More than 1700 high school students have taken part in the largest-ever Big Day In held at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS).

The Big Day In, now in its sixth year, is described as an ‘IT careers conference designed by students for students’.

Run over two days, the event held in the UTS Great Hall saw 850 high school students from more than 40 schools attend each day to hear why they should pursue careers in ICT.

In encouraging the students to join the ICT sector, Andrew Johnson, CEO of ACS – the peak membership body of ICT professionals in Australia – said the country had a serious challenge ahead. “There are going to be 70,000 new ICT jobs by 2020, but we’ll only have 4,000 graduates to fill those roles.”

Students heard why they should pursue ICT careers from companies including Google, IBM, Microsoft, Animal Logic, TechnologyOne, Westpac, Commonwealth Bank, and Adobe.

Change the world

Also presenting was Richard White, CEO of Aussie unicorn WiseTech Global, a software company that listed on the ASX last year, valued at $1.6 billion.

The ex-muso told students that “all you need to succeed is an enquiring mind and a desire to learn new things,” and that his background as a musician had served him well in IT. “It’s a very important thing to understand how to be creative, not just how to write code,” he told students.

White spoke of his challenges convincing others of his ambition to streamline the logistics industry with his software.

“I was told many times by Australian investors that it wouldn’t work and that I shouldn’t bother trying; Australians don’t do that, that it’s not what Australian companies are about; We’re a services industry, you can’t compete against American technology companies, they’re always better.

“All of that is wrong. It’s a failure to understand the fundamentals of innovation.”

WiseTech Global, which maintains its global headquarters in Sydney, has 800 staff, and its software is used in 6000 organisations across 125 countries. The company is now working on areas including automation, natural language processing, and machine learning.

White said the hardest part of running his business was finding the right people. “You cannot run a business without smart people, and that’s why I’m imploring you all to consider a career in IT,” he said. “This is an obvious opportunity. We need smart people that want to be in technology, that want to help us change the world.”

Invaluable skills

The Hon Victor Dominello MP, NSW Minister of Finance, Services and Property, said ICT skills were invaluable and urged students to consider this career path.

“If you’ve got ICT as a base, you are definitely a value-add proposition wherever you go in your life.”

Dominello also the launched ACS Foundation’s Interactive ICT Career Wheel, which not only shows the breadth of roles available for those with ICT skills, but includes embedded videos of practitioners currently working in specific roles. Hardcopy and poster versions are available for download for use in classrooms.

The Big Day In roadshow continues around Australia in Perth (5 April), Adelaide (11 April), Sunshine Coast (27 April), Newcastle (16 May), Canberra (25 May), Gold Coast (31 May), Melbourne (6 June), and Brisbane (8 June). It was held in Wagga Wagga on 8 March.

Schools wanting to be part of The Big Day In should contact organiser Kerrie Bisaro at the ACS Foundation.