Lauren Vallely: 'If it wasn't for a female software teacher, I might have dropped out'


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  • Lauren Vallely from Portadown is now in her second year of the PwC Flying Start Software Tech Degree Programme, in which she earns a salary all year round while also getting her full tuition fees paid for to Queen’s University, Belfast.

    Lauren told Sync NI: “I left school in 2018 and applied for a software engineering degree at QUB. Anyone who applied for the course then received an e-mail asking if they would like to apply to switch to the PwC tech degree. I remember my mum was putting up the Christmas decorations at the time and I went into her and said ‘I don’t think I’ll get onto it, everyone who applied for that software engineering degree got that e-mail so they’ll all be applying for it too.’ It seemed way too good to be true.

    “It was the first year PwC had launched the degree as well and they also have the same programmes in universities in Birmingham and Leeds. The reason it seemed too good to be true was because it is debt free – I don’t even need to get a part-time job.”

    Lauren is paid monthly by PwC, while still getting to enjoy life as a full-time student. She works for 10 weeks in the summer as an associate for the firm in their London office from Monday to Thursday, and then works on a Friday in the Belfast premises. She talked about the extra perks this has given her – earning valuable experience in the industry but also getting access to the best London hotels and earning airline miles.

    She added that her tech degree classes are essentially the same as QUB’s Software Engineering Digital Technology degree, with her first academic year including the same modules as that of Computer Science and Computing and Information Technology. Now in her second year, she is learning more about the software engineering side.

    Lauren revisiting St Patrick's Academy, Dungannon to talk about her tech degree opportunities 

    Lauren continued: “When I was growing up I liked playing on computers and I did ICT for GCSE, because when you got into class you were able to sit down at a computer and work at your coursework straight away. I liked it because it was a different setting; it wasn’t just sitting at a desk while a teacher stands at the front and talks while you write. Then we had to develop a very basic platform-based game. I showed my teacher and she said it was really good. She suggested that I take on Software Systems Development for A-Level.

    “I looked into it and it sounded interesting. I liked the whole idea of problem-solving, but I was terrified at the start when I first walked in as I was the only girl in the class with about 19 boys. I didn’t know them very well either as they hadn’t been in any of my previous classes. A lot of them had studied Computing at GCSE so they knew loads about coding whereas I didn’t, but I kept working at it and doing it for my own benefit. Eventually I nearly did better than a lot of those who had previously studied coding.”

    Lauren is guaranteed a job with PwC at the end of her degree programme, although she isn’t contracted and is free to go wherever she pleases. She was selected from hundreds of applicants for the scheme and secured one of 20 places allocated to people in Northern Ireland. Out of those 20 places, there are only five girls in Lauren's year, including her. She talked about her passion to inspire more women to get into tech, and her own inspiration: “Mrs McKernan was my ICT teacher that encouraged me to take on the Software Systems Development A-Level, which she also taught. If it wasn’t for having a female teacher, I might have dropped out because as I said, it was really intimidating initially. She was always motivating me.”

    Lauren’s past school, St Patrick’s Academy in Dungannon has been offering the Software Systems Development A-Level since September 2014, which Lauren studied alongside Biology and Maths. Last year, a further two of the Academy’s pupils were successful applicants for the PwC Flying Start Software Tech Degree Programme, Ailise Wylie and Lorcan Kilpatrick. Lauren was recently invited back to school to talk to current pupils about all the opportunities a career in tech has given her, encouraging them to consider a tech apprenticeship route. 

    For more info on the PwC Flying Start Software Tech Degree Programme, visit their website here.

    This article also appeared in the Women in Tech special edition of the Sync NI magazine. You can download a FREE copy here. 

    About the author

    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

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