On Friday, 28 June 2019 Claire Wood was part of the fantastic speaker lineup that addressed a group of teenagers about the tech industry at the annual #GirlGeekSummit.
The focus of this event was girls in tech and so it fits that the event hashtag was #GirlGeekSummit . It was sponsored by Momentum and held at their head office in Centurion.
The event was a two-day workshop organised by Africa Teen Geeks – an incredible organisation that exists to eliminate the barriers faced by disadvantaged communities in pursuing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
While the event focused on empowering teenage girls from underprivileged backgrounds, there were a few adult women and teenage boys in attendance as well.
The list of speakers was impressive and included government officials as well as international women in tech. The speakers shared advice in individual talks and panel discussions. Among the speakers was Monica Arés from Facebook in California, Ashlene van der Colff of MMI Holdings , Eileen Brewer (Scrum Master ICDx), Cathy Mohlohlana (Newzroom Afrika), Mmboneni Muofhe (DDG for Technology innovation at the Department of Science & Technology in South Africa), Africa Teen Geek’s Lindiwe Matlali , and Innosys’s Claire Wood.
Claire’s talk focused on giving the girls tips on how to enter the tech industry. Her tips were:
2. Pay attention to your subject choices
3. Learn about your options at university
4. Tech>coding — coding is not the only career in technology
She began by highlighting some of the historical women who worked in tech. This included Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson – the amazing, inspiring scientists who were honoured in the film Hidden Figures. Claire also shared some disturbing facts about the low numbers of women in technology jobs as uncovered in a UN study.
She said the study found that, on average, only 25% of the team in tech companies will be women; and that in 2017 fewer women entered the sciences than in previous years. All of these need to be changed.
Claire highlighted the importance of practicing as much as possible. She gave a list of free coding bootcamps the girls could attend to improve their coding skills and she named a few organisations in the tech industry that help young people get industry experience. Claire also said that some companies offered internships and others also paid a small stipend.
List of free coding bootcamps available
Pay attention to your subject choices
Claire highlighted how important it is for the girls to choose the right subjects while they are in school. This was worthwhile advice as the ages of the girls in attendance ranged from 14 to 18. She emphasised the importance of both Maths and English for people wanting to work in tech. English will help you communicate well in the workplace, she said. Maths, she said, teaches you how to think. “Analytical thinking and problem-solving is what you learn in Maths” and these are key skills, she added.
Learn about your options at university
There are many degree options at universities but many people do not know what they are. Claire invited the girls to learn more about these options. She suggested the girls ask people in the industry, like her and some of the other speakers, and that they do some research into what the universities offer. She emphasised that there are many technology jobs and there is a need for more women in the tech industry.
Tech > coding — coding is not the only career in technology
While coding gets quite a bit of attention Claire said that “coding is not the only career in technology”. Among other suggestions, she said the girls could become UI/UX designers, business analysts, software testers and project managers.
Claire concluded by saying that in male-dominated industries like technology we need to teach them that “there is space for all of us”.
She received fervent applause at the end of her talk and a few girls and adults came to compliment her afterwards, asking her more about the Innosys team and for some advice. One person she spoke to teaches robotics to children in growing up in townships, thus creating better access for these children to enter the tech industry one day.