The Big Day In is an event designed for both High School (Years 9-12) and University students interested in careers in technology. Over 6,000 young people will attend events around the country to hear about the ICT industry.
“We’re looking for passionate speakers who have something valuable to say to students who are contemplating a career within ICT. ”
-John Ridge AM, Executive Director of the ACS Foundation
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REA was there in full force with an uber popular Virtual Reality stand on the conference floor for students to come and try out a number of innovative technologies and ask questions.
The Melbourne conference was split into two streams, and REA started the day strong with opening speakers in the morning for each. Each room was booked to fill over 300 students. Milly Rowett presented her talk ‘I Have No Idea What I’m Doing’ that was received by students with literal shouts and ‘woohs’ of joy. I simultaneously delivered my talk ‘Do what you love, you’ll never work again’. Each of us attracted dozens of questions and compliments, confirming that we had successfully read the room and provided relevant and insightful content for the students.
Our presentations covered topics including Impostor Syndrome, finding your passion, demystifying what engineering is, debunking stigmas around technology, clarifying assumptions about technical careers and offering a general message of support and possibility.
Students appeared refreshed to see a humanised side to a discussion about a career in science, technology, engineering or maths. I made an explicit effort to offer as much context as I could about what working as a software engineer actually looks like. I could sympathise with their predicament, being asked to make decisions that shape their career outlook when they have very little experience to draw from to decide what they can, or will, enjoy doing.
Together we spent a lot of time talking to students about how obtainable these career choices were to them. My own back story of growing up in remote country Australia in a small farming community, having little-to-no access to technology, and coming from a public school of 30 students, was something that garnered a lot of questions – especially from students who may have otherwise discounted themselves from the idea of a career in Engineering.
I was concerned that students may have some difficulty reconciling the disconnect between ‘a Real Estate company’ and cutting edge technology like Virtual Reality or the photos I had shown them earlier of myself in a large scale Data Centre moving tonnes of hardware. However the first thing a lot of students were interested in after playing with the tech we had was “how does this apply to housing?”.
As you might expect, real estate is not a very approachable topic of conversation for teenagers, so I was impressed when Milly and I attracted an overwhelming number of students on the showroom floor curious to see our technology demonstrations and eager to ask questions about our jobs.
I have spent a year of my time previously working as a Head Tutor and regularly lecturing at RMIT University for the IT & Computer Science faculty, so I was all too familiar with the under-representation of girls in my classroom. It was pleasing to see the number of young girls who were present and engaged throughout the day. They were genuinely excited by the prospects that Milly and I had endeavoured to illustrate clearly about potential career paths in technology.
It was also important that attendees as young as Year 9 were involved in the day, not exclusively VCE students. Talking to students at such an early stage in their education was a prime opportunity to dissolve some industry dogmas. I hope honest conversations can be influential for helping to bridge the gender gap for future generations.
A common misconception among students is Hollywood’s portrayal of ‘The Programmer’. Saying you’re a programmer will quickly cause a wave of glazed eyes and sullen faces. But saying ‘I make Apps!’ is greeted by awe and wonder. Explaining how these are the same thing was an exercise in battling how students perceive the current marketing for Science and Technology careers in schools or Universities.
Being a programmer does not mean tapping away in at a computer in an isolated, dimly lit room. Code is our material, like timber or limestone. It’s really a means to an end. Our process is actually highly collaborative, and requires critical thinking and leans heavily on design and creative problem solving, rather than pure math or calculation.
We’re both excited to see so many young people interested in a career in science, technology and engineering. These events are great to be a part of on behalf of REA, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to give students the sorts of insights I wish I had at that age, when I was trying to determine a direction for my life after school.