grew up in Dalbeattie, Kircudbrightshire, and now lives in Edinburgh. She studied maths and the sciences while at Dalbeattie High, but despite excelling in these subjects, she still had no idea what career she would pursue.

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She said: “It’s very daunting sometimes to consider what career, and thinking about going from education to the big corporate world can be scary. It’s difficult to know which way to look.”

When it came to deciding what degree to do, Rachael said she tried to be “very analytical” in her approach. “I enjoyed working with numbers, and when I worked on things I would see them come to life on paper. I then decided that mechanical engineering was the best choice.”

She decided to attend Heriot-Watt University after attending an open day in which they had made her “feel very welcome”. A keen dancer, she was also swayed by the fact the university had a great Dance Club, which practised in the newly-opened Oriam performance centre.

During her time there she was Jazz Captain, where she choreographed and delivered weekly classes for fellow students, Contemporary and Street Vice-Captain and Wellbeing Secretary.

Rachael graduated in 2021, but a career in that field was not a route she wanted to pursue.

She said: “I decided to look at business, and went on to study a post-graduate qualification in Leadership and Organisational Performance. It gave me a really good insight into the world of project management. I realised that the skills I had learned in STEM education, through school and my degree – engineering, analytical thinking and teamwork – were really suited to this field and that I could use them in real life.”

Whilst studying her postgraduate qualification, Rachael decided she wanted to remain in Edinburgh where she had settled, and spotted online that CGI, which has an office in Edinburgh, was recruiting for its business graduate programme.

She said: “They were great, the grad programme was open-ended, there was no set, specific route for the programme, so I was able to further develop the project management skills that I was focussing on in my post-grad qualification. As a result, I got an offer to work in the delivery team for CGI’s Edinburgh account.”

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Rachael recommends anyone looking to get into STEM not to be fazed by the seemingly “daunting nature of the corporate world”.

She said: “I realised I did not know everything about technology, but I had an understanding, and really enjoyed seeing ideas on paper come alive in real-life applications. So It’s really important not to be intimidated and just be open to learning. No-one is perfect and you’ll make mistakes on the way – but you’ll also learn so much.”

Emma Gillespie, 24, MSc cyber security graduate apprentice

Emma (below) grew up in Glasgow, where she went to Holyrood Secondary School. There she studied English, Maths, Human Biology, Chemistry and Drama at Higher – and was initially attracted to a career as a therapist.

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However, by the time she was 16 she had cooled on that idea, but wasn’t sure what to pursue. She said: “I had no idea what to do. But I finally decided to go into childcare as I was good with kids.”

Emma enrolled with Glasgow Clyde College in 2016 and began studying a two-year Level 6 HNC in childcare. Part of that HNC involved work placements, which Emma really enjoyed. But during her time in the field, she was often asked to help fix computer problems – and realised she was actually rather enjoying it.

She said: “One of my parents worked with computers so I was used to having technology around at home. I was quite comfortable working with it and knowing what to do to figure out how to fix issues on PCs and devices. So when I was asked if I could troubleshoot tech issues, I found I really quite enjoyed doing it.”

Emma then realised that her future career was in the tech sector. She continued her education at the college by enrolling in an HND in Digital Media and Software Development.

After achieving her HND, Emma not only wanted to get a degree in computing, but also was looking to get some valuable experience with a proven industry player.

That is when she discovered that CGI ran a Graduate Apprenticeships Programme. This programme involves CGI working in partnership with Glasgow Caledonian University and Edinburgh Napier University to attract young people with a passion for technology.

Emma began working towards a BSc Honours in Software Development for Business at GCU while spending time to develop their career on real-life CGI projects and getting paid a salary.

She said: “CGI’s graduate programme was perfect for me. Because of my HND I was allowed to go into third year, not first year, which saved me studying things I already know. Also CGI was a consultancy so I worked on a variety of jobs four days a week, then went to university for one day. I am set to complete my masters this August, then I will go straight into full-time work.”

Emma says: “It is hard for students studying at school for their Highers not to stress, but I would tell them that what is meant for you won’t go by you. They should not think they need to have their careers planned out by the age of 18, we often learn more about ourselves after we’ve left school.

"So if you go for it, explore and understand what you’re passionate about, then you will find the career for you – whether it is in the tech sector or anywhere else.”

Kirsty Purden, 26, software developer

Kirsty (below) grew up in East Kilbride, where she studied at Duncanrig Secondary School. She particularly enjoyed maths, physics and computing. Even though she did not have a clear idea of what she wanted to do after school, Kirsty knew she wanted to work in STEM.

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While at school, Kirsty’s computing teacher introduced the single-board computer Raspberry Pi to the class. These are minicomputers that can be as simple as plugging a mouse, keyboard or sensor into, and they can detect light, sound and temperature.

She said: “The Raspberry Pi’s were a very basic entry point into electronics and programming, and they immediately piqued my interest as you can do almost anything with them.

A family friend, who studied electronic and electrical engineering at university, encouraged Kirsty to consider a broad engineering degree as she was good at maths, physics and computing.

So she went to University of Strathclyde to study a BEng Electronic and Electrical Engineering degree, as this covered a range of STEM subjects which she knew she would enjoy. Following her completing her undergraduate course, she progressed to a master’s in the same subject.

