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IT Girls

Maria Golpe’s IT Girls feature from the May edition of PCLive! magazine.

PCLive! May 2009 (1) PCLive! May 2009 (2)

According to the 2006 Census, only 13.25% of the people currently working in Science and Technology jobs in the country are females. The Math is easy enough to work out: there are just not enough women choosing scientific careers in Ireland.

Looking at the statistics, Cristina Luminea, a Masters student from Institute of Technology Sligo and as self-confessed girl geek, decided she would try to curve this trend, by convincing secondary school female students to enter Technology and Science degrees.

“I’m a very fortunate person because both my parents are Engineers and when they saw that I liked Maths, they encouraged me towards this career,” she says. Cristina is a Research Associate at the Centre For Design Innovation in IT Sligo, where she is currently working on a Research Masters Degree in Engineering looking at Production and Energy Consumption.

Cristina has a mission: to increase the number of women working in Technology in Ireland. In December, she organised the first Women in Technology meeting to encourage Secondary School female students to follow tech careers. Her campaign is unique, since it is the first event to bring together three groups that are not normally in contact: secondary school women, college women and professional women. The idea is simple: introducing students to real bone and flesh IT-minded female role models.

“I decided to set up this initiative after attending different Technology events in Europe, where I realised that women were poorly represented. I talked to some of the women attending and I realised that in many cases they didn’t have the support that I had, to follow a career in technology. Most of the time, technology is not considered to be a career for girls,” she explains.

“I also looked at different networks in Ireland and realised that they are established to support women that already have a career in technology, but most don’t look at encouraging secondary school girls to enter this field. Women in Technology events want to create role models and give secondary school girls an opportunity to ask career women questions about their life and experience.”

Martha Rotter, founder of Ireland’s Girl Geek Dinners (http://www.irelandgirlgeekdinners.com/ ) and a member of the Developer and Platform Group with Microsoft Ireland, was the guest speaker at the first Women in IT event.

“Cristina’s event was fantastic. She did a great job putting together an event that was informative, exciting and well-attended. I really enjoyed the day and met several other interesting and motivated women in technology,” she says. “I was very pleased by the students’ very strong interest in the day. They had great questions. One of my favourites was about the ads in Facebook. When I explained how Facebook ads work and why it’s very important they protect their personal data, they were quite shocked. That type of education is really important and it scares me that it seems no one is cautioning students about protecting themselves on the Internet.”

Martha, who is originally from the US, went to university to study a business and international studies degree, initially, but her path took an unexpected turn. “I decided to take a C algorithms course and I fell in love with it. When I called my parents to tell them I was going to change my major, they told me I couldn’t drop out of business school, they had no idea what I would do with a computer science degree. I couldn’t let it go, so I just added the degree and graduated in five years instead,” she explains.

“I know I’m a geek. All of my friends in Seattle were geeks, too, most of them worked at Microsoft.  I was a bit concerned moving to Ireland that I wouldn’t have the same network to bounce ideas off of. I started looking for groups of nerds to meet up with and talk tech. I came across Girl Geek Dinners and discovered it was only in the UK. I thought it was such a cool idea. I emailed the founder (Sarah Blow) and she was thrilled that we’d start a group here.”

The first Irish girl geek dinner happened in Dublin in February 2008 and geeky dinners have since been organised in Cork and Belfast. They are open to any woman interested in technology. Martha’s idea is to move Girl Geek Dinners around to support initiatives such as Cristina’s.

“There is a perception that studying computer science is not cool, that you’ll spend the rest of your life stuck behind a computer desk in a dark cubicle, and that’s only for people who have superhuman math powers,” she says.

“One of the best things we can do is to start showcasing the variety of careers that one can pursue with an IT degree. The computer scientists of course, but also web developers, robotics experts, accessibility experts, game developers, artificial intelligence researchers, software testing, project management, globalization and localization, designers, user experience researchers and a lot more.

“These are not people sitting in dark cubicles! These are fascinating people out solving real and interesting problems, and creating solutions that change the world. Now that sounds pretty cool. By getting some of these women out there, in the public eye we can help change that perception. By creating mentoring relationships and nurturing them, we can help guide young women away from dangerous stereotypes and help them ignore peers who tell them computers are lame or math isn’t cool.”

