Our future tech leaders

Sheena Ireland
Mon 20 Nov

Who’s going to run the world of the future?  Girls are!

It’s a Sunday when I pull into the car park at Melrose High School, seeing some cars, but otherwise the school looks as it should for a weekend — quiet and still.

As I enter the school, I start to see a different picture. Four classrooms are filled with excitement, with 80 girls from across the nation’s capital excitedly coding, learning the wonders of Arduinos (an electronics learning platform that uses an open source language to program outputs such as visual messages and sounds), and, most importantly, engaging with the capital’s most talented women in ICT.

What is ICT you ask? Information and communications technology, the industry underpinning the future of work and claiming fame with the progression of the digital age. 

In a time where we are more connected than ever, and where children seem born with the ability to use a smartphone, it’s confronting that we still have a low number of girls pursuing technology subjects, leading to ICT careers. 

While visiting the Girls’ Programming Network on Sunday 5 November, I get to witness the enthusiasm and persistence with which girls throw themselves into learning and enjoying technology, specifically coding. But I also get to hear stories about the extremely low numbers of girls in technology classes — often one or two chose to enter the technology labs through their class choices in some high schools.

Starting almost a decade ago in Sydney, the Girls’ Programming Network hopes to increase these numbers for the benefit of women and girls, and the ICT industry. Studies continue to show that getting more women into all levels of any industry improves business results and event culture. 

Starting only two years ago in Canberra, the Network has really gained speed. While 80 girls between the ages of 8 and 17 attended the Sunday event, a further 50 remained on the waiting list, holding their breath for increases in the program’s capacity.

Sponsored by the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), the Canberra Girls’ Programming Network includes talented mentors and support staff from the Directorate, the education sector and other areas of the Canberra ICT industry. But with a community of over 50 mentors and strong leadership from talented minds like Courtney Ross and Su-en Williams, both of ASD and both determined to influence change for the better, the Network is poised to be a key change-maker in our community.

While the program sparks my interest at every level, I can’t help but be drawn into Courtney’s discussions on the importance of mentoring for the program to achieve its objectives of making such a significant impact that gender equity in ICT increases so much that the program is not needed and girls naturally get together to explore tech.

“Having these young girls exposed to real role models, who can show them that there are women in ICT and the career path is for anyone excited by tech, regardless of gender, is a key part of this program — much more so than the technical skills,” Courtney said.

“The coding and other tech activities are exciting, but it’s the mentoring and the fostering of attitudes of ‘we can’ that will make a difference and help us encourage and support girls to take up ICT subjects in school, and then ICT careers at the end of their education.”

The Girls’ Programming Network is calling out to women working in ICT across the region to consider joining the Network as a mentor.

“We always look to have a range of skills sets throughout the mentor pool and provide a fulfilling and fun experience to every mentor that joins us. Just as much as our mentors leave a positive influence on our students, our students leave a positive influence on our mentors,” Courtney said.

When I asked Courtney about why she started as a mentor and now leads the program in Canberra, she said: “I was the lone girl in the tech classroom growing up and I want more girls to join and be comfortable”.

As women, we can often pass over mentoring opportunities, thinking we’re not good enough. After visiting the Girls’ Programming Network and seeing the positive impacts, and also drawing upon my own leadership experience, I call on you to put yourself forward — you are talented and your care and support for the next generation can influence a significant change for the better!

To enquire about becoming a mentor, email [email protected].

The Canberra Girls’ Programming Network compliments our national education system and holds four workshops per year. To find our more and to register a girl into the Program, visit canberragpn.github.io.

Workshops are volunteer driven and the Network is always looking for volunteers of any skill level to support the operation of the event and contribute to the experience of every participant. If you want to make a change in this important area, email [email protected]