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5 women who've made it in IT

5 women who've made it in IT

Photo by Peter Harrison, Flickr, CC Licence

Pia Waugh, director of co-ordination and Gov 2.0, Department of Finance and Deregulation; 2013 Government 2.0 Innovator award winner

How did you get to where you are today?

As I got into Linux and open source, it opened up a whole different way I look at IT. I used to think tech was just what you use to do stuff, and then suddenly I realised it underpins society in a whole bunch of ways. It’s a technology that you use to find the opportunities available to you and the people that you can connect with, and the way that you live your life. So it became quite profound to me being involved in the open source community.

GovHack is one of the things I’m most proud of, as well as what I’ve been able to do for Linux Australia to get the open source momentum going. Those are things that I’ve done in my spare time, and this is where you get that strange nexus between work and play and how the two can blend with each other if you are really passionate about what you do.

I’m also really proud of developing the [Digital Culture] Public Sphere consultation when I was working for the minister, which is a way of governments being able to do public policy consultation online.

More recently, I’m very proud of what we’ve been able to do with open data in federal government. I have played a very significant part in getting data.gov.au back up and running, getting thousands of new data sets available, getting lots of agencies focused on this space. I’m very proud of what I’ve been able to for the open data and open government movement in Australia more broadly.

Have you ever found it difficult to keep going ahead in your career?

There have been a very small number of times where I’ve had a run in with someone who has seen my gender as an inhibitor, and I refused to let that one person ruin my career and what I enjoy.

I’ve always taken the approach that the best thing you can do is be the most awesome version of yourself. Don’t go into a career to try to address gender balance, go into it for your own reasons. What’s happening now is more and more women are going into IT because is it a fun and exciting career. A lot of people take the approach of ‘you should go into IT because we don’t have enough women’, which is not at all an enticing reason to do something.

Go out and volunteer for projects, and whenever you find someone who inspires you stay in touch with them. Create a network of people who inspire you, challenge you and help you to move up.

Most of all just do what you love, because when you love what you do, you tend to do it in a really amazing way. You tend to go above and beyond the 9 to 5 mentality.

Why is it so important to encourage more women to pursue a career in IT, and what needs to change?

Gender balance gives you balance in perspectives. If you have all men or all women, you tend to lose a diversity of perspectives which is important for making good products, for responding to the broader community and market needs, and for getting challenging ideas happening.

The industry needs to inform education a lot more about what it needs, because a lot of the degrees at university and a lot of the stuff that’s taught in schools is sometimes five, 10, even 20 years out of date. Looking at Web 2.0 tools is really vital. Getting kids involved in open source projects not only gives them skill development and the opportunity to learn from highly skilled developers out there in the world, but it also gives them the opportunity to create a portfolio.

The most compelling thing when going into a job is being able to show what you can do. In the IT sector, the best way that you can make a name for yourself is just by doing good stuff. So it’s about giving kids the opportunity and the encouragement to make stuff. Some of the hacking competitions are wonderful for that. We get lots of schools participating in GovHack now, and we have lots of different hacking competitions and game development competitions.

Everyone seems to be focusing on high school, but primary school is where we need to start. There’s a Steiner school in north-west Sydney that introduced technology at all levels, and they’ve had amazing results in getting a lot of girls engaged in technology to the point where most of their IT services are run by the students.

Rhody Burton, SAP head of Channels business for A/NZ; ARN Women in IT ‘Rising Star’ award winner

How did you get to where you are today?

I literally fell into IT. I was working in London in my very early 20s just temping and I happened to get asked what temp job I wanted next, one of them being in IT. The other was what was described as a toothpaste company which sounded incredibly boring, so I chose IT.

Back in the mid-1990s, my partner and I at the time were travelling around Europe in a kombi van. Literally the way we would communicate with people at home was to find a fancy hotel that we couldn’t afford to stay in, we would pay them a British pound, and we would use the fax machine to fax one letter back to my boyfriend’s Dad who would then ring everyone and read out this letter.

So suddenly I was working for this company that had the Internet, had email and I was just exposed to the possibility of where technology could take you. I just got hooked. From there it was just this love of technology and the dynamic people in the industry.

Have you ever found it difficult to keep going ahead in your career

Yeah, definitely. Very early on in my career, I found it difficult to have a voice, be heard and to put my hand up. Early on in my career I wondered if I was able to get ahead. But I was very fortunate to have some great mentors along the way.

If I think back to the most difficult time for me, it was probably during the period after having my kids. That period of coming back from maternity leave and then finding myself pregnant again — just seeing how the business at that stage reacted to that with regards to job security — was really, really challenging for me.

Building a network is just so incredibly important. I was at a ‘women in IT’ event a couple of years ago and for the first time heard about ‘imposter syndrome’, and it really resonated with me. I know I and a lot of other women in the industry sometimes wonder or wait for someone to tap us on the shoulder and say "hey, how did you get this job and what are you doing here?"

So I built a really strong network of amazing women across the industry who I have either worked with or met through organisations such as FITT. For me, it’s been one of the things that has enabled me to be honest with how I’m feeling and build up my confidence.

Also, make sure that you are consciously making decisions to make an effort and to reach out and help others because, in my experience, in turns around and comes back to you in absolute spades.

Why is it so important to encourage more women to pursue a career in IT, and what needs to change?

It is absolutely known that companies that have a diverse workforce actually return more profit to shareholders, as they have more innovative ideas. It’s not just about increasing the number of women in your organisation; there are some real business benefits to it.

I also think not just focusing on the tech roles is important. I’m not in a technical role. Girls don’t necessarily think about doing marketing, for example, in IT. They don’t necessarily make the linkages and think about IT as being a viable industry to work in.

At SAP, one of things I was incredibly excited about and have pushed out to my kid’s school is a Young ICT Explorers competition. It’s annual competition, and it starts in Year 3 and it goes all the way up to Year 12. It actually encourages the youth to apply various ICT technology to practical challenges.

It’s not just about what program you create or the technical aspect of it. The kids that win these awards need to think about how they would market it, articulate the sales pitch, and why this technology that they’ve created should win the competition. Some of the kids did language learning apps and sensor controlled robots. The talent is staggering.

I think the sad thing, from what I’ve observed, is in Years 3-6 the gender mix is pretty balanced. As we start to hit high school we see the percentage of girl participants start to decline, and by the time we get to Year 12 the numbers really don’t look that great. I know other tech companies do similar programs, but I think it’s about how we as an industry forge together and help promote what each other is doing more and tackle this issue because it’s an industry-wide issue.

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