Inspiration…Perspiration….Serendipity: Pathways to a career in ICT

Last week I was asked to be a Keynote at an ICT teachers workshop. I was given the topic to talk to, very similar to the title to this blog, and I was to introduce two young professional women in ICT. We all spoke about our pathways and I was surprised by the commonalities in our stories, particularly serendipity. If nothing else it confirmed the power of positive encouragement from teachers and significant others to kick start a career in ICT, and also the realization of the ability of ICT to initiate social good. This underpinned the reasons for all three of us selecting this lifestyle, and all three of us did not start with an ICT Bachelors degree.

My career was influenced by 3 serendipitous events coupled with a few revelations along the way. Yes a lot of perspiration – but then that it is just what you do!

Serendipity #1 My friend the Biology teacher became the ICT leader in the school. When we needed a second lab in the school he said “Cmon Catherine, you will be good at this”. If he had not singled me out, I would not have thought about taking a technical role. He mentored me, and this lead to Revelation # 1  I learned that teaching IT was very different to teaching Geography.  In IT I was the facilitator of knowledge discovery, I could not keep up with the young males (always males) who spent all their spare time tinkering. Then came Serendipity #2 with a Monash Teaching Fellowships and a Deputy Principal who walked into our office one day and put the application on my desk and said “Catherine you would like this”. I never would have considered it. 50% teaching at uni level, 50% research. I was a women in IT unable to convince year 11 females to come and do IT (I had completed a Grad Dip at this stage), and wondering why. The Dean of the Faculty of IT at Monash was unable to recruit enough female domestic students to study IT yet had the perception that classes in Singapore were gender balanced. So began my research career. Revelation #2  I really enjoy research, I really enjoy writing and reading.  It led to a position in student management at Monash which led to another Revelation #3 – I liked academia more than management. I applied for and was successful in gaining a Lecturer position at Swinburne on the strength of my research Masters and a promise to do PhD. I doubt that you could do that now. Closely followed Revelation #4 and Serendipity #3. My first conference paper from my Masters was published while I was at Swinburne and the conference was in Hawaii. Tough gig but I rose to the challenge. At that conference I realised my love was IT education, not IT per se. It felt right, the keynotes were inspirational and I actually sat in that audience and thought this is not work, I love this. Serendipity #3 – On the trip home due to flight cancellations and delays I found myself sitting next to the keynote, a renowned professor of Higher Ed from Melbourne University. I broached the PhD topic with him, he was interested, and that led to this career.
12 years of research, women in computing, conference organisation, and a strong network of colleagues who also mentor me. Through the Swinburne WICT group – which I initiated and am still the academic mentor, and through my program coordination role at Swinburne I have the privilege of guiding smart women in their careers (and many smart men too). They inspire me. I keep in touch with graduates working overseas, interstate, leading teams,  through WICT networks and they also come back to inspire current students.I still don’t feel like an ICT expert, but I don’t need to be. If I can facilitate, guide and mentor others while leading in areas of my strengths, ICT education.

I am still excited and enjoying this career. Which brings me back to the two smart young women who presented with me. Both graduates from another university, one inspired by a Chemistry teacher, another inspired by a social good program delivered by her employer. The takeaway from this blog is never  underestimate how a comment to a student, i.e. that they are good at IT and should look to following through with it, can have real impact.


February 28, 2013. Tags: , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

NZ_OzWIT 2012 “persistence, challenge, passion, enthusiasm, growth, balance”

The first ever New Zealand and Australian Women in IT Conference was held in beautiful Christchurch on the 10th and 11th of October. Christchurch welcomed us with a bit of an earthshake, 4.1 on the Richter scale. “Was that a truck going past?”
Nicky Wagner MP opened our conference and emphasized the need for ICT to increase diversity in 4 areas; gender, background, lifestyle and nationality.
Professor Dame Wendy Hall’s keynote, reminded us that we are in a constantly changing frontier and that even the creators of the World Wide Web did not know what it could do until it was invented, and they are still learning.
Professional NZ Women shared their personal journeys. They chose this career out of “convenience”, “challenge” ” passion” and “shopping” !
The Academic stream of the conference provided the underlying theories that attempt to unpack the reasons behind the increasing lack of diversity in ICT. Stereotypes, self-efficacy, confidence, support groups and strategies to persist and flourish were shared.
The student poster session demonstrated the varied and creative applications and research into aspects of ICT.
Day 2 . Kay Giles, CE of CPIT (Christchurch Polytechnic) advised all to put family first -then the rest will fall into place. Start each day with something to do, something to look forward to and something to love.
Lyndal Stewart from Business Mechanix gave us DBA to CEO in 15 easy steps. Demonstrating thatl “enthusiasm is infectious” and that “time as a precious gift”.
The ‘influencer’ panel unpacked leadership styles, Sue Wilkinson an “eagle who facilitates conversation”, Melanie Tobeck “persistent,even dogmatic” Jo Healey “an active listener, a leader who stands on others shoulders”. These women ‘run their own game’ and have created the ICT business environment that works for them.
The final session delivered by Jo Miller led each of us to “Build our own Brand”. It was noisy, energetic, and left everyone with solid strategies advice for the future.
We were enthused to go and model the workplace culture we want, mentor women to enter computing, as well as become leading influencers in our organisations.
If the energy in the room could be bottled……

October 14, 2012. Uncategorized. 2 comments.

Great idea, but where is the T for Technology (STEM)

The Parliamentary “Friends of Women in Science, Maths and Engineering” group has been launched by Senator The Hon Chris Evans. Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research.

Great! We need to shine a light on opportunities for women, celebrate successes, promote entry into these traditionally male areas … but… where is the T for technology? 

STEM is the traditional acronym used worldwide, and massess of research has already been conducted in STEM related fields. We have less than 20% female representation in most ICT positions, less than 5% in the more technical areas, yet the T was left out of this group. Why? [see earlier blog]

In the US it is all about STEM, and 2012 Generation STEM was just published showing that GIRLS LIKE STEM. This Girl Scout Research Institute report offers a ‘strength based perspective’ and found that overwhelmingly girls ARE interested in STEM, they want to use it to help people, however many of the students are also high achievers and have many career options available to them. They also found that percieved gender barriers are still high, and posit that many young women internalise these outdated subtle cultural stereotypes. We are not the USA, we do however have strong similarities with their culture, and our women in ICT experiences mimic theirs.

Lets get the T put into this group and empower, encourage and grow Women in STEM for “future productivity and global competitiveness”. Just as we are doing now through our Swinburne Women in ICT group as well as the Digital Divas Club.

June 21, 2012. Tags: , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.