Over her five years at university, Kirsty excelled and was placed on the Dean’s List. She also took part in a Vertically Integrated Project for extra credit, which was a research project with engineers and biologists of varied backgrounds and levels of experience.

After graduation and now living in Glasgow, Kirsty still did not have a strong idea of what her career path should be, so carefully researched her options. She discovered CGI, who immediately gave her a good impression from their focus on sustainability, climate and net-zero, aiming to reduce their impact on the planet and helping their clients to do the same.

She applied to its Graduate Programme, and was even more impressed by its application process. She said: “CGI is a very inclusive company. When I was in the process and we were working a group task, it felt very collaborative, not competitive like other processes I’d experienced. Everyone was open to any new ideas and suggestions. This led me to accept a position as a Technical Graduate, and now I’ve been promoted to Software Engineer.”

Kirsty believes that anyone in school or college, who is setting out on their career journey and thinking what qualifications they should study, should remember the versatility of any STEM qualification. These, she says, can “be useful in a lot of different ways.”

She said: “The transferrable skills – the thinking and problem-solving skills – can be beneficial to any STEM-related job or subject. As long as you try different things, like Raspberry Pi’s and YouTube testers, you’ll be able to find what you enjoy doing and go from there.”

Rachael Fraser, 23, graduate operations consultant

Rachael Fraser (below), from Edinburgh, was a STEM student while at Beeslack Community High School in Midlothian. She studied Highers in business, maths, physics and biology as well as English and German.

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But a STEM degree was not her chosen career option when she was at school. She says: “I was a champion Irish dancer, I had begun at the age of five and had won Scottish, Irish and American national championships. It was a huge passion, and I was gearing up for a career once I finished school where I’d dance for five to 10 years, then look to a future career in physiotherapy.”

However, her dreams were shattered when she suffered an accident at the age of 18.

She continues: “It was really heart-breaking to be honest, I was told I wouldn’t be able to dance again. I had to completely re-evaluate what I wanted to do as a career.”

Rachael considered staying in the sports sector to pursue a physiotherapy career, but ultimately decided to rethink her career path and switched to business.

She enrolled at Heriot-Watt University in their International Business with Marketing Course, which she graduated from in 2022. However, after graduating she was unsure what future career to pursue.

“I was looking at fintech jobs, and some marketing, but I was also interested in the tech sector. However, we didn’t do computing as part of my degree as that was very much geared to those with computing qualifications.”

After she graduated, Rachael was introduced to a friend of her family who worked for global IT and business consulting services company CGI, which employs hundreds of people in Scotland. She said: “I learned that you didn’t need to have a tech degree to work for a company like that, and that in fact there was lots of opportunity for women like me.”

She applied for CGI’s graduates programme, and after undergoing an assessment interview joined as an operations consultant.

She said: “My role is more business rather than technical – CGI encourages business graduates just as much as technical graduates. But I can still try out tech roles and rotate and see what I want to go into. You can try a bit of everything and get yourself involved with different responsibilities.”

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Rachael would encourage young people who are looking at the tech sector for a future career but are unsure if they have the right qualifications to stick at what they enjoy and discover the different routes into what field of work they want to join.

She said: “You don’t need to have a background in tech to get involved in the sector. There’s a lot of training opportunities you can get involved in with great mentors and help along the way.”

Rebecca Walker, 27, applications support analyst

Rebecca Walker (below) is from Old Meldrum in Aberdeenshire. She studied at Meldrum Academy where she enjoyed physics, maths and biology. She had all of the core ingredients for a career in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) because of her studied subjects.

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But while at school, like many young people considering their next steps, she did not know what job she wanted to do. However, Rebecca said: “I remember my physics teacher one day saying  in class: “Why shouldn’t you be able to have that Rolls-Royce job? Someone needs to do that work, why shouldn’t it be you?””

Rebecca moved to Glasgow after deciding to study a Masters degree in Biomedical Engineering. However, that wasn’t necessarily with a view to having a career in that industry. She said: “I was unsure what degree to pick, so I studied all the prospectuses and went to careers fairs. Eventually I chose the degree I felt was a combination of what I enjoyed most.”

Rebecca completed her Masters in 2019, before turning to her career options. She was open to any technical or STEM-based career. However, she often felt that companies which were interesting and suitable were not open to graduates with a degree they weren’t familiar with, or which they considered not to be a typical engineering degree.

Rebecca spotted online that CGI, global IT and business consulting services company which has four offices in Scotland, were recruiting for technical graduates.

She said: “I contacted CGI and they were far more approachable and helpful than I’d experienced with many other graduate opportunities.”. Rebecca was then placed on the company’s graduate programme, as a technical graduate.

Rebecca’s career has gone from strength to strength. She helped create some of CGI’s hugely successful STEM online learning packs through the Student Kickstart Initiative programme.

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In this initiative, graduates work in teams on outcome-based projects they have chosen and run the project with a mentor to support and guide them. Rebecca has now become a key member of CGI’s Edinburgh team.

Rebecca hopes to inspire more young people to consider a career in tech, especially those like her who while at school showed great aptitude for the sciences but had no idea about a future career. She said: “I think you have got to think about what you enjoy, then throw your net wide and see what sticks.”