How curiosity in video gaming led to a technical graduate apprenticeship at Leidos
To celebrate this year’s National STEM Day, a day to inspire our next generation to explore and pursue their interests in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths (STEM), we interviewed one of our Technical Graduate Apprentices, Lauren Lawson, to find out how she carved her path in the tech sector.
What is your role in Leidos and how did you get into it?
My role in Leidos is ‘Technical Graduate Apprentice’, which involves working in project teams to help create technical solutions for customers. When creating these solutions, I work closely with my teams to support one another in order to obtain any requirements or feedback from our customers. I work on support to fix any issues that have been raised by the customer or users of the systems. And as part of my Graduate Apprenticeship, I am also a student at the University of Strathclyde, where I study IT: Software Development.
Having completed a four-week summer internship with Leidos in 2018, I then embarked on a Foundation Apprenticeship in IT: Software Development (again supported by Leidos), and then graduated school in 2019 where I achieved the grades and other skills I needed to get into the Leidos Graduate Apprenticeship programme.
What made you choose a STEM career? Is there anyone in particular who has helped or inspired you in STEM?
I have always been interested in computers since a young age. I grew up with an older brother who got me into video games, sparking my curiosity as to how these were made. I chose to study Computing Science as one of my subjects in high school to understand the construct of video games and websites, quickly realising that I wanted to pursue a career in the tech industry! Another factor was that in school, I was the only female in both my Higher Computing class and the Foundation Apprenticeship in IT: Software Development. I wanted to see more females choosing STEM subjects, so this motivated me to make a change.
Lauren, you’re a STEM Ambassador – could you tell us what that means and give some examples of the STEM activities you’ve supported? What do you think could make the biggest impact on getting more women and non-binary individuals into STEM careers?
STEM Ambassadors are volunteers from STEM backgrounds who aim to inspire young people to progress further in STEM subjects and/or careers. Maths Week Scotland is a recent example of an activity I supported, by creating a maths resource pack that gave real-life insights into how different types of maths are used in day-to-day life, using my journey to illustrate it. Another example is Young Stem Leaders Week, where as a panellist I answered questions from school students around Scotland on what a career in STEM is like and the subject choices I made in this area.
From my experiences and what I’ve learned over the years, I believe having a supportive and motivational STEM mentor and role model would have a huge impact on inspiring more women and non-binary individuals into STEM.
What do you enjoy most about your role? And what has been your biggest achievement whilst at Leidos?
I enjoy the problem-solving aspect of my job. I love a good challenge that gets me thinking. I also enjoy collaborating with others to exchange skills and work together to solve a problem. In a short working period, I feel I have achieved a lot whilst at Leidos, but one of my biggest achievements is accomplishing a Pass with Distinction in my first and second year of university.
Have you faced any significant barriers as a woman in STEM?
I have been fortunate enough to be fully supported in school, college, university, and at Leidos. When I tell people about the apprenticeship program I'm on, they always seem very surprised. This may lead back to the stereotype that computing is for men, which is not true, as computing can be for anyone.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your role?
Before the pandemic, I was based out of our Glasgow office Monday to Thursday, and on Fridays I had the option to visit campus for university. I was able to communicate with my work colleagues and university peers face-to-face, which I enjoyed. When the pandemic hit, I was working from home and all my communications were online. At first, I found this transition hard as I had only been on the apprenticeship programme for less than a year, so I was just getting used to things. As time went on, I became more used to working from home and I began to enjoy it. A hybrid-working model is now ideal for me.
What are your career aspirations?
My goal is to pass my university degree with high grades and to become a Senior Full Stack Developer.
Do you have any top tips for young people interested in pursuing a STEM education or career?
Search for work experience/internships in STEM, talk to role models who are in STEM, and do your own research into the STEM education/career you are interested in. You may experience some ‘imposter syndrome’ when you are first looking at STEM careers and/or education. It’s okay to feel that but remember, we all have to start somewhere! As long as you dedicate yourself to putting the hard work in, you will do great.