Inspiring the next generation of women in IT

Australian Women in Security Network

Inspiring the next generation of women in IT

Author – Amanda Menard

There has been a lot discussion regarding the lack of women working in IT. Current figures from the Australian Computer Society and Deloitte show that women make up only 28% of the ICT workforce. One of the initiatives working to change this statistic for future generations is the Girls’ Programming Network.

The Girls’ Programming Network (GPN) is an initiative of the National Computer Science School at the University of New South Wales and began in Sydney in 2008. It has since expanded its reach to include branches in Perth and Canberra with further growth planned into other states and regional centres.

The goal of the GPN is to teach girls programming and to connect them to women in industry. It achieves this goal by holding a series of day long events to teach girls the basic concepts of programming with the support of many female tutors. Events are free for girls from Years 4 to 11 to attend and are fully catered.

Tutors come from all areas of industry and academia – University students, government, telecommunications companies and other private industry organisations.

I have been involved as a tutor at some of the Canberra and Sydney GPN events. It’s incredibly rewarding and also provides the opportunity to network with other women IT professionals. The events target girls with a wide range of skills – from girls who have never coded before through to girls with advanced programming skills. The ratio of tutors to students is very high – usually one tutor for 3 or 4 girls which means beginners have the chance to ask questions and gain assistance quickly when stuck or dealing with a new programming concept.

Some of the events I have participated in have involved Markov chains and Arduino Boards. The most recent event on Markov Chains by the Canberra GPN had a record number of 71 girls registering with 40% having attended a GPN event previously. This event focused on Markov Chains to generate sentences based on sample text ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ by Dr Seuss. There were also practical exercises to illustrate the concept using words on large cards and lots of string! Previous events run by Canberra GPN have focused on cryptography and programming scissors-paper-rock.

The other event I tutored at was for Sydney GPN and focused on teaching the girls how to program Arduino boards – essentially small microcomputers that could be programmed to perform tasks such as turning on lights, playing music and displaying text on an LCD screen. We used NICTA Boards, which were specially built to make it easy to teach students how to use Arduinos, with built in inputs and outputs such as an LCD Screen, lights, buttons, a LED Shift Register, light sensor, and many more. There were also practical exercises using homemade playdough (which conducts electricity), batteries and lights to help the girls understand how electronic circuits work.

The feedback from the girls and their parents is incredibly positive. Many girls attend more than one GPN event and it is inspiring to see their enthusiasm and confidence in programming increase throughout the day. We’ve also had students organise code camps at their school!

We would love to involve more women as tutors. Events are usually held on a Sunday with room set up and preparation taking place on Saturday. You don’t have to commit to participating in all events as nominating to be a tutor at a single event is also greatly appreciated. You can also be involved behind the scenes with the creation of workbooks and reference material.

For further information about becoming a tutor, email Canberragpn.Further details are available from the Canberra GPN website at canberragpn.github.io or the Sydney GPN website at https://sites.google.com/site/girlsprogramminenetwork/.