Charlotte van Hout is currently working as a functional IT-consultant with a specialization in Office 356 and SharePoint. At the moment she works for Salves Business Productivity, but in the near future she is looking for a new opportunity. Find out how she made her way into IT, with a completely different study background and what makes her passionate about digital technology.

How did you end up in digital technology/IT?

I got my Master’s degree in a totally different field: history and art history. So this is a good question to ask me! I have worked in – amongst others – the research field and in higher education. While working at the Hogeschool Utrecht (University of Applied Sciences Utrecht), I came into contact with SharePoint technology, as a regular end user. To be honest, I found it quite hard to use; it took a lot of googling and asking for advice before I knew how to edit a page or configure a web part. I kept trying however, and in my free time I followed some online courses on SharePoint and Office 365. Thanks to these activities, I became better and better at configuring SharePoint. Colleagues from other departments came to ask me to build or adjust a SharePoint site, and I really enjoyed that. I started asking myself: is it possible to do this work all day? And getting paid for it? I started looking for job vacancies and just ‘cold calling’ IT companies. I asked them for an informative meeting about the work of a SharePoint consultant. I was pleasantly surprised by some of the meetings I had: I met some very friendly and helpful people. After a while, I formally applied for a job and got hired by VX Company IT Services. I still am grateful to my managers at that time for giving me the chance to prove myself in this field. I was (and am) of course a bit of an odd candidate in the field of IT, with my educational background. I’m still interested in history and art, but I became very passionate about IT and ‘digital’ and I definitely see my future in IT. There is so much more too IT than I thought.

What are your current work activities/tasks?

I help customers to get value from their Microsoft technology. A lot of organizations own licenses for Microsoft’s Office 365 and/or SharePoint platform. But a lot of them do not use these platforms the best way they can. So basically, they are paying for technology they don’t get any real business advantages from. As a consultant, I really enjoy advising these organizations on this subject. I try to help them answer questions like ‘Which business problems can be solved by using Office 365/SharePoint?”, “Which Office 365 features are relevant for my employees?” and “How can I get my employees to work efficiently with Office 365/SharePoint?”

I enjoy my position as an ‘expert’: the fact that I have a technical overview of the Office 365 and SharePoint platform, and that I can really help out managers and CIO’s who are still getting to know these platforms. I love translating complex information to clear advice, presentations, training, or visuals. I think that is one of the things I like most about my job. And of course, the configuration work in the platforms themselves. An important part of my job is building and configuring sites and site collections, designing an information architecture and governance plan, configuring pages and navigation, and setting up a document management system or an intranet. I always try to collaborate with key users in this process, and make the sites as user friendly as possible. In my opinion, this is a crucial step if you are striving for the best user adoption. And as an organization, you should strive for that, because what is the use of great technology if your employees do not use it? User adoption is a subject that has been neglected in the field of IT for quite a long time, but I’m happy to see almost every IT services company and almost every customer is recognizing it’s importance these days.

Is or was working in this field a conscious choice you made?

Yes, it was a conscious choice, as I described. Although I did not know half of the tasks that are important for an IT consultant when I started. I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity of tasks in the field of IT (read my blog about the four ways working in IT surprised me).

How would you like to inspire others to work in this field?

It would be great if I could give readers a more multidimensional image of the field of IT. Just so they get an impression of the versatility of a function like mine. The best way to do this, I believe, is simply to tell stories about my daily tasks and the situations I come across. That is why I offered to be a blogger for Rightbrains.

I would like to add that people who are thinking about switching to IT have to make an informed choice. They have to make sure that they are able to invest some time in getting up to speed with all the new technology. As a consultant, you can not be afraid to experiment with new features, and you have to have the energy to learn about new features literally every day. If this attitude does not fit your personality or your life style, you really have to ask yourself if this role suits you. I have learned this while talking to people who were considering a switch to IT. Quite a lot of people tell me, I would love to have your job, but only a few really persevere. I’m available for informative meetings, frankly I enjoy meeting new people and telling them about my work, but only if my conversation partners are really motivated. That sounds quite strict, right?

Why do you think that it is important that other women get inspired to work in digital technology?

First of all, this work is fun, and just for that reason it is a shame there are not that many women working in this field. Even in my own personal network, I know some women who could really enjoy themselves and grow in the field of digital. Their skills are needed in so many IT functions. With some, of course I tried suggesting a switch to IT. I think most of them said they did not have any technical knowledge and that it was ‘too late’ to make a switch like this (note that we are talking about women in their early thirties). And that it would be too boring, or too commercial. I really hope these ladies will be reading my blogs on this site!

Second, my experience is that diverse teams (i.e. teams with men and women, and for instance, people with different cultural backgrounds) get better results and have more fun achieving those results. So, to be honest, my second reason is a bit of a selfish reason too: I think my work would be more fun if the diversity in the IT field increased.

And last but not least: the field of digital will become more and more important in everybody’s life in the next decennia. IT will be a part of almost every job out there. And it will be a part of almost every part of your private life: think for instance about your digital medical file, or the Internet of Things and using ‘autonomous, independent machines’ in your home (for some examples, check this still fascinating Frankwatching article (Dutch)). Or, if you want to get a little sci-fi about it, read this Guardian article on “Eternime – a startup firm aiming to let you store your memories and your personality in digital form, past your physical expiration date (also known as death)”. This is all happening as we speak.

In just a few years, you simply can NOT be interested in digital. Digital is in every part of your life. And your partner’s life, and your children’s life. And this development has a lot of practical and even ethical consequences. So isn’t it time to get interested? Starting with: getting to know the field of digital a little, and learning some basic IT principles? Society on the whole will be dealing with disruptive digital developments, one way or the other. And society consists of more than men. So now is the time to get involved!

Is there something else you would like to say?

I think I’ve made my point ;). But, please feel free to contact me to chat about this some more on Twitter or LinkedIn.