Tech is for everybody, not just for computer nerds
“I did not come from a privileged background and did not come from academic parents,” says Dr Michelle Dickinson, aka Nanogirl.
But what brought her to technology is her love for science fiction as a child.
“I was a sci-fi nerd,” says Dickinson, who recalls watching Captain Kirk onStar Trekusing a “flip phone thing”.
“I thought, imagine if you can talk to people on these little things, and then it became a reality,” says Dickinson. “I think my love for science fiction is why I love technology.”
“I loved tech way before it was cool,” she says.
She learned to code when she was 10, and mainly through self-learning at home.
Dickinson studied engineering, and eventually became a senior lecturer in materials engineering at the University of Auckland.
“I specialised in nanotechnology and just became a nanotech nerd,” says Dickinson.
She co-founded Nanogirl Labs, a global education design company creating opportunity through STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths), and is a well known presenter and best selling author.
She talks about how her experiences have shaped her continuing focus on bringing science, technology, engineering and maths to various communities, especially children.
“I had opportunities that were open to me, so my goal is to create opportunities for other children, especially those who may not have access to technology or may not have teachers or parents who are versed in technology.”
“Diversity is really important, and that is diversity of thought, through gender, through ethnicity.”
At the TechWomen series, Swery reveals her first real exposure in technology was when she studied mechanical engineering, and had to do a course in software in the first year.
Dr Elinor Swery
She watched as her peers “coasted through” the course. “I found it really hard because I wasn’t exposed to it as a child.”
Her experience, she says, would have put off someone from pursuing a technology career further.
Which is why she stresses that strong role models is crucial in order to build a more diverse ICT workforce.
Her message for female students is to “get into technology because it is such a rewarding career.”
“We get to impact the world,” she adds. “I see some of the stuff I have been involved with, it is from solving medical problems to really improving people’s life and there is nothing better than to be part of that.”
Teacher to software developer
Libby Schumacher-Knight, another tech leader featured in the series, taught digital technologies and physical education.
Today, she is a software developer at Flux Federation.
She relates how her experience as a teacher is helping her in her current role.
She says what technology calls “soft skills” such as communicating and interacting with other people, are actually “more difficult”.
People skills, the ones I developed through my teaching career, have been useful for me in my career as a software developer
“People skills, the ones I developed through my teaching career, have been useful for me in my career as a software developer.”
Her experience shows there are so many ways to get into technology “where you don’t have to do computer science degrees”.
“Tech is not just sitting in front of the computer, typing on your keyboard,” she states.
“There are so many different roles and paths,” she states. “Once you are into it, there is no stopping you, there are so many opportunities you can take.”
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Kate Kolich (right) with Libby Schumacher-Knight of Flux Federation