The Impact of Work Experience | Perspectives from a Girl in Tech

Guest blog by Heather Bates, 17, Manchester UK

About two months ago, I sat down in front of my computer, opened a word processor, typed out the heading “UCAS Personal Statement”, and proceeded to sit in front of a blank screen, unable to type out a single sentence. Like many other A level Sixth Form students, I’ve recently had to start thinking seriously about my future career, and for me that means going to university open days, and looking carefully at different courses.

The pressure to write a polished personal statement is intense; every student across the country is looking to stand out in the crowd of potential applicants in a bid to secure a place on their dream course. As a lover of all things tech, I found it reasonably easy to pick my A level subjects: maths, physics, and computer science, but suddenly I found myself trying to write passionately about electronic engineering, but with only a vague notion about what I wanted to study. Therefore, I decided that I desperately needed to find some work experience: not only to make my application stand out to universities, but to try and narrow down what direction I’d like my future to take.

Having no friends or family with any industry contacts, I resorted to Google to search for companies in Greater Manchester, providing a range of services such as digital marketing, energy saving systems, software development, and engineering. I emailed as many as I could find, and was fortunate enough to receive a response from Michelle Hua, who seemed enthusiastic about getting me involved in the wearable tech workshops she runs.

After emailing back and forth, we agreed to meet on a sunny Tuesday morning in a coffee shop in Bury town centre, and we discussed my university and career plans. After a hot drink, Michelle presented some of her workshop projects: an LED bracelet, touch screen gloves, a bag that illuminates the insides when opened, and finally a pair of light up shoes that flash a pattern with each step the wearer takes. The shoes were definitely my favourite item, although I thought that the bag had the most potential to be a popular consumer item, given how many people spend ages rummaging around for their keys at the bottom of their bag!

Michelle brought out a variety of felt shapes, a needle, an LED, a battery, two poppers, some conductive thread, and I got stuck in trying to make my own LED bracelet. The idea was that when the bracelet was fastened by connecting the poppers, the LED would light up. I was surprised by how simple the method was, as I had expected the circuit design to be a lot more complicated. However, under Michelle’s guidance and the easy to follow instruction sheet, I was soon delighted to find that I had a working bracelet. 

It was then time to add the finishing touches, which involved decorating the bracelet with felt pieces. This was mainly to hide the stitches I had sewn underneath which composed the circuit, but also to add that personal touch and show some creativity. In fact, I ended up spending longer decorating the bracelet than actually sewing it together, due to the difficulty of peeling the double-sided tape I used to stick on my felt hearts and flowers.

All in all, it was a very enjoyable and beneficial day and I was quite proud of what I had produced in a short space of time. I also feel more certain about my future, as I received some very helpful guidance from Michelle, and found that the wearable projects she demonstrated gave me a real flavour for what I’d like to do at university, and perhaps even beyond.

Following my meeting with Michelle, I am now currently in the process of registering to be a STEM Ambassador, which will allow me to help her run workshops and teach kids to make LED bracelets like the one I created myself. I also hope that becoming a STEM Ambassador will be the start of many more opportunities to come, and open the door to a whole host of STEM related activities.

I would thoroughly recommend to anyone like myself struggling for careers advice to reach out to industry experts, to try and arrange a work experience placement, or even just to explore their interests in more depth. It is impossible to stress enough the value of work experience and good advice in making the career defining choices that people of my age are starting to make, or the unexpected opportunities that can sometimes arise from it. By contacting Michelle, I feel like I have benefited in more ways that I could have anticipated, and encourage others in my position to do the same.

Comments by Michelle

What an amazing post by Heather!  I am so pleased to have been able to provide her with this opportunity, to meet her and discuss her career options.  What struck me about Heather was her determination and passion to study Electronic Engineering at University and her initiative in seeking work experience over her summer break.  Heather wanted to learn, and because I am passionate about educating our future generation of girls in tech, I couldn’t say no. Because when students want to learn, it means they are half way there to achieving their goals.

It was disappointing to hear that out of 30 emails that Heather sent to tech companies in Manchester, only 3 replied and 2 came to fruition.

I am looking forward to having Heather join me in delivering more wearable tech workshops to teach her fellow peers and becoming an inspiring role model herself.  With her volunteer work at Army Cadets, she shows discipline, determination, passion and confidence to be who she wants to be. I’d like to add that her blog is in her own words, unedited by me which makes me feel very humbled.  It also shows that she takes extreme pride in anything she produces.  Her bracelet and sewing was perfect! A++! A credit to her teachers, her friends and especially to her family and her parents.

Read more about STEM and our workshops here!

You can contact me at [email protected].