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Oral-History:Diane Wray

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About Diane Wray

Diane Wray began a career in programming in Britain in 1967 after applying for a programming position at the Electricity Board. After working there for five years she applied for a civil service job. Her government career began at the Social Security Department and moved into Securities. At the time of the interview her office was in charge of handling and protecting government inquiries. Additionally, she helped to enforce new technology security standards throughout government offices.

In the interview she discusses her early life and first job at the Electricity Board. It details her first experience with computers and how she became a programmer. The interview then transitions into her career in the British civil service. At various points Wray discusses her experience as a woman working as a programmer and the discrimination she experienced while trying to advance her career. The interview ends with a discussion on how she balanced work and family.

About the Interview

DIANE WRAY: An interview conducted by Janet Abbate for the IEEE History Center, April 5, 2001.

Interview #636 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, Inc.

Copyright Statement

This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.

Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, IEEE History Center at Stevens Institute of Technology, Castle Point on Hudson, Hoboken, NJ 07030 USA or ieee-history@ieee.org. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

Diane Wray an oral history conducted in 2001 by Janet Abbate, IEEE History Center, Hoboken, NJ, USA.

Interview

INTERVIEW: Diane Wray
INTERVIEWER: Janet Abbate
DATE: April 5th 2001
PLACE: Department of Health, London


Family and Education

Abbate:

I’m speaking with Diane Wray, April 5th, 2001.

Well, just to begin at the beginning: When were you born?

Wray:

1947, September.

Abbate:

And where did you grow up?

Wray:

My father was in the British Army, so I grew up all over the world. I went to fifteen schools; but my fifteenth school—I was quite lucky: my father’s last posting was Germany, so I went to a British Forces Boarding School in Germany, for the last four and a half years of my education. So at least I got some stability there.

Abbate:

Wow! Did your mother do anything, or was she just raising the family?

Wray:

Just raising the family, yes.

Abbate:

Did you have a big family?

Wray:

No, I was the only one. [laughs.]

Abbate:

Tell me a bit about the schools you went to.

Wray:

Well, they were varied. I mean, when . . . If you went to a Forces school, that was easy—or, easier—because, with moving around such a lot, I think the teachers knew what they were having to cope with; they knew that they would get children with different levels of ability, and different stages, and so on. The difficult times were sort of in between abroad postings, when we did a stint in England, and sometimes I’d be at a school for three months. And that was difficult to be accepted—I mean, all Forces kids found that—but also, there wasn’t an understanding of the fact that you maybe weren’t as up to speed on some things, or you were ahead on other things. But I think the last four and a half years, though, that that was a great help, going to that one school the whole time.

Abbate:

Were these generally single-sex schools, or were they mixed?

Wray:

All the Forces schools were mixed. I went to one single-sex school in Portsmouth, and that was only for about four or five months; and the last school was a boarding school, and it was comprehensive, and it was coeducational. It was actually a forerunner, if you like, of them bringing comprehensive education system into this country. So we were streamed, yes. It was good. I mean, the headmaster had done a lot of work in Canada, apparently—because I think they were ahead of us—and it was felt that it was a good way, when you had a school for about 600 children with such varying abilities, who had no choice but to be away from home. It did work well; I felt it worked, anyway. I liked it.

Abbate:

Were you interested in math and science when you were in school?

Wray:

Not particularly, no! I was thinking about that this morning. It took me three goes to get my maths O-level. I was sort of English and the arts and so on, and maths was an uphill struggle for me.

Abbate:

Was that partly the teaching, you think? Or just your . . .

Wray:

I think, to be honest, it was as if somebody switched a light on, when I was in my early twenties, when I did the first part of the BCS exams. And then suddenly there I was—with only an O-level in maths, which took me three goes to get—and then it logically made sense, whereas before it was not something that I enjoyed or was particularly interested in. I was suddenly thrown in from going from O-level to doing calculus and goodness knows what!

Abbate:

I’m not sure I understand what those exams are. What’s the BCS exam?

Wray:

British Computer Society. (Sue, that you’re going to speak to, Sue Black: She’s involved in that.) British Computer Society’s been on the go for a lot of years; I joined about thirty-something years ago. It’s a society for computer professionals within Great Britain—I mean, its name really is what it says—and you’ve got different levels of membership. You know: join as a student, so maybe people just coming out of university could join as a student; then you can go through Associate; and then, in time, you could get full membership, because of the number of years you might have been a member, and the sort of work that you were doing—but there’s another route to getting full membership, and that’s by doing examinations.

Abbate:

Ah, that’s the part I didn’t realize.

Wray:

Yes. And I did both routes.

Abbate:

So that was later on in your . . .

Wray:

It was. I did Part One when I was in my twenties; and then I did Part Two—I actually sat the exams when I was 40—because somebody said to me, “I see you’re a member of the BCS.” I said, “Yes.” “Well, that’s just on experience.” So I thought, “All right, you: I’m going to go for this!” [laughs.]

So I did block release from work, and actually took the exams. And the pass rate isn’t very high, so it’s fairly tough; it wasn’t easy. But I enjoyed it.

Abbate:

All right, well, we’ll come back to that. So you’re kind of a late bloomer in terms of doing math.

Wray:

I think so, yes.

Abbate:

Were your parents interested in math or technical things?

Wray:

Yes, my father, certainly; I think with my mother it was more the arts. They used to sort of split, if I had to have help with homework: mum it was English and history; my father it would be the sciences, and maths. And I think—I’m not blaming my father, but I think he probably had less patience than my mother did. And that maybe didn’t help; I don’t know. [laughs.]

Abbate:

Did you feel you were expected to have a job or a career or support yourself?

Wray:

Yes. When I left school, yes. I left school at 18, and came back to this country, and I was fairly fortunate; I got a job pretty quickly with the Electricity Board. It was a clerical job. Looking back, I think my father was a bit disappointed; I think he’d hoped for better things; and he was like a dog with two tails when I got into computing. I mean he was just so delighted, you know. It was strange.

First Job

Abbate:

How did you get that first job?

