The salaries for people in the information technology field have been increasing rapidly. Programmers in fields like Java, IOS and Android are in huge demand and masters in these fields are earning well over the average GP salary.
Other less-technical disciplines such as agile coaches and scrummasters are in high demand and fall into the same high-earning brackets. Based on current conditions I would argue the average programmer is now earning more than the average GP.
Additionally, many of the engineers working for me also have their own side businesses. They have developed apps or their own start-ups which earn supplemental income.
Do we need to educate students more about the financial benefits of pursuing a career in information technology?
There are also many other non-financial benefits often not understood.
• Transferable skills and international opportunities
The information technology field provides skills which are highly transferable. The trade allows you to work in any country in the world without retraining or recertifying, which is not the case with fields like medicine or law. Java in Australia is the same as Java in Russia or the United Kingdom.
• Flexible Working
Informational technology fields are well suited to flexible working. Working from home or telecommuting and job sharing is well suited to disciplines like programming, design, CX/UX. There are also many opportunities for part-time work and job sharing working two to three days per week or during school hours only.
• Misinformation and misunderstanding of IT fields
The stereotypical portrayal of information technology workers is a geeky/nerdy looking male with a big laptop and ego to match. Or a hipster with jeans, t-shirt, wearing a large set of beats headphones attached to his MacBook pro.
The reality is so far from this, yet TV and media continue to push this view onto society.
Granted, I do have some of the exact stereotypes I mentioned above working for me. And in some disciplines like hard core programming with full stack engineers, the stereotype is unfortunately more often than not true.
What I feel is we are not educating students about is the diversity of the information technology field. There are roles within it which suit all personality types:
• Highly creative roles in user experience design;
• Innovative big idea thinkers doing CX and design thinking;
• Detailed oriented number crunchers running project and project plans;
• Architects who need to think about the end to end big picture;
• Agile coaches who study team and human behaviour and coach teams to get the best out of them;
• Business engagement/relationship management roles which act as a bridge between business ideas and the technology implementing them; and
• Communication specialist which work with business and technology teams to keep large number of people on message using social media, video, email and live chats.
This is just a fraction of the subset of roles and most of them listed above do not require hard-core engineering or STEM-related background.
I challenge the notion great programmers must be great scientists or mathematicians. Part of the misinformation is we are focusing so much on getting women into STEM subjects.
In the US in 2009, women earned 57 per cent of all undergraduate degrees, 52 per cent of all math and science degrees, 59 per cent of the undergraduate degrees in biology and 42 per cent of mathematics degrees. Yet they only earn 18 per cent of all computer and information-science undergraduate degrees.
From personal experience, mathematics was never my key strength. Certainly not for all disciplines within the field. I was terrible at calculus for example - I just never got it. I was average at statistics and discrete mathematics and above average at algebra and logic. But this never held me back in computer science.
Despite not having a very strong engineering-based mathematics background, the creativity of problem solving in programming was something which came naturally to me and I passed all my programming related computer science subjects with high distinctions. I did not need to be a maths genius to be a good programmer.
The point being is I don’t believe we should be drumming a message to students like 'if you’re not great at STEM subjects, you can’t take on information technology related degrees at university'. The discipline of information technology has grown to encompass much more than science and engineering.
It includes social, psychological and human elements of analysis and design which are now more important than ever, as customer experience becomes a differentiator for successful businesses. We need to bring an 'A' in to STEM which is around the art of engineering solutions for human, social and physiological consumption.
We need programs at schools which educate students on the diversity of information technology related roles and the fantastic financial rewards and freedom which can come with making that choice.
Plase don’t misinterpret the message I am giving above - I am not of the belief we shouldn’t encourage more females to take an interest in STEM subjects. We absolutely should. I am just saying it’s not a mandatory pre-requisite to many of the fields which now fall within the scope of information technology field of work.
I decided to add parental influence to the topic of supply problem after a recent conversation with the Maria Markman (The Branch Chair in Victoria of the Australian Computer Society). Markman has a deep science and technology background.
During our discussion about why she was interested in computer science it became apparent a huge driving influence was her father who was convinced information technology knowledge was going to be a skill which would be needed in the future.
