“Every career is a career in IT”: Why women and tech DO mix

Curiosity is a virtue no matter your job, says Rhiannon Markham.

In a presentation at our “W@V” diversity event last month, our guest of honour Professor Gillian Triggs – President of Australia’s Human Rights Commission and a renowned lawyer –noted that women only made up 28 percent of the Australian ICT sector in 2013. Women only occupied slightly over 10 percent of technology leadership roles in Asia in 2014, according to Gartner. And only one in 10 Wikipedia editors are female. Is working with technology simply not welcoming for women?

I became a programmer and engineer because of childhood curiosity. I was always curious about how things worked – particularly why it took so long for my family’s Windows 95 machine to load its 3 ¼ ” floppy disks, how our dial-up connection worked, and so on. It helped that I came from an IT family whose members weren’t afraid to say things like “back in my day, there was none of this broadband nonsense…” That curiosity led me to take up IT subjects in high school, continuing into TAFE and finally university majoring in both programming and business analysis.

I took up the latter business-related part of my degree because I wasn’t sure if I could “make it” in the engineering side of things: at the start, coding and machine assembly proved challenging, and I wondered at various points if it was all too hard for me. But after I’d hedged my bets and found I could handle both with decent aptitude, I turned my focus back to coding because it was by far the more interesting – a choice that’s led me to being at VCE with no regrets today.

In her presentation, Dr Triggs noted that in 2006, the number of Australian 15-year-old girls expecting to go into computer science or engineering was more than 6 times less than the number of boys. Today, I would say to all young women: your career will involve working with technology no matter what you choose. Technology is inseparable from our everyday lives: just think about how we take cloud storage of our photos, videos, and contacts for granted today. A deeper understanding of how that technology works at the nuts-and-bolts level is bound to enrich your career, regardless of whether you’re a doctor or a lawyer or a programmer.

We can lower the entry levels to STEM skills even further. Curricula need to adopt learning models that make IT both fun and commonplace: introducing Arduinos and other programmable circuit-boards into everyday classroom play, for example. I see huge potential in games like Minecraft, which are already encouraging young people to solve problems like engineers and programmers. I know of kids who’ve written Java code to fix bugs in games they’re playing. Young people are not just more comfortable with technology than ever before, but also immensely keen to learn and create with it if they can see its relevance to their daily lives.

If you have that curiosity about how things work, I would seriously encourage you to dig a little deeper into the technology world. Check out programmes like Code Academy, or buy a DIY robotics kit and see what you can build. Find both subjects and mentors to help expand your horizons: there are lots of these all across Australia and Asia, including VCE’s new partnership with the University of Technology, Sydney where we run tech workshops with high-school girls. Most of all, don’t let anyone convince you that you can’t “make it” in technology – least of all yourself. Whatever you learn will be invaluable in a world where every career is, in some sense, a career in IT.

About the Author: Rhiannon Markham