Software specialist Company-X sent one of its best and brightest software architects to Hamilton Girls’ High School to inspire students to join her team.
Smash stereotypes and consider a career in science, technology, engineering and maths.
That’s the advice Hamilton-based software specialist Company-X has for girls.
Only about 20 per cent of technology-related jobs are held by women.
The 50 plus Silicon Valley savvy team with a Kiwi can-do attitude sent one of its best and brightest software architects to Hamilton Girls’ High School to inspire students to aspire to become her colleagues.
Reseller News Women in Information and Communications Technology finalist Rachel Primrose said: “I don’t think there are that many women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) because of the unconscious bias against women, which comes from men and other women.”
Rachel was a finalist for this year’s Technical Award.
“Personally, I’ve had to shrug off a lot of unwelcome comments, from both men and women over the years, and that’s straight-up unacceptable.
“Everyone needs to look at the way they’re talking to our young people about STEM to break down that barrier.”
Rachel taught three lessons for two Year 10 classes with her colleague Karen Moore as part of Smart Waikato’s award-winning Secondary School Employer Partnership.
The partnership connects students, teachers and employers to contextualise learning and inspire the next generation.
For Rachel it was all about challenging stereotypes.
“We shared our experiences as women working in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and information technology (IT) in a holistic way,” Rachel said.
Her message, delivered to mathematics students, included the journey through education, career paths, salary, travel and lifestyle benefits.
Company-X, for example, allows its team to work from its Hamilton office or from home and offers flexible hours, which is advantageous for those with young families.
“We showed how statistics is relevant to STEM through having the students participate in data analytics on social media data,” Rachel said.
The students also visited the Company-X office to learn about the fastest growing technology company in New Zealand’s fastest growing technology region.
Company-X has grown from employing two in 2012 to more than 50.
“We showed the students the work environment, how we do our jobs, the types of work we do, and the cool technology we get to work with.”
Rachel taught the concept of programming by role playing a sandwich making robot that the students had to instruct one step at a time.
The instruction to put the margarine on the bread, for example, would result in the margarine tub being placed on top of the unopened loaf.
Students also experienced Company-X’s virtual reality milking shed where each student was trained in a healthy and safe milking procedure.
Rachel and Karen started their first lesson with a photo board and asked the students to pick which of the people worked in STEM.
“Of Rachel’s photo, one student said, ‘She’s way too pretty to have a job in STEM’,” Karen said.
“Turns out that the pretty lady was actually the most qualified on the photo board!”
Hamilton Girls’ High School mathematics teacher Anita Chan welcomed Company-X into her mathematics class.
“Rachel and Karen were amazing and everything went according to their lesson plan,” Anita said. “They are just like natural teachers.”
Hamilton Girls’ High School mathematics student Nikaia Paama said meeting Rachel and Karen in the classroom, and visiting them at Company-X, had challenged her ideas about the IT industry.
“Having people visit definitely helps me see what I want to do when I grow up,”
She had always assumed IT was for boys, probably because girls didn’t like it, but working with Company-X had introduced her to more possibilities.
“Having Company-X come into our classroom has allowed me to think of doing things with computers and seeing how fun it can actually be,” Nikaia said.
“I’m definitely thinking of doing something in this field of work. It sounds like a really interesting thing to do.”
Nikaia hoped to see the number of women in technology roles grow from 20 percent.
“Girls can do anything,” she said.
Classmate Maraia Vukinamualevu said Rachel and Karen had described Company-X as a flexible employer who was fun to work for.
“It made me consider taking up digital tech,” she said.
Fellow maths student Karis McInally said she had always wanted to work with computers.
“I’m glad that I can experience what you do up close and find out more about the job,” she said.
Company-X senior software developer Marcel van de Steeg has taught technology lessons through the partnership at Hamilton Boys’ High School for years, but Company-X wanted to extend its commitment to include Hamilton Girls’ High School.
“We wanted to do something about women being underrepresented in the technology workforce,” said Company-X co-founder and director David Hallett.
“We were already working with Boys’ High and told Smart Waikato we would love working with Girls’ High too. Why can’t we influence them?
“While it was great encouraging and inspiring the boys, it’s just as exciting to cover STEM topics with girls.
“They did not hesitate. They really wanted to partner with us.”
Learning from the brightest and the best
Hamilton Girls’ High School student Angel Li is considering a technology career after experiencing a day in the life of a software specialist at Company-X.
“I experienced virtual reality technology at Company-X and learned more about digital information,” Angel said after the visit facilitated through the ShadowTech 2019 scheme.
“It is an area I think I will follow once I have left school,” Angel said.
“I liked seeing an actual workplace and how what I am learning in digital technology in school can help me in the future.”
The ShadowTech 2019 programme connects secondary school girls in years 9 to 11 with women in the technology sector, who act as mentors. It educates girls about the wide range of careers and opportunities available to them in the technology industry.
The objective is to see an increase in the number of girls and young women who choose science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) related subjects at a secondary and tertiary level and ultimately choose a career in technology.
“I was approached by Company-X co-founder and director David Hallett to help with mentoring girls as part of ShadowTech 2019,” said Company-X support analyst Leah Gilbert.
“Along with intern Jes Elliott, office manager Karen Moore and the team from business incubator Soda Inc we introduced girls from Hamilton Girls’ High School, St Paul’s Collegiate School and Hillcrest High School to the different aspects of a working software development company,” Leah said,
“They got to meet key personnel and saw that there are a variety of roles within an organisation like Company-X. We talked with them about their own plans and interests and showed them how there were opportunities within the IT sector for pretty much anyone.”
Leah enjoyed working with the students.
“It’s important for girls to meet with women who are working in IT, to see first-hand that women play vital roles within the sector.”
Leah said the girls who visited Company-X were interested to learn aspects of the information and technology industry from a female perspective.
“They were aware of how women can face certain attitudes, so I think that’s where actually meeting women in a mentorship role helps,” Leah said.
“It was good being able to talk with them as a mum too – since I could tell them about my experience juggling family and work commitments. It was great being able to show them that there is flexibility in the industry.
“Things I love about Company-X include that I have work flexibility and that I’m working with an amazingly supportive team of people. The fact that women still play a much larger role in raising children does make it more difficult for them to enter the workforce.”
Company-X intern Jes Elliott is a third year University of Waikato computer science student and president of Ladies Inc. The university club aims to strengthen the bonds between women in computer science, computer engineering, graphic design and mathematics.
Jes was excited to chat with girls from her old high school, St Paul’s Collegiate, and help them take full advantage of their day at Company-X.
“Girls are missing out in the IT space due to the lack of confidence,” Jes said. “This is one obstacle that I, and many of my friends, face.”
Jes said her involvement in Ladies Inc over several years had helped her grow personally.
“I’ve gained more confidence, and it’s allowed me to take full advantage of all the events that we create or have been a part of.
“Since starting my internship at Company-X, I have found it’s great to have a work-community that works together and helps each other grow. This has allowed me to step outside of my comfort zone to continually learn. It has made such a positive change in my life having realised that the transition from university to industry is actually not as scary as people think.”
ShadowTech is run by TechWomen with support from NZTech.
Company-X was invited to get involved by CultivateIT operations manager Jannat Maqbool.
“It is always good to connect in with a nationwide initiative but important to ensure there was a regional flavour and that CultivateIT could support the concept (inspiring young women into STEM careers) in other ways outside of the one-day event,” Jannat said.
“We are working on this with NZ Tech now.”