Wray:

The very first job? Not in computing, you mean?

Abbate:

Right.

Wray:

When I came back to this country, we had sort of a youth employment service—I don’t know what it was called in those days—and you had to go and see a careers advisor, and they sent you along for various jobs. I wanted some sort of clerical function, at the very least; I didn’t want to go to a factory or anything like that. And, not being snobby about that, but they sent me to all sorts of places. In a couple of instances, I actually said, “I’m sorry; it’s not for me.” One was a rope works, in Wharf’s End down by the riverside; and again, I didn’t mind—it was clerical work—but the walk was horrendous, you know, from the nearest bus stop; and I thought, “I’m not going to be trotting along here at night after work.”

And then the local Electricity Board show room were advertising for people, and I applied, went along, and got a letter a couple of days later, and just started very quickly. I left school in July, and probably started there around about September. It was fairly quick.

Abbate:

And you were doing customer service there?

Wray:

Yes. It was a mixture of things, really. You were handling people’s records, so when people moved, you’d make sure that the records were changed and updated—but of course in those days it was mostly paper records. Manning the switchboard, taking inquiries, and calming people down when they had power cuts; things like that.

Working with Computers

Abbate:

How did you first get any contact with computers?

Wray:

We went to stay with some friends in Winchester, probably that first year that I was working. He was in the Army, and my parents had been friends with him in Singapore, and Ken said, “Would you like to come to where I work?” It was a place called Worthy Down, and it’s where they had the Army payroll computer. He took me into this room with a huge, trundling mainframe, and I thought, “Wow! This is really something!”

Abbate:

So you were immediately thinking that this would be . . .

Wray:

Oh, yes! Yes, yes.

I think . . . For me it was never particularly the maths side of computing that I’ve enjoyed, anyway. Give me a logic problem and I’m happy; and I always was like that, as a kid, as well. Clark on logic. And that’s a lot of what computers are all about.

Abbate:

How did you manage to get into it?

Wray:

How did I manage? They advertised within the Electricity Board for the headquarters building—I was based in one of the little out-stations—and they were recruiting for programmers. And I have to be honest, I don’t really think they expected any females to apply! Of course, I was quite starry-eyed about having seen this huge mainframe and thought, “Ooh! This is worth a try!” I went and sat the aptitude test, because in those days, you know, you did the very formalized aptitude test—I’m not even sure if that still happens these days—but I did that, and got through, got an interview, and a very nice letter saying, “Thank you, but no thank you.”

So, that was the first attempt. Then—within about a year, it was, I think—they re-advertised, and I applied; and there was another female, who’d applied the first time and got to exactly the same point as me, and we were both taken on. [The reason was that] in the meanwhile, in that gap between the two interviews, there had been a lady who had been working in the electricity industry, but it was atomic energy side of things, and she was working on very technical programs about moving all the bits around in the reactors and everything. She was getting married, and she was moving back to the Northeast, where I lived; and of course she applied for a transfer. So they didn’t have much option but to take Sandra, and that opened doors [to other female programmers], basically.

Gender and Work

Abbate:

So when you actually started, she was there?

Wray:

She was, yes.

Abbate:

So there were these three women there.

Wray:

That’s right, yes.

Throughout that period of time at the Electricity Board, there were some comments, which now, I don’t think—well, I know that a woman wouldn’t stand for. First question was—and this was my first interview: “Do you have a boyfriend?” And I had. “Ah! Just out of general interest, whereabouts does he live?” Well, he didn’t live near to where I was living—and I think that possibly had something to do with it, because there they were, sitting [and thinking], “Well, we’re going to make some sort of investment, we’re going to train somebody, and we might lose them.” And that was very much the attitude there. Because I actually got asked that question at my second interview!

Abbate:

And you said, “Oh, he lives right here!”

Wray:

I said, “No, I don’t have [a boyfriend],” which I didn’t have at the time; but I actually got engaged one year later, because I had just met somebody. I got engaged one year later, and it was actually said: “But you said you didn’t have a serious relationship.” So I said, “Well, a year is long enough to become serious about somebody!” It’s weird. I can remember the person who said it as well; and it was coming from one quarter, so I’m not saying that was how they all were. [They were] a bit worried, I think about investing in training and so on, and perhaps losing somebody.

Abbate:

Although statistically, I’ve heard, it’s the opposite: because men are more likely to leave for a more promising job, and women are more likely to actually stay.

Wray:

I think that is actually very true. I think it was a very blinkered attitude that they had. But, in the days I’m going back to, they actually had separate pay scales for men and women as well.

Abbate:

For the same job? For a programming job there’d be two . . .?

Wray:

That’s right. Oh yes. But this lady that I explained about, Sandra, whom they’d had to bring in—she kept breaking the barriers, because she was the highest paid woman in the Electricity Board. She was a Senior Systems Analyst—and obviously, in the IT field, we were getting that little bit more anyway—and she kept breaking the boundaries. And they would say, “Oh, we’re going to have to redo the scales again!” [laughs.] That was how it was!

Abbate:

Was there legislation at some point that said “There has to be one scale”?

Wray:

I’m not sure. I don’t really know when that happened. [Note: This happened with the Equal Pay Act of 1970.] When I left the Northeastern Electricity Board, as it was known then, I left there to join the Civil Service, and there was one pay scale within the Civil Service. So, I think probably it was the tail end of separate pay scales. But I don’t know for sure; that’s probably something that’s worth delving a bit more about.

Abbate:

How long were you there programming at the Electricity Board?

Wray:

Programming: let me think now, when did I leave? I started programming in ‘67; married in ‘70; I think I left there about ‘71, ‘72—probably 1972.

Computer Programming at the Electricity Board

Abbate:

So you were there four or five years . . .

Wray:

Yes.

Abbate:

And what kind of work were you doing?

Wray:

I started off as a trainee programmer on ICL machines—well, it was ICT in those days: International Computers and Tabulators. It was a 1300 series machine, which was the sort that you could literally turn up the volume and watch the program working. So if you had a loop, you could actually say, “Right: I’m going to stop this; I’m just going to press through an instruction at a time, and watch the binary lighting come up.” And that was punch cards. It was billing programs, payroll, costing: that sort of thing.

