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Making it count: What it is like to be a woman in tech

First-hand accounts from women who decided to pursue a career in IT.
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Written by Aimee Chanthadavong on
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Image: Pishit/Getty Images

Women's participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in Australia remain low despite concerted efforts by universities, government, and industry to lift overall numbers. The last Engineers Australia statistical overview [PDF] revealed that just under 13% of qualified engineers in Australia are women.

Figures like these, however, did not deter individuals like Rada Stanic from pursuing her career in the field.

"I love maths, I love problem solving," she told ZDNet.

"Then I thought, 'I don't necessarily want to be a teacher, so what could I do with this love for maths?' I ended up studying a double degree in computer science and telecommunications, and my first job ended up being a software developer for what is [known as] Nokia now."

Stanic eventually moved on to become a systems engineer and is now a principal solutions architect at Amazon Web Services (AWS), where she is responsible for helping customers create architectures to solve problems. She admitted that throughout her studies and career, there was a noticeable contrast between the number of women and men in the field.

"I was one of very few [women] during uni and then also when I started to work -- I was for the most part the only woman on many teams that I was in, especially when you get narrower into IT, and talking specifically about engineers, architects, developers," she said.

That's not to say being in the minority outstripped her of any opportunities that her male counterparts had -- it was just different.

"I did have very positive experiences in terms of how I bonded and shaped my relationships with my male colleagues. But I must say, it wasn't up until even when I joined AWS that I could comfortably tell you, I have female colleagues working with me in a similar type of job," she said.

Stanic attributed part of her positive experience to the "intentional effort" the cloud giant takes to close the gender gap that's persistently haunted the tech sector, pointing out dedicated programs, such as She Builds and Women in AI, as examples. 

"AWS specifically is very, very focused on how they attract female talent and diverse talent in general," she said.

"I've been with AWS for three and a half years, and there were female colleagues back then, but there is an increase right now due to the programs that we have made … it comes down to really the power of mentoring -- it's something exceptional ... and then providing enablement platforms where girls and women can learn about technology and see that it's something that they can have a career in."

Stanic highlighted the importance of pursuing roles that are personally interesting.  

"I really firmly believe following something you're drawn to will open many doors. Throughout my career, I've always been in an engineering role because that's what I really enjoy; that's what makes me feel alive," she said.

Stanic's experiences as a woman in tech are not too dissimilar to what Agnes Ro, Atlassian's head of engineering, faced. Ro's interest in software development was piqued during high school.

"That's where I first got exposed to programming and coding, and a lot of that was around making logical sense and so that was something that really clicked for me personally," she said.

Like Stanic, Ro said even though most of the time she found herself as one of very few women in a team, the experience was always a positive one. She noted that having a woman's support network at work is incomparable, however.

"[My male counterparts] didn't treat me differently; they genuinely just treated me the same as anyone else, so I personally didn't feel any differentiation," she told ZDNet.

"But when … I became a mother, I could talk to other women who were also mums or mums-to-be. It's just different to be able to connect with other women. It's not that my male counterparts are any different, it was just that I missed connecting and working with other women."

Upon reflecting on her own career journey as a woman in tech, Ro led the establishment of a women's leadership program called Women's Leap for female engineers at Atlassian. She explains the initiative run as a structured three-month one-on-one mentoring program where participants are paired with relevant mentors.

"I always wished I had more female mentors and support and leaders … I felt it was time for me to give back and I really wanted to have a bigger impact, so I worked with some of the other engineering leaders, who are also passionate about supporting and growing women at Atlassian, and we grouped together form this formal program," she said. 

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