Ripley woman Ann is proud to be a role model as she bids for major award

A computer software engineer from Ripley is hoping to inspire more women to join the industry after she was nominated for a major national award.
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Ann Gray, principal software engineer at Pektron, in Derby, has been named in the shortlist of the Electronics Weekly magazine’s Women Leaders in Electronics Awards 2024 in its Woman of the Year – Industry Focused category.

It is the latest step in a long career in the industry for Ann, whose time working in software engineering began in 1981 and has coincided with the rise of computers, which have moved from being fringe technology to playing a vital role at the very centre of our everyday lives.

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This includes within the cars we drive, whose electronics rely heavily on computers for operating and controlling the many functions vehicles carry out, from adjusting wing mirrors to starting the engine, and running the various safety systems to switching on the lights.

Ann Gray has been working in software engineering for 43 years.Ann Gray has been working in software engineering for 43 years.
Ann Gray has been working in software engineering for 43 years.

Pektron, which employs more than 300 people and is marking its 60th anniversary this year, is a global leader in electronics design, development, manufacture, testing and validation and serves customers across a range of industries including automotive, EVs, construction, agriculture, medical hygiene and safety.

Its software engineering team are responsible for designing, writing and testing the computer coding which ensures commands and information are sent to and from the circuit boards which are at the heart of the electronics and sit behind the dashboard of the vehicle, including sending alerts triggered by data from other electronic units or sensors mounted all around the car.

It also includes fault-testing and diagnostics, which involves using different techniques and tools to troubleshoot potential issues, tracing them to the piece of code responsible and finding ways to resolve them.

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Ann has performed this role for the past 14 years, having previously worked in the telecoms industry before giving it up to train as a maths teacher. A year later, having decided that teaching was not for her, she arrived at Pektron, ready to put her skills to the test on a new generation of cars.

While she is excited every time she sees a vehicle whose electrics were supplied and programmed by Pektron, she is also working in a team that is split nearly 50/50 between men and women.

This is unusual in computer science and is a far cry from the early days of Ann’s career when she first worked in computers at Plessey (later Siemens) in Beeston after, as a maths graduate fresh from the University of Nottingham, she applied for a statistics job in HR in 1981.

Back then, although computers were not new, they were still very rudimentary compared to today. That year, IBM launched its 16KB RAM PC, Sony launched the floppy disc and the BBC produced the BBC Microcomputer System, which was an early computer manufactured by Acorn.

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She said: “I’d seen computers on Tomorrow’s World when I was growing up. They were just coming into being and the TV showed them being worked on by people in white coats and I thought ‘that looked interesting’.

“I did a bit of computing as part of my maths degree, although I wasn’t particularly good at it, and then I fell into computers by accident. I went to Plessey for a job in statistics in the occupational research department, but the guy said they needed people working in software on computers and suggested I did that.”

Ann took his advice and started her career in software engineering. She was the only woman in the team and the technology was extremely rudimentary, with computer engineers only able to work on the devices for an hour at a time and required to wait until their work backed up onto a floppy disc, a process which took overnight to complete.

Ann said: “Looking back, there was an awful lack of productivity, but the industry and the technology has moved incredibly quickly since then, especially in the past few years.

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“Many of the ideas that people wanted to work on have been and gone, while some of the ideas we thought were wacky have become part of everyday life now or, like driverless cars, are now taking hold because the technology has progressed so much.”

Now, 43 years on from entering the industry, Ann is proud to be flying the flag for women in electronics in the awards, which will be announced at an event at the De Vere Grand Connaught Rooms in London on April 23.

She said: “I’m always trying to promote women working in engineering. Years ago I used to go into schools and I told the pupils about what I do and said that women can do it just as well as the men.

“I feel very fortunate to be working in a team where the gender split is so equal and it’s nice to be recognised with an award nomination. It means that I can be a role model for other women to encourage them to come into this industry too.”

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Founded 60 years ago, Pektron is a global leader in electronics design, development, manufacture, testing and validation, serving customers across a range of industries including, automotive, EVs, construction, agriculture, off-highway, HVAC, consumer and leisure, medical hygiene and safety.

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