Abbate:

So you were actually programming it in binary, or assembler?

Wray:

No, it was machine code, which was as near to binary as anything. And then they did move on to 470 machines, which was assembler. That was in assembler. But that is one of the reasons why I left: because they were bringing new intakes of people in, because they were becoming much more ambitious with the sort of applications that they were going to be developing—engineering, and so on—and they were expanding. But as they were bringing new people in, they were training them in, on the 470 side, on user code, it was called, actually, which is equivalent to assembler; and becoming reliant on those of us who had been there in the early days, who were still doing the maintenance of the machine code, while things were being converted. Eventually I found myself in a position of being the one person looking after machine code programs. So I thought, “This is it! I’m off!” [laughs]

Joining the Civil Service

Abbate:

So then you joined the Civil Service.

Wray:

Joined the Civil Service, yes.

Abbate:

What was your first position?

Wray:

I came in as a direct entrant. Well, to join the Civil Service: they will take graduates from university, and you will come in at the junior management level, Executive Officer Grade; and they were also accepting people to come in as direct entrant Executive Officers, with sufficient background in programming—so I got in by that route.

Abbate:

So that was a good skill to have, in terms of getting ahead.

Wray:

It was. Yes. I took a drop in salary. It wasn’t a tremendous amount; it was—well, like between ten and twenty percent, so it seemed a fair amount to me, I suppose!—but I was willing to do that to come into what I felt was going to be a fairer environment, with more opportunity, to be honest, to move on. And I don’t mean move in progression up the salary scale and promotion ladders, totally; it was to not be sort of held back by old technology—and I was becoming very conscious that things were starting to move more rapidly.

Abbate:

Now, once you’re in the Civil Service, you can move to different agencies? You have a much wider . . .

Wray:

Yes, you can. There are more opportunities. I haven’t moved around so much, I suppose.

Abbate:

Where did you start?

Wray:

I started in Department of Social Security, in the Northeast, and I moved up there through programming to systems analyst, functional analyst. The last job I had up there, which would be the last job that I would say was on the development side, was probably mid-’80s, and—gosh, it doesn’t seem that long ago!—and it was a very big software project. The National Insurance—you’ve got something similar, obviously, [in the US]—National Insurance in this country is a massive, massive, massive application that the Department of Social Security run. And we were developing a new system, but unfortunately, we were ahead of the technology. What we were wanting to do, technology wasn’t really in place to support it. It was a very ambitious program; it was called the Operational Strategy—so they were revamping the pensions side of things; they were revamping the contribution side; a centralized index for everybody in the country . . . and something had to give! And they pulled the plug on the project that I’d been working on, and there were about a hundred of us who had been working on it for two years. That was it!

Abbate:

Were you the head of that project?

Wray:

No, no. I was a team leader; I had a small team.

Abbate:

What was the technology that you were working with?

Wray:

We were using . . . We hadn’t got to the coding stage; we’d stepped right the way back, and we were using SSADM. Have you heard of that? It’s Structured Systems Application Design Methodology, and you go through a very, very rigid process. You step right away, and you work very closely with the users as well; so you go through the logical design, the physical design; you’re building up entities and attributes, and you’re thinking, “God, I don’t even know what these are for!”—but at some point it does all start to come into place. The project itself was being run under Prince, which you’ve probably heard about; Prince is a method for project management. So, there was an awful lot of documentation; it was very documentation-bound—but it meant that we were doing it one hundred percent correctly, and every step of the way you could track exactly why you were there, and why you’d got there. And that was the first time I’d ever really worked on a project that was as well documented. It wasn’t back-of-cigarette-packet stuff, you know; it was really good.

Abbate:

Where was the technical obstacle?

Wray:

I think it was a mixture of things. Well, the technology: there wasn’t the speed or the capacity, effectively, so we were going to have to . . . To the user, it was going to look to them as if they were actually working online, but they weren’t going to be. What was going to happen was, everything that they’d input was going to be rolled up and processed overnight. Whether it was that the phones weren’t there or what, I don’t know; but I think we probably were rather ahead, in any case, in that we were trying to do what to the user would look like a true on-line application, but it wasn’t. What we were going to be providing would have done the job, but it wasn’t actually true, if you like. So if a clerk had a problem in between the update being run, they would think, “Well, hang on now, haven’t I put an update in?” Now, to me, that should actually be there; and it wasn’t going to be.

And the demands for all these other projects meant that they were short of manpower as well. So when it looked like our project was going to have difficulty, it was decided that we were to be dispersed to various other projects, which is what happened. I went on to the pensions project for a while, and I was looking after upwards of about 20-odd programmers. So I went back to being a programming team leader, rather than a functional analyst.

But in the meantime, they were looking for people to join the IT security unit that was moving from London up to the Northeast.

Abbate:

What town were you based in?

Wray:

That was Newcastle-on-Tyne.

After school—my parents were actually from the Northeast—and so after school, my father’s last posting, very luckily really, was back to the Northeast. So I was there until 1988. No, that’s not true; in 1990, ’91, I came down to London.

Security Work for Civil Service

Abbate:

So after doing the pension work you switched to this security work? And that was still for the . . .

Wray:

Yes. That was still Social Security—still based in Northeast—and I was there for three years, doing security work.

And then an opportunity arose. At the point when I left, when the project I’d been working on folded—that would be 1987, actually, because I was 40. I can remember that, because I’d passed BCS Part II in the August, and the project folded in the August, and it was my fortieth birthday in the September—so it all seemed to happen all at once, you know! I didn’t know if I was coming or going!

So I’ve jumped ahead a bit there. So, I moved on to the security side of things because I’d got an interest in that from doing the Computer Society exams. Because you cover such a wide spectrum of things, and we were talking about the new Data Protection Act, and so on, and I found that when I had a choice of assignments to do, I was naturally veering towards security-based ones. So, there was an interest growing there.

