The ICT industry needs to rid itself of the perception that it’s all about coding, and instead focus on teaching people how to think.

That’s the message from Sarah-Louise MacDonald, Senior Business Architect at Pegasystems.

Speaking at the ACS International Women’s Day breakfast in Canberra, MacDonald said many young children have programming as part of their course, but the challenge comes in high school when young women choose to opt out of studying technology subjects.

“It’s at that point we’re losing their attention– because it is boring! We’re focusing too much on code. The reality is most code is offshored.

“I can’t find people who have the aptitude to understand pattern recognition, to build our data models, to design our applications locally – that’s what we have to be training Australian students to do.

“Sure, give them the coding fundamentals in primary school, but the reality is most software these days is code-free or code light.

“The challenge we have is that people can’t think about designing something that’s extensible, that’s reusable, that doesn’t require that one contractor who owns the software and wrote all these bugs into the code so he gets a 10-year extension to manage it.

“It requires people that can think about designing for the future and if we want to get more women into the industry we should start with engaging girls in high school to help them have the necessary skills to design technology in the future.

“I think the industry is focussing the wrong way in the sense that we’re putting too much pressure on being able to code – and the reality is that’s a side thing. Being able to design is the core thing we need people to be able to do.”

Deeply technical… not

One thing MacDonald has noticed in the ICT sector is that technology is often perceived as being deeply technical, when it is in fact not.

“There’s lot of what I call ‘crap language’ used to describe things in such a way that it writes people out. So, it’s like, ‘I’m a specialist because I specifically understand this language’. Well that’s like saying to a whole bunch of people ‘Oh, I speak Japanese, so I’m a specialist because I speak Japanese.’

“Coding is just that. Understanding network infrastructure and security is just another language. It’s not deeply technical. The term ‘deeply technical’ is I think, frankly, a way to write women out of the industry. It becomes the boys’ club. Programming is not that hard. It’s just another language.

"What we need our future industry leaders to be able to do is think about how technology can be used to automate and streamline processes, to reduce unnecessary effort and support our workforce’s in creating new things, new services and better opportunities for all consumers of technology.

“So, on International Women’s Day, I want to encourage all the girls who have big dreams to consider that technology development requires people with diverse backgrounds, and most of all, great imaginations.”

Resilience

MacDonald said being resilient and rolling with the punches is something she has learned from being in the ICT industry.

“It’s really hard to be a woman in this industry, but there’s so much great stuff we get to do, and amazing experiences that we have the opportunity to be involved in every day.

“The most important part of my role isn’t being able to code – it is being able to dream big.”

One of her pet hates, she said, was being asked by males in the industry, ‘What is your background?’

“This is a silly question because none of the men in the room are asked that question. So, I say ‘I’m an Aquarius’."