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Software Development an Opportunity for Women

January 13, 2015
Tarah Carpenter believes software development is a great career choice for women.

Tarah Carpenter believes software development is a great career choice for women.

Tarah Carpenter had her heart set on a career in art restoration, renovating Renaissance masterpieces like those she viewed when visiting the J Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

Deterred by the cost of pursuing studies in England, the 24-year-old now feels she has fallen on her feet, graduating with a computing systems degree from EIT and working as a software developer for Red Jungle in Ahuriri.

At face value, art restoration and software development might appear to be very different career paths. However, Tarah doesn’t see it that way.

“Both art and programming are creative areas,” she explains. “With programming, there are so many ways you can solve a problem.  You can build anything – there are pretty much no limitations to what you can create.”

Tarah and her boss, Red Jungle co-owner and director Gerard van de Ven, are mystified as to why so few women are drawn to careers in software development.

She is the only woman of 11 staff working for the company – although Gerard says he would happily employ more – and she was one of two in her EIT Bachelor of Computing Systems cohort to major in software development.

While Tarah dropped computer studies for art in her final year at school, she believes teachers, at the time, weren’t pointing students – never mind girls – in the direction of software development.

With art restoration studies out and only days before the start of the academic year, she acted on her mother’s advice and enrolled at EIT rather than take a gap year. Starting on the degree programme, she knew software development was right for her just as soon as she started a first-year introductory course.

In 2011, Tarah was awarded the Allister McLay Memorial Cup and BDO Hawke’s Bay Award for Best All Round Bachelor of Computing Systems Student and she also won that year’s New Zealand ‘Touch of the Future’ HP TouchPad Web OS App Challenge.

Gerard says most countries have fewer software developers than they need.

“An additional problem is that so few women work in this area.   It is sometimes perceived as geeky because as a starting software developer most of your contact is with work colleagues.  Maybe females are more interested in interactive jobs – it seems to be a western culture thing.”

Tarah believes IT has traditionally been blokeish.

“It’s only now that it’s starting to come to the attention of girls with high schools presenting it as an option.”

On the advisory committee for EIT’s School of Computing, Gerard has supported the Programming Challenge 4 Girls, which last year attracted 17 teams, each with two girls, from Taradale High School, Havelock North High School, Tamatea High School and Central Hawke’s Bay College.

It was the second year that Red Jungle sponsored an event which promotes programming as a career to Year 10 girls.

In promoting its degree to women, EIT has identified a promising incoming student and will pay her fees for her first year. Red Jungle and EIT will co-cover her fees for her second and third years.

Tarah will mentor the school leaver and Red Jungle will offer her a workplace opportunity for every year of her studies.   The company will also co-sponsor a student through the second and final year of computing systems degree studies at EIT.

“We are desperate to get women interested in this sort of thing,” Gerard, a former EIT lecturer, says of software development.

Tarah agrees with his approach. “I would encourage women to go into this field.  I think everyone develops with a different way of thinking, it’s not about gender.  It’s okay being the only girl in the office, but it would be nice to have other women around to relate to.”