Abbate:

It seems like in the late ‘80s that was still kind of a new field, the security side of things. Tell me a bit about the Data Protection Act. I’m not sure when that was passed.

Wray:

The Data Protection Act was 1984. I think, certainly in government departments, we thought it was going to have tremendous impact. The Department of Social Security, for example: they set up a large unit of people to deal with this flood of requests that they were going to get, people writing in asking about their personal information. And it didn’t happen, and they had to disband the unit. They seem to have a record for doing that, don’t they!

I’d been involved in the data protection side probably up until two years ago, when it was decided. I’ve moved, because I’ve had a few jobs, about three jobs, in security. It was decided it was more logical to put it with the departmental records side, because the new Act covers paper records and not just electronic records, which our previous act did—and we tend to get requests from the same people. I could almost name three or four names that we get a request from every year. But that was interesting, because I think it was also giving people more right, if you like, to have access to their records. But when all came to all, they weren’t terribly interested!

Abbate:

What kind of work did you actually do in security?

Wray:

Right. To start off, when I first moved in, in Social Security, I was looking after various projects. One of the things I would do, for example, is: these strategy projects I was talking to you about—I was going out and doing security testing on them; so basically, trying to break the system.

Abbate:

What was the concern? People breaking into the system?

Wray:

It was twofold, but at that point I think the concern was more the clerical staff doing things that they shouldn’t do, either deliberately or accidentally, and getting to where they shouldn’t be. Obviously there’s a record held for every person in the country on the centralized index, and there are audit checks in place; and if a clerk, for example, wanted to look at Maggie Thatcher’s record, there would actually be an automatic warning printed out at supervisory level to say, “Somebody’s been trying to look at this person.” So anybody who is well-known is protected; transsexuals, they’re protected; and supergrasses—you know, people who’ve had their identity changed because they’ve maybe turned Queen’s Evidence or something like that. So that was one of the things we were very keen to be sure it was actually working properly: to see if we could somehow get into the system. So we were sitting legitimately with one of the strategy work stations, but we were trying ways of breaking in. And that was quite good, because we found sixty-odd faults.

Abbate:

Now, was this system on a network at the time? Or more free-standing?

Wray:

Yes. Yes it was networked.

Abbate:

That might have been another layer of concern.

Wray:

That’s right, yes. I mean, one of the things I was doing was awareness, as well. I’ve been involved in that ever since I joined security, and we had a network of security managers and liaison offices throughout the smaller offices around the country. So we used to train them as well. And I think people were becoming—and in the security world as well, actually—more aware that communications were becoming the up-and-coming part of security. No longer could you say, “Right, we’ve got a mainframe, and we’re going to lock the door and put a guard on the door.” You know, the scenario was changing, definitely.

Abbate:

Were there any high-profile hacker cases of people breaking into computers here?

Wray:

You mean within government? Or not?

Abbate:

Well, anywhere. I mean, in the States there were several incidents that raised people’s awareness, but I don’t know about here.

Wray:

I’m trying to think, because I tend to sort of lump them all together. Shiffreen. . . Oh, he was in the States, though, wasn’t he: Robert Shiffreen? I think he was in the States. We have had some cases. And interestingly enough—I can’t actually name names; I think there was some Robert somebody-or-another, and they are now earning money by—what is it?—poacher-turned-gamekeeper, effectively. They will come and talk at security conferences, you know, the national ones that run, and so on.

Abbate:

“This is how I would break into your system?”

Wray:

Yes! Yes.

Work for the CCTA

Abbate:

Now that’s interesting.

So, let’s see: you’re still at Newcastle at this point.

Wray:

At that point I was still at Newcastle, yes. 1990. There was an opportunity came up to . . . This is where something you said earlier—you can actually move around more, if you wish, within our Civil Service. And it was an opportunity to do a loan to a part of the Cabinet Office, which was called CCTA; it was the Central Computing and Telecommunications Agency, but always known as CCTA. The task there was to provide advice and guidance to government departments—and that was extremely interesting, because that was an opportunity to find out, from the center, what the policy was; but not only go out to departments and say, “Well, this is how you should be doing it,” but quite often to provide some leverage for them to be able to say, “And I need resources, because CCTA have said I need resources.”

Abbate:

Ah, interesting.

Wray:

Yes; it needed that voice, if you like, from the center. It tends to come low down on priorities, because people think, “Well, security’s all well and good, but what does it give me? What do I get extra for it?” And you’ve got to try to convince them.

Abbate:

So there’s a policy regarding privacy or security that you can say, “Well, we are required to do this, so . . .”

Wray:

Yes, because there is a government security policy, and all departments are expected to adhere to that. And we are now moving towards—it’s just become an international standard: its international standard is ISO 17799; British Standard is BS7799. (They have an extra “1” in, because the original international 7799 is about stress on metals, something crazy like that!) But we’re moving towards that—and we’ve been told we have to, by the Cabinet Office—which means we have to have plans in place to comply, and then we’ve got to go for compliance; so we’re putting a lot of effort into that. We’ve got something—at long last, I suppose!—that is telling us that we’ve got to do something, and departments can’t really ignore it. You know, the high managers have got to take notice of it, because it’s expected now.

Abbate:

Did you have any involvement in standards bodies?

Wray:

No. Not myself, no.

Abbate:

Just do what they say?

Wray:

Yes! [laughs.]

Abbate:

Well, it’s been a long time coming, standards for security.

Wray:

It has, actually. Like risk assessment: if you follow a particular method for risk assessment, and you do it properly, that can sort of lead you, if you like, to a degree, down the right path.

When I joined CCTA, one of the jobs I had there was to write—it was 84 government organizations—saying, “Have you got the security in place? Have you got a policy? What percentage of somebody’s time are you giving to security?” You know. And it was a multi-part questionnaire, and then that was every six months—it was almost like a rolling program. In between supporting other government departments, that was the main thing that I did back at base—just kept having to go back to the IT directors in government departments, saying, “Okay, what are you doing? Is there any improvement since last time?”

Abbate:

Did you try to test their systems? Did you have people try and break in or something?