Irish Girl Geeks

 

-Linda McAllorum, onsite Engineer with IT Force (www.itforce.ie) and member of Girl Geek Dinners.

 

“At 18, I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do with my life and I don’t think there are many 18 year olds that do! My parents suggested that I have a look at college courses for IT as this was the future Industry for Ireland. We where already in the middle of the Dot-Com years and things where just looking up. So I went against the grain and took my parents advice. Nine years later I’m still here and still enjoying it.

“There have been moments where I didn’t feel I was being taken as a serious candidate for the job because I was female and not because I didn’t have the right skills. In one particular instance, I was sitting, waiting for my interviewer and when he came in his face just dropped when he saw me! I couldn’t believe that would happen in this day and age. We did the interview and I had sufficient experience and skill set for the job, but I didn’t get it. I walked out knowing I wasn’t going to be considered. That was hard.

“The more technology we introduce to our children, the more attracted they will be to IT. The more they use it in everyday life while growing up, the more they will see ways to improve what they are using. I believe it is not just schools that need to teach our children about computers, they should be learning the basics at home, too.”

 

-Terri Scott, President of IT Sligo.

Scott was the first female to be named ‘IT Professional of the year’ by the British Computer Society.  “It is important to showcase role models and exciting career opportunities in ICT and related interdisciplinary areas; in fact many of our own top performing students are female,” she says.

-Carol McKeon, Co-founder of software company DataKraft (www.datakraft.net).

She started out in Web design and information architecture before moving into client facing consultative roles. “I spend most of my time in business development now but I am also involved in the design of new software products based on opportunities or problems that I am identifying in the market.

“There just happens to be much more men in the industry than women. It doesn’t really cross my mind often, but the odd time I will be in a room at a conference or talk and will look around to see not to many women in the room, which is a pity.

“If schools were to work with some of the IT organisations such as the ISA, as well as Academia, they would surely find a lot of companies that would be willing to give time towards helping students understand the massive selection of roles available in IT. Perhaps there is a perception among students that becoming a developer is the only think you can do, but there are so many different types of roles.”

– Kate Hyde’s henparty.ie

 

Kate Hyde is a graduate of UCC’s Business Information Systems and founder of www.henparty.ie. Kate managed to secure €30,000 investment from the Dragons Den. “I originally planned on studying law and filled in a change of mind form at the last minute having heard about BIS. I met some professionals that had studied BIS and I felt it was a really good degree that would be exciting and could lead to a great career. Gender doesn’t cross my mind when I make decisions so I never felt I was entering a male dominated area. In fact the year I began BIS there were more women than men in the class.”

As Kate puts it, there are over 31,000 weddings in Ireland each year, which means over 31,000 hen parties, but until her site came along, no site catered for these lucrative affairs. “Henparties can be expensive outings to the tune of over €117 million being spent on them each year in Ireland alone. I had always wanted to start my own business and IT was an obvious choice with my BIS background. I began planning the site in Autumn 2007 and went live in February 2008. The site generates revenue through an online store and advertising. It is top of Google and is the first point of reference for henparties in Ireland, on top of receiving substantial international traffic.

Getting investment from Niall O’Farrell and Gavin Duffy in the Dragons Den was one of the proudest moments of her life, she confesses. “The first year of the business was often tough and lonely. Having an entrepreneurial spirit can have its disadvantages! Standing in front of these successful businessmen and having two of them so publically endorse my business was one of the best moments of my life. In terms of raising the profile of the business, it has simply rocketed. My online sales have increased several hundred percent and the advertising enquiries just keep coming. It is great validation for all the hard work and also with the fact my business is growing in a recession.”

Kate’s short-term plans include the launch of henparty.ie in the UK by the end of this year and she publishing a book in the summer: ‘How to Hen party’. “I am hugely excited about that,” she says, and why wouldn’t she!?

You can watch Kate’s appearance in the Dragon’s Den here: http://www.rte.ie/tv/dragonsden/video.html (26th February video)

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