Mar 10, 2014

    Wanted: More women tech creators

    INTERNATIONAL Women's Day on Saturday was a time to reflect on the ways in which technology changed my life and that of every woman.

    But there's a lot more potential - and need - for women in Asia when it comes to technology, especially in the field of computer science.

    In many countries, too many women don't even have basic access to technology and the Internet. The digital gender gap is greater across developing Asia than elsewhere.

    But as more women in these countries come online, they could face the larger challenge that women face in moving beyond being just tech consumers, to becoming tech creators.

    Achieving greater gender diversity in computer science requires addressing several fundamental issues.

    First, girls need to be taught basic digital literacy so that they develop an interest in computing before they reach their teens.

    Starting young opens minds to the endless possibilities and the ways in which technology can have real impact on communities.

    Next, tech is often perceived to be a man's world with formal and informal support structures that work great for men, but not women.

    The result is that young women don't get enough encouragement from parents and teachers to pursue a tech career. This is mostly because there's great misunderstanding about what a technical job really has to offer.

    We must also get better at illustrating how technology is about creativity and the potential to make an impact on the world. Technology helps people get things done faster and better. It enables consumers and empowers business owners.

    These are messages that appeal to women. This was what got me interested in tech.

    When I decided to study computer science, friends and family wondered why I would want to fix machines in a lonely back office.

    What they didn't realise was that computer science is about design, understanding human-computer interaction and applying computers in other fields such as health care or environmental science.

    Far from sitting alone in a room, my typical day at Google involves collaborating with colleagues across multiple time zones. Google Maps on Mobile, the product I work on, is used by millions of people, including my friends and family.

    Their love for the product makes me feel proud of what I do, and motivates me to find ways to make it better and easier for people to find their way around the world.

    Across Asia, Google has invested in efforts to enable more young women to pursue studies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. For example, by encouraging girls to learn how to code, we want to show them how technology improves lives through real world applications.

    Diversity in all its forms leads to better ideas and outcomes. As more women shape and create technology, its relevance and usefulness grows for many more users.

    I hope more girls will join me in the field of computer science, and become tech-makers of the future.

    Giving girls the encouragement and support that they need to build a career in computer science will help empower more women tech creators to make an impact where it's needed most.


    The writer is a software designer at Google and the Asia-Pacific tech lead for Women @ Google.