Wray:

Not when I was at CCTA. No, we didn’t. I think that the various bodies that work in security . . .

I have to say that the role of the unit I used to be in . . . There were twenty of us, and that was interesting, because all the others were men—I was the only woman there.

Abbate:

Really!

Wray:

Yes. And there was sort of a little bit of a joke, that I was the token woman, but it was never meant nastily. And in fact, it turned out . . . It’s strange. There were one or two IT Security Officers, who are people who look after security for whole department. I was off work for about five and a half months—I had an accident and I was immobilized—and I used to support the House of Commons; and the ITSO at House of Commons said, “I’ll wait till Diane comes back. It’s all right! I’ll wait.” Now, he might have been putting off what I was expecting him to do! But I don’t think that was the case. You know, he got used to me. He was a crusty old thing, and yet, for some reason—I don’t know whether it was being a woman or what—but I just managed to get on okay with him.

Abbate:

You must have been one of the more experienced people in the area, because it seems like you started pretty early in security.

Wray:

Yes. It’s not helped, though. There’s an expression—what is it? “Don’t make yourself irreplaceable, because you won’t get promoted!”

Abbate:

Ah, interesting! [laughs]

Wray:

Yes? I think that might even be a Dilbertism. [laughs.]


It probably would have been sour grapes about a year ago, but when CCTA . . . They decided that there was going to be a change in the way security was organized in government; this is at the center. You obviously know we have the Security Service—we’ve got MI-5 and MI-6—well, the Security Service are the people that look after internal security within the country. So, it was decided, instead of having three lots of people—Security Service; CCTA where I was; and CSG, which is Cheltonham-based; they’re very technical security oriented—it was decided they would take CCTA out of the equation. Security responsibility technically would be Cheltonham, and sort of managerially would be the Security Service. So it meant there was no role for the group that I was in, and we were dispersed, dispatched to the four winds, et cetera! And, I was quite fortunate, really, because I’d not long been back on my feet and got back to work, and there was a job advertised, and . . .

Something I didn’t explain was that I was temporarily promoted, while I was in Newcastle. I was in the job for about two or three months, and I was temporarily promoted. The boss there said, “Well, I want you to take on a team, do this, do that.” And when I came down to London, that continued: CCTA said, “We want you at that level. Come in at that level.” But, when I joined this department, [the Department of Health] where I am now, seven years ago. . . . I was just back to work and looking to see what I was going to do when [CCTA] folded in the July or August of 1994. And there was a job advertised, and I thought, “I know the ITSO!” So I rang up, and I said, “I see you’ve got a job advertised in the team”—basically, it’s his deputy—“Can you tell me a little bit more about it?” And the first thing he said was, “Well, do you know anything about IT security?” [laughs.] So I said, “Well, just a little bit!” And I said to him, “I have been in security for X years,” you know, and then he suddenly went—he said, “Di? That’s Diane at the other end of the phone!” And he just couldn’t believe it. You know, he said, “Are you really, really sure?” Because I was going to have to take a step back. But I said, “I’ve got no guarantee that I’m going to find a job temporarily promoted at that level, and I’d much rather go for a job I know I’m going to enjoy—and, yet again in my career, take a step back over. So I joined here six years ago—seven years ago. But Chris left about eighteen months ago, and they advertised the job. And you don’t sit and think, arrogantly, “Well it’s mine; I’m going to get it!” But the job was advertised, and they brought in somebody from another department with three years’ experience. So it was a bit of a blow, to say the least! But it was one of those things.

Abbate:

Now, was that a man or a woman that they brought in?

Wray:

It’s a man.

Abbate:

Do you think that was a factor in it?

Wray:

I think there were various factors. What I said about not making yourself irreplaceable: that was slightly tongue-in-cheek, but I don’t think it was as tongue-in-cheek as all that, really, because they got the best of both worlds: they retained me, so they didn’t have to replace me, and they brought in somebody else—who I’ve basically carried for about fourteen, fifteen months, [and who yells at] my staff as well. . . . I’m losing a member of staff, he was so fed up. . . . So, I’ve felt that I’ve almost been piggy-in-the-middle: trying to protect the staff that I’ve got, and trying to make sure that no dreadful gaffs are dropped. I’ve had to really do some bailing out, at times, to the point of a very important public inquiry going to have the plug pulled on its network connections, because of a lack of understanding of just what the setup was!

We’re very much into inquiries at the moment, in this country; very much. [laughs.]

Abbate:

Was this a government agency?

Wray:

If it was an inquiry about—well, we got involved in the BSE [“mad cow disease”] inquiry: it’s a free-standing inquiry, but we give assistance, in that we will help with the provision of the IT facilities for them, effectively, and we will let them use our technical support people. But the emphasis is very much independent. You know, none of the high officials in the department would be able to influence what the findings of the inquiry are. It’s very much aboveboard. [laughs.] But, I mean, Steve Lawrence—Stephen Lawrence was a young guy who was killed in South London; he was a black youngster, and I think he was stabbed and left dying at a bus stop. Now, that inquiry would have been funded and looked after by the Home Office. So it depends which department an inquiry is pertinent to, you know.

Abbate:

In any case, it wouldn’t be good if it was thrown into a muddle because of a security problem.

Wray:

That’s right. Oh, no, no, no.

There’s another thing, I suppose. All the years being in the Civil Service, you get to the point—and you may well find people, when you are doing your other travels and interviews—who’ve almost got locked in. That’s what I feel now, because I’m 53, and in six and a half years’ time I will be 60: am I really going to throw away a pension that’s half my salary? (I wouldn’t throw it away; it would be frozen, and then I would get it based on what I’m earning now.) I don’t know; I’m not too sure. My partner’s out in the big wide world and has had several jobs since he left CCTA (because we met while I was there), and he’s doing okay. So, I don’t know: do I stick to what’s familiar? Like you were saying before, women do tend to stay. Men are a little more ready to jump, I think.

Balancing Family and Career with Government Support

Abbate:

So he’s also a computer . . .

