There are some popular and entrenched beliefs when it comes to technology:
- Technology is always right. If something goes wrong, it is the fault of the user
- Technology aptitude is the result of innate talent rather application
These beliefs are incredibly unhelpful, building a sense of trepidation among those approaching computer science and related subjects. While this could be felt universally, it is especially dangerous for women who are already battling gender stereotypes when it comes to building careers in technology.
I myself have been subject to these fears. My first real experience of technology came when I was 16 and my brother headed off to university leaving his computer. I took the opportunity to experiment and was immediately captivated by the way you could manipulate the screen with the click of a button. My explorations eventually led to me destroying his hard drive – a terrible mistake that left me too terrified to touch a computer for some time.
It wasn’t until I finished my degree in psychology and started looking at Masters courses outside of Italy that I noticed a course entitled HCI and Ergonomics, with the subtext being, “It isn’t your fault but the computer’s”. You can imagine my relief – finally someone telling me I wasn’t to blame!
I signed-up and the rest was history. I learnt the importance of design; its influence on how people engage with technology. I learnt that a well-considered, logical user journey was the difference between trusting a product – and the entity behind it – and being frustrated by it.
I pursued a career in technology in the end, but I might have got there a lot sooner if my brother’s computer had been better designed – and I hadn’t been so convinced that I lacked the aptitude to navigate it.
Progressing through my career, I began to realise the influence of these two deterrents, and I became more and more determined not to let other women be put off a career in technology for the same reasons.
I’m lucky that I love my job and spend every day propagating good design principles. By making technology more accessible, logical and empathetic towards its users, I reduce the likelihood that negative experiences with technology will undermine confidence when engaging with it.
While improving technology engagements universally will help reduce the fear people often feel when approaching technology, more needs to be done to get them thinking that a career in tech is a viable option.
This takes me back to my second entrenched belief, that people are somehow born with an aptitude for technology or not. This is simply not the case. Success in computer science, like any other science, depends on applying yourself and putting in the hours. However, women are unlikely to do this if they have been told from a young age (explicitly or implicitly) that a career in technology isn’t for them. We need to stop encouraging girls to conform to stereotypical gendered roles, and encourage them to follow their passions.
Families play a fundamental role in addressing this problem. Parents need to make supportive, unbiased choices for their children and be clear that it’s hard work and determination that will help them achieve their goals – not innate “talent”. Schools, universities, employers and government also need to engage in a coordinated effort to propagate this message. We need more women to talk about their careers in tech, the challenges they’ve encountered and how hard work and self-belief has been critical in over-coming these. It is only by busting the mythology surrounding the profession and making women that work in it visible that we’ll encourage the next generation of tech leaders.