by MPC R&D

6 March 2019

MPC Green Room: Meet Nina

As part of International Womens Day, we are shining a light on the senior female talent who are a key part of MPC’s R&D team.

Despite it being an area of focus for the wider industry, visual effects remains a male dominated field and only a continued focus and combined effort will that help change that.

What is your name, job title and how long have you been at MPC?

Nina Ward and I’m a Product Manager for the Pipeline and Workflow Group. I was a Snr Software Developer for our Genesis Virtual Production Pipeline before that, and I’ve been at MPC just shy of 4 years.

What and where did you study?

MSc in Advanced Computing: Creative Technology at the University of Bristol and before that a BSc in Computer Science with Mathematics at Oxford Brookes University.

Did you always want to work in the VFX industry?

Yes and no. The film industry, yes, but I didn’t realise it could become a reality until I was doing my Masters degree. So if you had asked me what I wanted to do for a career, visual effects would never have been my first answer.

What made you/inspired you to go for VFX?

I refused to believe I would be stuck in a non-creative industry, which seemed to be the main types of careers being advertised to Computer Science students.  A lecturer at Bristol showed me the MPC show reel and I had my light bulb moment.

 What do you enjoy the most about your current role?

The impromptu meetings that turn into miniature brainstorming sessions – the ones where you walk away feeling pretty good that everyone’s on the same page and you’re excited about the work you’re undertaking.

What motivates you to achieve great things in your work?

My own personal drive; I like to think that anyone can make a splash in a big pond. I also can’t stand to not be good at something, which is pretty motivating in itself.

What do you see as your role in promoting gender diversity in your area of work? This is a surprisingly hard question to answer….

My role is not restricted just to diversity – it extends to equality and inclusivity as well.

I co-lead the Balance group at MPC which focuses more broadly on these kinds of issues, but within R&D my role becomes more focused. To me it’s more about education, and letting everyone know that it’s ok to ask questions.

Opening up the conversation will hopefully help address some of our built-in cultural biases we may have.

Ultimately though I think many of the issues come long before anyone arrives on our doorstep. The percentage of women graduating in Computer Science was 16% in 2015/2016*, and 15% in 2016/2017*, and this is just the UK. (*source – www.wisecampaign.org)

I believe we need to be trying everything we can to pull those graduates towards us. We can go to schools, get involved with Universities, and run events that specifically target young women. We can target women from other industries too, which is something that’s more difficult outside of R&D. There’s so many options and opportunities, we just have to pursue them.

Why are women so crucial to the continued growth of the wider tech industry?

I could flip that around by asking what makes men so crucial to the continued growth of the wider tech industry? The answer though should be the same.

I don’t want to list off the differences between men and women and why including women is especially beneficial – gender differences aren’t helpful here and they miss the point.

Having said that, let’s say we’re being asked to choose some chocolate. We’re presented with a few options, but none of them really stand out. There’s milk chocolate but what we’re really after is dark chocolate. It’s still chocolate though, so we accept the best option available to us.

What we don’t know is that there are actually dark chocolates available; they just haven’t been shown. However we can’t choose them as we can’t see them – we have no idea they’re even there.

The point I’m trying to make is that if women aren’t in the hiring pool to start with, or visible at all, how do you know that you’re getting the best? What talented and skilled individuals are we and others missing out on?

In a competitive market you want to be able to tap into as wider talent pool as possible to hire the best quality people you can.

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to pursue a career in tech? Is there anything you wish you knew?

This applies to any career, not just tech – Don’t lower your own standards to meet others.

 What single piece of advice would you give someone looking to get into the VFX industry?

Don’t let yourself be the thing that gets in your way. Be willing to adapt.

If you’re hitting a wall when trying to get into the industry then ask around. Find out everything you can about that wall, and then do something about it.

If you yourself are the problem then you can do something about it. If it’s a problem with others, keep trying; you might have not have realised something, the first time around. Change tact, adapt. It’s in your hands.

What particular challenges face women looking to enter into the VFX industry?

I didn’t face any particular challenges in entering the VFX industry. The only thing that was actually stopping me was being unaware of the opportunity in the first place. Once I became aware that it was possible, I took action.

I don’t think there are any challenges that women face that men don’t also face. Perhaps there are cultural biases or personal issues that plague women more than men, but it really depends on the individual.

What key skills do you need to do your job?

Organisational skills, rationality and a cool analytical mind. It’s surprisingly important to be able to look at things for what they are without any kind of preconception, attachment or adhering to the political drama surrounding it. This is true for both for my current role and my previous one.

Did you have any role models growing up? How were they important to you in your career? What inspires you?

I didn’t have any role models – the strongest driving factor for me was always anyone telling me ‘you can’t do that’. For a while in my life it was ‘you can’t do that, it’s a boy thing’, and then it evolved to just ‘you can’t do that’. I really love proving people wrong.

More recently films like Hidden Figures that depicted the story of black female mathematicians who worked at the NASA during the Space Race, have been wonderfully inspirational, and I hope they can provide the role models for young girls and women who have lost their way.