Wray:

He is, yes. He’s in security. So we have plenty to talk about! [laughs.]

Abbate:

Do you have children?

Wray:

No, I don’t.

Abbate:

So you haven’t had to worry about sort of balancing family with work . . .

Wray:

No. I think that was a fairly definite decision, as well, that . . . I was talking to a friend just the other day—she’s an IT auditor—and it was [about] the fact that things started to move so rapidly; it would probably have been in the early ‘80s. I thought, “Gosh, this is all speeding up,” and that was when I thought, “The biological clock is really ticking here.” But really, I wouldn’t—this is my personal view—I wouldn’t have wanted to return immediately to work; and I didn’t have [anyone to help with childcare]. My husband’s mother died; my parents are both dead; we have nobody, in any case, whom we could have asked—no relations . . .

Abbate:

To help look after the kids.

Wray:

Yes. Which I probably wouldn’t have done anyway; I’m very, very independent. I think my upbringing probably made me that way. So that was a fairly definite decision that we made.

Abbate:

Is there support, if you’re working for the Civil Service? Do they have provisions for paid leave, or . . . ?

Wray:

They give fairly good maternity—and, now I believe, paternity—leave. And in the summer, in this office for example, they run a crèche, you know, during the holidays. And for the Easter holidays you see the mums coming in, and they’re bringing their little ones, and they put them into the crèche for the day. But there’s nothing sort of full-time; you know, you are expected to make your own arrangements for the majority of the time, definitely. But we’ve got some [accommodations]. I mean, for example, Denise: She’s senior management, and Denise has two young children, and she’s managed. You know, she juggles her career and bringing up these two little girls she’s got, but she’s not in today; she works at home on a Thursday.

Abbate:

Are they flexible about that?

Wray:

Yes, they are. Now, I’m saying she works at home; either that or she only works four days a week. But we have another senior manager, and she’s got two young children, and she only works three and a half or three days a week. And that’s by agreement . . .

Abbate:

But longer hours?

Wray:

No, she just works for three-fifths of what the job would normally bring. I think it might be four days she works. So they are fairly flexible. I mean I’ve never explored it, because I’ve never really needed to. I think they’ve moved on, certainly.

Gender and Technology Career

Abbate:

Have you . . . I guess you’ve told me a couple of incidents. Have you in general felt that as a woman you encountered overt discrimination, or less access to promotion or raises or things? I know that very first interview . . .

Wray:

Yes. Yes, I think that probably is. I was talking about the first interview because that’s when I actually had some tangible feedback, but yes, I think there is an element of that—definitely. There are some areas, I think, or some departments, who are less likely to be so; and I think when I was at the Agency—you know, that was part of the Cabinet Office—I was probably at my happiest there, to be honest. I really, really enjoyed that job. There was no—I don’t know—there didn’t seem to be any bar to whom you could speak to, or how you were accepted . . . and the Civil Service is less starchy and stuffy than it was. But from my own point of view, I feel I have reached my glass ceiling—definitely.

Abbate:

Do you think it’s harder or easier for women in IT, as compared to other parts [of the Civil Service]?

Wray:

I’m not sure. I wouldn’t like to say, because I haven’t really got wide experience elsewhere; but looking within the division I’m in, which is the IT division: our IT director has quite a few [female] senior managers, so there doesn’t seem to have been a bar here—certainly not in the Department of Health. But there’s another expression I nearly got my eyes poked out for using once: “To be thought half as good as a man, a woman actually has to be twice as good.” Have you heard that one? “Fortunately, this is not difficult!” And then you run! [laughs.]

Yes, I think it is a bit harder. I think for a woman, you can be considered as being “soft” before you’ve even done or said anything. Before you even start, they think, “Oh, is there really the backbone there?” So you do have to work at it a bit harder, I think.

Abbate:

Do you have to project some kind of tough persona?

Wray:

I think that helps, but unfortunately, that’s not the way I do it. And that possibly hasn’t helped me. I mean, this is classic, really, was [when the new male ITSO was] shouting and yelling and screaming [at my staff] a couple of months ago. And Denise, my boss, had the two of us in afterwards, and she was absolutely brilliant—she’s really handled it well, I think—and she just said, “Right: I want you in, we’re going to talk.” She’d obviously had a talk on her own with him, but I pointed out [to him] that you’ll actually get more out of somebody if you explain to them—and you don’t have to grovel or beg—but if you explain rather than banging the table and demanding, I think you actually get more in the long run. It might mean you’ve got to be that bit nicer than sometimes, deep down, you really want—you know, sometimes you do feel: “Grrr!” But if I get annoyed—and I don’t jump up and down and get annoyed—but at work, if I’m in any way terse, I think they probably know that is really, really serious—because it’s very rare, and it has to be really that something bad’s happened.

So, I’ve probably not answered directly . . .

Abbate:

No, I think you have.

Wray:

. . . but I think you’ve got the gist of what I’m saying.

Abbate:

Do you think that men in the computer field are less endowed with the social graces than men in other areas?

Wray:

Oh yes, definitely. Yes. Not everyone, I know. But, yes, I’ve come across some real oddballs, if that’s what you mean: definitely. I think, probably, yes, the IT field does attract its share of “weirdos.” [laughs.] Not a very nice thing to say! And often people who are extremely clever—but I think there’s a fine line between being really, really clever and insanity! [laughs.] And some of the people I have known—and funnily enough, it’s been the men, as well—I mean, one guy used to come in to work—in the States it might be different, but over here!—in Bermuda shirts and big floppy hat in the summer. I mean the big, florally-patterned Bermuda shorts! That was Ian . . . He got retirement on medical grounds, and yet he was absolutely brilliant! You know, give him a piece of code that needed debugging, and he could go straight to the problem. So yes, I think you’ve got something there. We do have more, I think, more than our share!

Overall Enjoyment of Career

Abbate:

What have you found to be the most satisfying aspect of working with computers?