Markman was raised in Moscow and I was curious to see if cultural differences were impacting the pipeline. It turns out this does seem to be the case - according to UNESCO, 41 per cent of Russians in scientific research are women.
Further reading confirmed what I suspected. Russian parents have a strong influence on their children’s interest in STEM subjects. There does not appear to be social stigma against doing well in STEM subjects like it seems to be the case in many Western countries.
There also appears to be a much higher percentage of Russian female schoolteachers which encourage STEM subjects and act as role models.
This pattern seems to be similar in countries like India and Israel. I spoke to some of my female Indian engineers who shared stories of parental encouragement and lack of social stigma associated with excelling in STEM subjects.
We spend a lot of time looking to influence young women to be interested in STEM. Programs like Go Girl, Go for IT, Rail Girls and Girls Who Code do a great job of this. But I think it’s time we also started to focus on influencing and educating parents.
The role of our teachers
The more I researched the role of parents a number of my conversations revealed a significant number of the daughters of parent I spoke to had their career choices influenced by the teachers and schools they were at. Many of the career councillors were steering young women towards traditional careers in law, medicine and finance. Why?
I decided to find out so visited the career councillor at my daughter’s school. The short summary of my findings is lack of knowledge themselves and therefore confidence to talk to our young women about career options in the IT field.
I also don’t see the schools doing enough around IT-related subjects which link emerging trends in society to technology. Think about the impacts artificial intelligence combined with big data analysis is having on our lives.
Services like Uber, Google Home, Alexa would not be possible. Driverless car technology would not be a reality. These merging technology fields will change our lives in the future more than any other single factor yet they are not even being discussed at school.
The gender bias/cultural issue
Given the fact there are more male software engineers active in the workplace it's not surprising many software-development based workplaces feel gender biased and as such are full of symbols enforcing a male-dominated culture.
The heroes of Silicon Valley are often referred to as 'code warriors' or 'ninja coders'. They 'crush code' and build 'killer apps'.
Just listen to the language. It's unconscious but creates a culture which feels aggressive and very male.
Next time you are in an office which runs agile delivery, observe the scrum walls. Look at the Avatars typically stuck to story cards. Notice anything? I guarantee you will find them full of super heroes and characters from Game of Thrones.
One of the very important roles within an agile delivery squad is called a scrum master.
Once again none of these symbols come from a negative place with any intended bias, but they unintentionally create unconscious bias.
What you then often see is over compensation. I have been to a number of Women In IT events full of pink - unicorns and rainbows everywhere, complete with pink champagne. Fortunately, this over compensation seems to be on the decline, as employers come to realize how unsuccessful this strategy really is.
When we recruit for software engineers the fact, whether we like it or not, is there are 76 per cent more male candidates qualified in the software engineering talent pool - data from Seek and LinkedIn confirm this.
Now put yourself in the shoes of recruitment professional. Your income is dependant on you placing qualified candidates into roles. You are also in a highly completive industry competing against other recruiters who have the exact same goal. Company X advertises it needs a full stack engineer.
As a recruiter you can probably at most put three candidates in front of Company X. Now put yourself back in the shoes of the recruiter whose livelihood depends on Company X hiring a candidate from them.
What would you do? Would you risk losing the placement by taking the extra time to try finding a qualified female candidate out of the small pool of 25 per cent? Or do you play the odds and revert to the large 75 per cent pool of males?
Statistics and human nature lead to a bias that’s ends up feeding a never-ending cycle.
Having spent a significant amount of time building a new team over the past 18 months, the other observation I have is there is unconscious bias in how job descriptions are written.
I used Gender Decoder to check some of our recent job adverts and I had the following response returned: “This job ad uses more words that are stereotypically masculine than words that are stereotypically feminine. It risks putting women off applying, but will probably encourage men to apply.”
ANZ has started to ensure for every role we hire we have at least one female on the interview panel. Since doing this we have noticed less unconscious bias occurring during interviews.
I had one of my male team members comment recently after an interview he was surprised to realise he was unconsciously biased. He realised some of the questions he was asking and the way he interpreted the answers were generating bias and his interpretation of the answers were completely different to the female panellist with him.
