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Empowering women in tech: Breaking barriers and advancing careers
Fri, 16th Feb 2024

In today’s fast-moving emerging tech landscapes, diversity and inclusion are more than just corporate buzzwords. They are finally gaining the traction they deserve as critical factors for innovation and success. And women are surging, bringing a richness and diversity of perspectives, experiences, and problem-solving approaches to the workplace that have long been overlooked.

I’m a firm believer in – and a great example of! – age is no barrier either. As soon as I finished my Masters, I dived head first into my passion for AR and VR before being appointed Metaverse Lead at ARQ, one of Australia’s leading digital, data and cloud services and consultancies, and emerging technologies specialist and project lead for Singtel’s global digital tech firm, NCS Group.

Young women are poised to redefine what's possible in emerging tech. All digital natives, we are naturally creative, agile thinkers in ways our predecessors will never be. So, if you are young, motivated and keen to make your mark, don’t let your age define you. Flex it, and watch it work to your advantage!

Here are my four tips for anyone looking to bolster their tech career and make a statement this year:

1. Keep learning and growing

Everyone – whether you’re in tech or not – benefits from continuous self-improvement. These days, not everyone has the time or resources or even the aptitude (especially true if you are neurodiverse like me) to study full-time at university. Yes, I’ve done it – twice! – but it was really challenging, especially in the early days before I was diagnosed*.

It’s vital to keep up with new and emerging technologies, so for growing numbers of people it’s simply more convenient (and affordable) to do short-term studies than go down the traditional route. 

Online classes are great as they give you control over how, when, and where you learn, and smaller units of study (especially in tech) are perfect if you’re not sure exactly which area you want to work in to help you work out if x or y area aligns with what you’ve already done or where you think you’re headed. 

There are loads of low-cost and free alternatives out there; Udacity and Khan Academy are two of my favourites; udacity, I love in particular as the tuition videos are fun, practical 2-5-minute clips, perfect for my ADHD brain. YouTube is also an amazing resource for learning; if you can think it, there’s probably someone on YouTube teaching it! 

2. Do your own mini projects

To grow your reputation or profile, you need something to showcase. Something that’s been really helpful for me, both personally and professionally, is working on practical, creative, personal mini-projects. Call them what you will – passion projects, side hustles – these are activities you do just for you. 

Passion is the key here. I can’t count how many projects I’ve abandoned when something doesn’t excite me. When you’re working on something you’re passionate about, you’ll learn faster and better, be more engaged, and less likely to give up.

My first experiment in AR was to create this pop-up 3D Chu model using this Pikachu. Why? Because I like Pokemon! Simple, achievable little projects like this, especially if you have a few on the go at any one time, like I tend to, are a great place to start.

Other ideas might include a short film or mini TV show, or if you’re a programmer, a simple mobile or web app to spotlight a favourite TV show, movie, or fictional character, or reach out to a small local charity to offer a mini project pro bono. Check out CodePen or Glitch – they simplify the development process and hosting, and your projects are easy to share.

3. Put yourself out there

So, if you’ve done the mini project, or you’ve got a couple of runs on the board, especially if you are working in the technology or emerging technology scene, it's important for you to be willing and able to showcase your work.

While the thought may terrify you, the best way to do this is through putting yourself out there – at corporate or public events, pitching for speaking gigs like panel events or even podcast interviews or making connections via direct outreach. 

Never fear, the first ever talk I gave (on VR to an audience at NAB) was a disaster! I hadn’t realised the audience was going to be so big, so I was already panicking. I tried to share a screen, and it didn’t work. It was supposed to be 30 minutes, and I finished it in 15. I left thinking, ‘I hope I never see any of these people again!’. 

Instead, a year later, after I’d been hired by NCS (formerly ARQ) as Emerging Technologies Lead, first one person, then another and another from that event approached me to say they remembered my talk! That talk! In my head, it was still the worst thing that ever happened to me, but they were so excited about it as it was the first time many of them had experienced VR for the first time. 

The moral of the story is: give yourself that shot. Especially in new and emerging tech, where there’s often no precedent or comparison, you have nothing to lose. Make it fun, and people will be interested and engaged, even if (in your eyes) you ‘fail’.

4. Start networking (online and IRL)

The last thing I would say is to make friends with LinkedIn for networking. And if not LinkedIn, there are some great LinkedIn alternatives out there for tech professionals. 

I’ve also found Meetup really helpful in finding some niche groups (like Women in Emerging Tech and Melbourne Metaverse) where I’ve met some incredible women. Or Women Who Code Melbourne, which I joined as an attendee, evolved into a volunteer, then an organiser, and eventually a speaker and lead.

It might feel cringe to begin with, but networking is the next natural step in establishing – then raising – your profile as someone to watch. At the end of the day, all you really need to focus on is pursuing activities and jobs that excite and interest you. If you have a genuine passion for what you are doing, ‘you’ll never work a day in your life’.

*At 25yrs with ADHD, followed by an Autism diagnosis at 27.