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Shadow Tech Day: Millennials investigate an IT future

Shadow Tech Day: Millennials investigate an IT future

For three years, New Zealand companies have been providing female high school students the opportunity to work alongside their IT teams.

Angie Judge, CEO of Dexibit, tells the students at the the end of Shadow Tech Day: 'The first computer programmer was a woman, Ada Lovelace.' (Photo by Divina Paredes)

Angie Judge, CEO of Dexibit, tells the students at the the end of Shadow Tech Day: 'The first computer programmer was a woman, Ada Lovelace.' (Photo by Divina Paredes)

Edwina Mistry calls it a glimpse in “a day in the life of an IT professional”.

Shadow Tech Day, now on its third year, allows female high school students to ‘shadow’ a female IT professional for a day in the workplace.

The goal is to encourage more young women to consider a career in information technology.

Last week, more than 300 high school students participated in the programme held across Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

Mistry, who started the programme at Manukau Institute of Technology, where she is Industry and Community Engagement Manager, is amazed at how the event has grown.

It was initially called ‘Shadow IT’ and had 48 girls participating each year for the first two years.

“Shadow IT achieves the aim of educating students about the day-to-day challenges and rewards of the industry and workplace,” says Mistry.

The initial participants were mainly from South Auckland. “The goal was to have them see ‘first-hand’ what it is to be a female in the IT world and experience the high energy, engaging, fun environment in which they work. This helps change perceptions that IT people work in dark rooms behind a computer all day,” says Mistry.

This year, the programme has been rechristened “Shadow Tech” Day and was taken to Wellington and Christchurch in conjunction with industry body NZTech.

In Auckland, 120 girls participated, with 45 per cent of the participants being Maori and Pasifika girls, she states.

Mistry hopes to increase the number of participants in Auckland to 200 or more next year.

This is creating an opportunity for industry to connect to the students and schools.

Edwina Mistry, Manukau Institute of Technology

Mistry says one of the participating companies, Air New Zealand, took the girls to the airport where they saw how technology is used by the airline. The girls also had the opportunity to visit Bank of New Zealand, ASB Bank and the Royal New Zealand Air Force.

“It was an eye-opener for them as very often they do not realise that ICT is part of every business and the various careers offered by these organisations in the ICT world.

“Speaking to girls on their return one could see the enthusiasm and excitement they got from the day’s experience,” she says.

“It is obvious that the girls really benefit from this,” she says. “We are getting more and more Maori and Pasifika girls from South Auckland schools to participate.

This is also creating an opportunity for industry to connect to the students and schools,” she says.

The project would not have been possible without the sponsors, led by Microsoft, Propellerhead and The PaperPlus group, she says.

“I personally go out to companies to get funding, as we do not receive funds from any other sources and this is just one of the many events MIT runs to encourage students to consider ICT as a career. Most of the work done for these events is by volunteers.”

In the NZTech report on Gender Diversity, Jen Rutherford, government segment propositions manager at Spark Digital, says rather than starting a new programme, it is best to support existing programmes that are effective. It named 'Shadow IT as one of the programmes that merit support from the industry and ICT professionals.

Mistry invited Angie Judge, CEO of Dexibit, to speak to the students at the end of the day.

Judge explains her company provides data analytics for museums. “I spend half a day thinking about the past and the other half about technology,” she states.

She told the students the first computer programmer was also a woman, Ada Lovelace.

Yet, she says, women are underrepresented in information technology. Judge encouraged the students to continue to take courses in STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) as more women are needed in these fields.

“This industry needs diverse teams.”

Celebrating IT diversity

“MYOB wants to see more young women choosing a tech career,” says Ingrid Cronin-Knight, head of SME at MOYB NZ.

The software accounting firm hosted five students for Shadow Tech Day.

We’re involved with a number of events to communicate the benefits of a career in tech to the next generation of women.''

Ingrid Cronin-Knight, MYOB

“Diversity in the workplace is not just a good thing inherently,” says Cronin-Knight. “Different people contribute different ideas into the mix and help to build better services for our customers. It’s a win-win.”

She says MYOB is a big supporter of getting more women into the technology sector.

“We have a range of programmes and activities to support female graduates looking to get their start in our business, and we’re involved with a number of events to communicate the benefits of a career in tech to the next generation of women.''

“The calibre of young people coming through school and looking to move into the tech sector is amazing,” says Cronin-Knight. “They’re full of ideas and enthusiasm.”

Ashwita Kumar, a year 11 student at Epsom Girls Grammar School, says she would like to get into BioMed, “creating software to help doctors with their patients”.

The visit to MYOB’s open plan office also left a great impression on Kumar. “No, I really wasn’t expecting an IT company to be like this at all,” she says in her feedback notes. “I thought it would be more closed off and quiet.”

Another student, Enya Murphy, a Year 10 student at Green Bay High School, writes: “I am really surprised at how much communication and teamwork there is.”

They talked to staff including Karen France, a senior business analyst at MYOB.

“It’s still a male dominated industry, particularly with roles like developers,” says France.

“However, with the likes of quality assurers, business analysts and project managers, the imbalance is not quite so great.

“In my experience, women are stronger at communication, facilitation and relationship building, and those other three roles I mentioned incorporate more of these skills.

“Problem solving too is a really important part of working within the IT industry and you can’t do that on your own,” says France. “In our team, we’ve seen real benefits in the developers working together, in what you call ‘mob programming’, it makes them much better developers.”

Companies involved in Shadow Tech Day in Auckland included: Dimension Data, EROAD, Flexware, Fronde, HP Enterprise, IBM, Microsoft, Movio, SnapComms, Spark, Vanessa Clark Consulting, Vodafone and Xero.

The Auckland schools involved were: Baradene College, Carmel College Epsom Girls Grammar School, Glendowie College, Green Bay High School, Henderson High School, Rangitoto College, St Mary's College, Tamaki College, Western Springs College, Westlake Girls High School, Whangaparaoa College, Edgewater College, Howick College, Otahuhu College, Papatoetoe High School, Rosehill College, Tangaroa College and Tuakau College.

Send news tips and comments to divina_paredes@idg.co.nz

Follow Divina Paredes on Twitter: @divinap

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