The retention issue
Women’s resignation rate in technology exceeds that in other science and engineering fields; why? Workplace discrimination is still happening.
Working for a progressive organisation like ANZ which takes workplace equality very seriously and is part of our everyday values, I thought discrimination was not something still happening and could not be contribution to the problem.
I recently discovered how wrong I was. At a recent leadership offsite three of our senior female leaders shared their experiences over the past five years. Their stories shocked me. Listening to their stories and seeing the faces of my male colleagues around the room as the realisation of what is still happening right under our noses had a profound impact.
Could this kind of discrimination be a contributor to the high degree of mid-career exits? If women are self-selecting out because of the environment it by nature will continue to make the environments more masculine.
The workplace environment leading to exits leading to a less welcoming environment (unintentionally) may be causing a negative spiral.
There is still so much to do to educate leaders about the kind of gender bias and discrimination still happening. It takes brave women to stand up and tell these stories to get the message out. It will also take brave leadership to listen and then act.
There are a number of factors at play here, but at its core, this issue relates to the perceived glass ceiling within technology around leadership positons. Currently, females make up only 11 per cent of all executive positions in Silicon Valley at a time where girls in school are looking for role models akin to the Bill Gates of the world.
The premier annual technology gathering CES with over 200,000 attendees kicked off in Las Vegas in January 2018. It was widely criticised for not having a single female keynote speaker. What message is this sending to young women looking to get involved in the technology field?
With so few women in positions of power in tech it makes it hard for a female engineer just starting out in the industry to envisage a time later in her career where she is running her own department.
If I was to ask one of the male computer science students at Melbourne University who they would want to model their career on, the names Mark Zuckerberg, Evan Spiegel and Satya Nadella would undoubtedly and quickly be uttered. For a female student, this question would pose a little more difficulty if they were to follow in the footsteps of a prominent women in Technology.
Most people would not even recognise the following names:
• Divya Nag - Head of ResearchKit and CareKit Apple
• Michelle Zatlyn – Co Founder Coudflare
• Ginni Rometty - CEO, IBM, US
• Susan Wojcicki – CEO Youtube
Now, it’s not all doom and gloom, for this is slowly changing, with Facebook COO Sheryl Sanberg leading the charge of female technology leaders looking to bring in the next wave of women into the industry.
More needs to be done to increase the number of female leaders in technology – not for sake of optics, but rather to show those girls studying STEM subjects in school your gender isn’t a barrier to you being the next Mark Zuckerberg or Michelle Zatlyn.
So what is next?
For those of us in technology we’ve heard it before, but I’ll reiterate – there is a genuine skills shortage in our industry. Globally, organisations are literally fighting each other for the best engineers, designers and architects.
In relation to women in technology, more needs to be done to not just promote the benefits of a career in technology, but there is a need to highlight the great work being done by women already in the industry.
Of the three issues I’ve highlighted, all can be addressed through a concerted effort by those in the industry to reimagine the way we work and to build a workplace environment free of bias, rewarding and empowering all staff members for the work they complete.
What can you do?
• Encourage as many people as possible to at least look at a career in technology, regardless of their gender, educational background or skillset. Assure them they don’t need to be maths and science geniuses to be successfully in this field.
• Talk to your daughters and the daughters of your friends about IT.
• Ask your schools about the technology curriculum. Ask them what they are doing to encourage an interest in technology related fields - not just maths and science.
• Educate the men within your organisation about bias and discrimination which still exists. Encourage the women in your workplace to speak up about their experiences.
• Talk about the role models which already exists. Actively research who they are and what they have done and promote them within your circle of influence.
• Think about the roles you have. Could they be candidates for job sharing? Could you invest in retraining people who have taken career breaks or are worried their skills are no longer relevant given the pace of change?
• Share articles like this with as many people as you can to promote awareness of the challenges we face within the industry.
Just like they say the cure for cancer could potentially be in the mind of someone with no access to proper education, you could argue the next great technological innovation will be built by a person with no exposure to coding or designing.
And you know what - that person could be a young woman thinking about going to a coding club at your school who just needs a little nudge.
Chris Venter is General Manager, Digital Technology at ANZ