SIOBHAN Fenton is one a growing band of women who are breaking into the once male-dominated world of computing.
A talented film-maker, she devotes her time between teaching as a senior lecturer in visualisation in Teesside University’s School of Computing and running her own film business.
Her company, Lynchpin, which she runs with fellow computing academic, Clive Tonge, has picked up a number of international awards - most notably for their animated work Emily and Baba Yaga - a new twist on an old Russian folk tale.
Originally from Cumbria, Siobhan first came to Teesside University in 1995, attracted by its pioneering Master’s in Computer Aided Graphical Technology Applications (CAGTA) led by Janice Webster.
“Janice was one of the few women in a leading role in computer graphics at that time and I loved the course. I had been selling Apple Macs after doing an arts degree and got very interested in what people wanted from computer graphics. So, when I found out about the CAGTA course and Janice, there was no stopping me.
“They were the glory days back in 1995. Teesside had just got its ‘Excellent’ grading in Computing and the reputation of the courses was spreading worldwide.
“I remember what a tight little group we were. The master’s degree was very intensive and it was incredible what we managed to fit into the 48 weeks. There was no summer holiday for us that year.
“We were often in from 8am in the morning until 9pm at night. It was a time when people didn’t have powerful computers at home so you had to come to the campus and work in groups. This created a great team spirit.”
Siobhan went on to take up a post as digital artist in residence at Cumbria College of Arts and Design for a year and came back to Teesside in 2000. She loves her split working life divided between teaching for three days and making animated films the rest of the week.
She believes computer graphics is now returning to its roots and producing exactly what the industry is crying out for: a mix of technological know-how and creativity that was the hallmark of the original CAGTA degree.
“Our School of Computing has changed a lot in recent years. We’ve a strong drawing and design department, a more studio feel in the labs, and we’re working with professional actors to show students how to make good animated films.
“Animex, our international festival of animation and computer games, is now massive, and we’ve got lots of women teaching on our computing degrees. People like Alison Brown, Gabby Kent and Penny Holton, a new senior lecturer who has joined us after running her own successful animation company, Skaramoosh in Soho, for 15 years, and Ellie Serafin who runs the exciting new MA in Digital Character Animation.
As for the future, Siobhan sees tremendous opportunities opening up in developing social media and marrying traditional drawing and acting with computer animation and computer games.
“The students of tomorrow will have to be creative as well as tech and industry savvy. But it will be great fun!”