Wray:

Over the whole of my career? Do you know, probably the very, very early days. I enjoy very much what I do now, but that isn’t so hands-on. Awareness is a large part of what I do, and I enjoy that very much; and when you’re answering somebody’s question, or you’re solving a problem for them. But if you’re thinking more hands-on, the very early . . . Once I’d stopped being frightened of computers, I mean—the first six months were hell.

Abbate:

Really?

Wray:

Oh yes!

Abbate:

Why?

Wray:

I don’t know if it’s true of everybody, but I’ve spoken to other programmers who’ve said the same thing: When you’re learning a new programming language, you think, “When is this actually going to sink in?” But your first time is the worst. And then all of a sudden, it’s—like I said, probably, about maths—the penny drops, and it becomes clearer. But it was about six months, and I wasn’t the only one. Uphill struggle . . .

Abbate:

Well, that was in binary, too.

Wray:

Yes, yes. You were having to come to terms with an awful lot. You didn’t have all the code that you wanted to access, for example, in the memory at any one time. You had, I think it was 800—no, 200—words of memory, and you had to pull things down from the rolling drums with instructions, so there’s a lot of organization to it, as well. But I found that very satisfying, because I was working so near to the machine’s level. That was what was good. I think that was a good background, actually.

It ceased to be challenging when I moved on to COBOL, in latter years. I did code in COBOL, and then I was team leader, programming team leader, so I was still helping my staff, although I wasn’t doing much hands-on coding. But then we had middleware, and that was taking a lot of the fun away, you know—the challenge wasn’t there. The real challenge, I think, was actually being at the machine level, and tinkering and fine-tuning. Making it play tunes, even! [laughs.]

Abbate:

Just for fun, you mean?

Wray:

Yes! We didn’t really have the time to do that; our engineers used to, though, because each instruction had a different pitch to it. So you could actually make it play “Happy Birthday,” and things like that. And we’d turn the volume up . . . But that, as I say, was how we used to track if we had a loop, because you could hear a repetitive sound. A loop is when you’re going straight round and round in the same set of instructions. But sometimes there can be a blip: so it sounds like everything is going okay, and then suddenly there’s a blip, and you think, “No, that didn’t ought to be there.” So you were using a lot more of your senses, really. Because we used to test our own programs, so not only did you feed the cards in, but you could listen, you could stop it, you could step it through.

Abbate:

So there was a volume control just so that you could debug by ear?

Wray:

Yes, yes. Yes.

Abbate:

I had never heard that about.

Wray:

That was probably not what its use was for; it was probably for the engineers when they were doing their [diagnostics].

You know, you had the big console, and there were the rows of lights, and when an instruction came up, you had the little neon lights, and you’d have banks of four—one, two, four, eight. [Draws a row of four lights.] So you could see your instructions. So if you had a 37, which was a pick-up instruction, that light [points to rightmost light] would be on, because that was a “one,” and that [points to second light from right] was the “two,” and so it was “pick up.” You know, that was three—and then your “seven,” you’d have whatever combination here [draws a second row of lights] would be for “seven.”

[Drawing:]

0011 = 3

0111 = 7

Abbate:

So the lights would be spelling out the binary code for that particular instruction.

Wray:

Yes! But as it stepped through, if you turned the volume up, you could actually hear it as well.

Abbate:

It’s just interesting that whoever designed the machine thought of the volume as a diagnostic tool.

Wray:

Yes! Yes, that’s right.

Abbate:

I don’t know if there were American computers that had that.

Wray:

Well, this is probably a museum piece, of course.

Abbate:

That’s great. I did some programming in the mid-’80s, that was my only hands-on stuff.

Wray:

What were you using?

Abbate:

I was doing C/Unix stuff, at MIT. It was something called Project Athena, which had—that’s where the Kerberos security system came from, which you might have heard of.

Wray:

Ah. Yes. Yes I have, yes.

Abbate:

I had nothing to do with that, but . . .

Wray:

Did you enjoy it, then? Did you like it?

Abbate:

I liked it a lot.

Wray:

Yes?

Abbate:

Yes. And again, not math so much. What I liked was—I was doing sort of systems support—and I liked that you got immediate feedback. You’d get a problem report in the morning, and often by the end of the day you would have solved it, and there’d be a happy user. So it was—it wasn’t like grand theory design, but you had this immediate impact, and it was satisfying.

Wray:

Yes, yes. I think that’s true. There were downs, when you felt, “Gosh, this is a problem and I’m really not . . . You know, it’s staring me in the face, the answer, and I can’t get to the bottom of it.”

Now, when you look at what we’ve got: it doesn’t leave me cold—because obviously I wouldn’t still be doing IT security—but things have changed so much. I mean, you were talking about hacking and so on: one of the things, one of my next jobs is going to be to do a spec to have a company, or maybe part of a government organization, perhaps CSG—the people from Cheltonham, you know, who are sort of the boffins—do some penetration testing, and see if they can break into our systems in a controlled way. “Ethical hacking,” it’s known as!

Abbate:

Ah! Really?

Wray:

Penetration testing is “ethical hacking,” you know; that’s its fancy name, apparently. So that’ll be quite interesting.

But a lot of the time we’re monitoring what people do on the Internet, and helping with investigations, and, as I said, training and awareness is a big thing, and I’m going to be doing a big risk assessment, towards the British Standard. We’ve got to do that first and foremost, do a risk assessment using CRAM. Have you heard of CRAM?

Abbate:

No.

Wray:

It’s a government-preferred method for risk assessment and management. “CCTA Risk Assessment and Management.”

Abbate:

But CCTA no longer exists?

Wray:

They do exist, but they’re based in Norwich now, and the security group doesn’t exist. The government did a review of protective marking—you know, if you want something, a document or file, to be kept at a certain level of security. We used to have “unclassified but sensitive,” then you got into the “restricted,” the “secret,” “top secret,” “confidential”—all that sort of thing, yes? Any document can be marked “restricted,” and if it is restricted, it has to be afforded certain levels of security. It was partly the reorganization of the way the markings scheme worked—which sounds a bit strange, I know—but it had this knock-on ripple-down effect that meant that they said, “Well, in that case, we’ll push everything to the security service on the policy side of things.” And to the security group [at CCTA], “Thank you very much; find yourselves some other jobs.”

