Silicon Valley beckons as Wellington East Girls gear up for the future of IT

In a bid to boost female number of IT workers in New Zealand, a group of Wellington East girls experienced first hand what it’s like to work for Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Dreamworks, Boeing and Adobe.

Connaire McKeefry, a Wellington East Girls’ College student, is challenging her own stereotype.

She is a bright, young women predisposed to studying law or commerce, but after a life changing school trip last year, she is now focussed on a future in ICT.

McKeefry was one of 39 Wellington East Girls’ pupils who visited Silicon Valley and Seattle in the United States last year on a trip designed to counter the ‘computer-nerd’ myth and to show students what a real job in the ICT sector actually looks like.

“It’s all very well to hear in class about how the ICT industry is huge and that there is not many woman in ICT roles,” McKeefry says.

“But you get another level of understanding by actually visiting Facebook and Google. Now I know what is really out there.”

The trip was arranged to inspire young female students to consider ICT as a future career and to encourage them to plan their studies to that end.

Using the Ministry of Education’s Youth Guarantee Vocational Pathways tools students are able to choose a combination of subjects, which will help them be better prepared for further study or work in a specific industry – like ICT.

“A trip like this one means that students can immediately connect with an industry or sector and this is likely to inspire them to direct their study toward a certain career," adds Arthur Graves, the Ministry of Education’s Group Manager for Youth Guarantee.

"It is essential that young people at school have more choices, ways and places to achieve NCEA Level 2 or equivalent qualifications.

"When students study subjects in areas which are relevant and interesting to them, then they are much more likely to stay at school and secure the qualifications they need for the future.”

The group experienced first hand what it’s like to work for Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Dreamworks, Boeing and Adobe.

Not only did they get high level information and tours, but they got to talk freely with employees – even over lunch in the canteen - to get a real understanding of what the day-to-day work involves.

Head of Digital Technologies and Computing at the college, Cris Roughton says there’s been a high level of excitement since the party has returned and that has had a huge impact on engagement.

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"You can give students the means to pursue a career in ICT but first they must actually want to go down that pathway," Roughton says. "The trip was successful in showing our girls how dynamic the industry is, and how varied.”

According to the industry, New Zealand is struggling to meet the demand for IT experts and is importing foreign expertise to meet this shortfall.

Initiatives at the school level, like this one, will help ensure that New Zealand is cultivating the high degree of digital literacy it needs for the future.

Intergen, the information technology development and design company, helped sponsor the college’s Silicon Valley trip in the hopes of encouraging further students into the industry because it too is finding it hard to source the right talent as it rapidly grows.

“We are taking on 15 graduates next year and would increase that if we could get more with the right skills," says Emma Barrett, Director of Solutions and Services, Intergen New Zealand.

Barrett says when it comes to encouraging new talent into ICT careers, the industry needs to start younger and do more.

“We need to help build a self-sustaining work base that supports an industry set for untold growth," she adds.

"We need to encourage our young talent to choose a career in IT by showing them how rewarding it can be, and bringing to life the opportunities available.”

Barrett's own path into ICT was more by good chance rather than good planning.

“I was doing a business degree at Otago – papers in marketing and economics," she recalls. "I didn’t consider IT until a friend recommended INFO101. It fitted with my timetable, and turned out I really liked it.”

McKeefry says that the trip to America has made her think carefully about her career and she has now developed a study ‘map’ to help her better plan for her future - she will be following the Vocational Pathway for Manufacturing and Technology.

“It’s definitely got me to hone in," she says. "I’ve used the Careers New Zealand website to help me work out what I need to do, like subjects where I will learn to write code or do programming.

"If I could do Commerce or a Computer Science Degree with cross over to creative papers – that mix would be my ideal.”

According to Roughton, girls such as McKeefry can now better influence their own futures.

"They know what qualifications they need and that if done right, there is an amazing future ahead of them," Roughton adds.