Mentors and Changes for Women in Computing

Abbate:

Did you have any mentors or role models who encouraged you in your computing career?

Wray:

Yes. In the early days, certainly, and it was this lady who was at the Electricity Board when I actually got the job: Sandra Rowstron. She lives in Australia now. It’s a shame, because she’d be very interesting to talk to, actually. She taught me an awful lot. I mean, she was my line manager—not immediately—and to be quite honest, I think she thought I was rather a dizzy little dolly-bird. She actually told me that a long time later! When I first arrived, Sandra was the great old age of about 26, and I was twenty or something, and she sort of took me under her wing, and took the time and trouble to explain things to me as well, and I think that was very good and very useful. One of the big bits of work that I did in the early days was the conversion when the U.K. went decimal; when our currency changed from the old pounds, shillings, and pence. That was 1971, and that was when I very first worked for Sandra, and we spent an awful long time and a lot of work converting the programs so that they would deal with decimalization. And she’s been a friend every since! I’m still in touch with her.

And oddly enough, when she was taken on she didn’t like children at all, and she was never considered to be a “risk” in any way—and she’s got two children! [laughs.] They’re very grown-up now, but at the time when I left to join the Civil Service, Sandra actually left to have her first child, much to everybody’s amazement! We never thought she would have children! [laughs.] There you go.

Abbate:

Interesting. When did she leave the U.K.?

Wray:

She left . . . She had Penny, and so we’re talking about when I joined the Civil Service, within about some years, and they’ve lived abroad more or less ever since. Yes, she’s been out for a long time. They went to live in the Gilbert and Ellis Islands, or it’s known as Kiribati—the first place that celebrated the millennium, yes? Kiribati. And her husband was a marine engineer, and so they lived over there for quite a lot of years. Then they went to New Zealand, and they’ve now moved to Australia.

Abbate:

Do you think computer jobs have become more open to women since you started?

Wray:

Oh yes! Definitely. I think probably when I started, it was . . . Something that you said early on about maths: I mean, that was my view, you know, “Wow, this is all going to be really mathematical stuff.” Women were very much in the minority then. Women are still very much in the minority in the IT security field, actually. But I’ve seen that changing over the last four or five years. I think there’s been a definite shift, and it’s a constant shift as well.

Abbate:

How has the field as a whole changed since you started? Sort of major trends in computing?

Wray:

It’s moving so much more rapidly! Extremely rapidly. Well, I certainly find that with the things that I’m interested, in IT security.

And I think I’ve said to you, I don’t think that you’re as close [to the machine]—there’s so much more done for people in IT now, so much more that’s presented to you as a starting point. You don’t seem to start with a blank coding sheet. You will take maybe a piece of middleware, and you’ll bolt something on—and what you bolt on can maybe be half a dozen instructions, but you can end up with something that’s pretty powerful. So, I think a lot of fun’s gone out of it—my perception is, anyway.

And I saw that anyway, which is one reason why I moved into security. And that can be boring—I mean, writing policy is a bit like watching paint dry! But, you know, we’ll get a good laugh about something every day; even if things actually on the section are a bit tough, there’ll still be something quite funny’ll happen. I mean, we had a big virus outbreak, as a for-instance, and so . . . The convoluted story about why we got it: because normally, viruses are trapped at the server, and they’re trapped at the desktop, but they’re not trapped at the gateway coming into our office network. But normally stuff coming into our office network comes from the government secure intranet, which is great, because that checks out for us. But, we have a link directly with the NHS, and [the virus is] coming from the NHS—so they’re sort of popping up all over the place! And we had a phone call the other day, no kidding, from this lady, and she said, you know, “I’ve got this strange email”—and she wasn’t talking to me, she was talking to somebody else in the section—this is absolutely true—and he said, “Well, I’ll come up and have a look at the machine.” Really, we should have just got the technical people to do it, but he toddled up to see her, and when he got up there he said, “It’s the Anna Kornikova virus that you’ve got.” So he said, “I’ll just do a quick check, you know, make sure that everything’s okay,” and then she said, “You know, I have been feeling a bit off-color.” [laughs.] Honest to God, though! And she said she had back and shoulder pains. I said [to him], “What did you do?” and he said, “Well, I looked at her, but I realized she was really, really serious, so I just ran away and left her to it!” [laughs.]

Abbate:

So the National Health Service doesn’t check for viruses?

Wray:

Well, the NHS is thousands and thousands of employees, and they have a policy that they should have virus checking in place, but I think that you could have a doctor’s surgery, for example . . . So we can control within the five and a half thousand employees that we’ve got, because they use the office information system; but the NHS has a group of about half a dozen, if that, people, and so it doesn’t surprise me. It’s extremely frustrating for us, but there are so many NHS bits and bobs and odd buildings, and so on, you know, you could have one PC in a doctor’s surgery, and that could be the source of it. It’s interesting, though!

Abbate:

Do you have any advice for young women who might be contemplating computer careers today?

Wray:

I’d certainly recommend it as a career. But what I would say also is not to be frightened to change tack a little during it; don’t get too locked into just doing one thing. I’m a fine one to talk, because I’m doing IT security and I have been for a lot of years! But I think I may have had more opportunities had I been prepared to move around more—not job-hop, really, but perhaps not to stay locked into the Civil Service. I think that I could have probably progressed further. So I think I would suggest that it’s still an interesting career; and there’s always going to be a job there; it’s not going to go away. A bit like undertakers, I suppose, isn’t it? [laughs.] But to try not to fall into the trap of staying in one place—one sort of regime, one line of work, even—for too long, because there are so many different angles to IT that you can try. You know: look at database design, and design administration; look at the systems analysis side. I know you need a grounding, but there are wider areas, I think, and it’s probably very good to try and get a good cross-section. Project management! Go for that; give that a try.

Would I come in if I start all over again? Yes, I think I would. [laughs.]

Abbate:

All right, I think I’ll stop there, then. You’ve been really helpful. Thank you very much!