STELLAR Meets The Irish Women Ruling Tech

Kirstie McDermott meets the female founders, coders and technical leads who are advancing the brain game in Ireland.

girls using computers

Did you know women make up 52 percent of all gamers, according to a 2014 study by the Internet Advertising Bureau? We’re addicted to social online and mobile games like Candy Crush and Words With Friends, but despite our love for gaming, another study from 2013 found that only 11.2 of women are actually involved with software development.

A clue as to why can be found in a recent study conducted in the US on the way that gender bias happens on software development. The researchers focused on code submitted on GitHub, a huge open-source code site where users can collaborate on projects and add amendments and suggestions to projects – known as ‘pull requests’. They looked at over three million pull requests and discovered that that code written by women was approved at a higher rate of 79 percent, than code written by men 74 percent. But, crucially, this was only if gender wasn’t obvious. If it’s clear the code is written by a woman, the acceptance rate drops below that of the men.

Female founders too, are in short supply, and it’s a problem that begins with the stereotypes young girls find themselves facing. According to Accenture, teenage girls think that STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects are for boys. That feeds into this: of 118,000 people working in STEM in Ireland, only 25 percent are women. It all creates an environment for less women in technology careers, where they’d mentor their peers and create funding opportunities for a new cycle of new female-led enterprises.

Hopefully, things are changing. Globally, CodeDojo Girls as well as Stemettes in the UK are two recent initiatives that are supporting younger females. Silicon Republic (siliconrepublic.com), Ireland’s technology website, has an ongoing campaign to focus on women in tech called Women Invent, and this June, it will host Inspirefest, an event with female-dominated panel.

But who’s flying the flag for women in tech in Ireland right now? We spoke to four women at the coalface to find out what they do, how they got into it – and they answers may surprise you –and the challenges they’re facing.

Nikki Lannen, 35, CEO of Warducks game development studio

Nikki-2

“I’d been at Facebook in Dublin for four and a half years, when it was a lot smaller and we were still figuring things out, so there was more of a start-up culture. I was a founding member of the Games Team, which meant I was kind of like a games business consultant, I’d go out and work with the top games companies, figure out what was working for them, and advise the smaller guys what to do. It started as a marketing role and went on to analytics and looking at team structure – it was good, because I was able to chose the way the job went.

I’ve always had an interest in tech, and when I was working with game studios and learning what they were doing, I felt inspired, so I set up WarDucks (warducks.com) in 2014. Our game Global Agents has 80,000 monthly actives in the US – predominately women 35-plus. It’s doing really well: stats are really positive and engagement is really high.

This year, we’re building a second game. It’s going to be cross platform, virtual reality and mobile. It’ll be for use with more casual VR devices like Samsung Gear VR or Google Cardboard. People aren’t really looking at that yet, so we’re in a new space. People are really excited about it, we demoed it and they were in awe of it.

It’s a much different experience at a start-up: it’s really busy, and you have to get involved in every aspect. We’ve raised funding before; now we’re raising a new round of funding capital in Ireland and the UK, and I work really hard to get investment on board. I think my marketing background’s really helped; lots of developers don’t have that, so for us it’s a real unique selling point.

While I’ve done intro courses to know what’s involved, I’m not a coder! It’s important to keep focused on what you’re good at – we have three developers in Dublin plus an artist, and then we have four part time artists in Poland – so my role is to look at stats, edit the products based on what I see and concentrate on investment and commercial, and grow the overall strategy.

“As a woman, it’s difficult to say what’s more challenging when you haven’t been on the other side, but there definitely aren’t a lot of women, especially in games and especially in the sort of role I’m in – founding members are very few. It’s something a lot of people acknowledge and talk about, and there’s a slow shift; but even though women play games they’re not creating them.”

Mary Carty, 39, Executive Director of Blackstone LaunchPad at NUIG

OUTBOX Incubator by the Stemettes Readying young STEM entrepreneurs for life outside the box - http://outboxincubator.com -

“My background is in fine arts, but 10 years ago, my husband set up a web design and development agency, Spoiltchild. I thought the mix of tech and arts together was interesting, I left my job, became the CEO and haven’t looked back since. After that, I worked in industry for a few years, and last year, along with Anne-Marie Imafidon, we founded Outbox Incubator.

I kept meeting young women who weren’t been taken seriously, or their friends thought they were weird for liking tech and STEM subjects. Anne-Marie had started Stemettes three years previously, and we asked ourselves, why isn’t there an incubator for these girls?

“Outbox Incubator took the form of six weeks in a house in London, where we had 115 girls aged 11-22 from six countries. 35 girls came in each week, with 30 coming from Ireland. Incubators can involve funding, or capacity or support around the person, and at the very least we wanted to bring young, like-minded women together. They were mentored, their ideas developed, and it was a huge success – these girls have gone and done amazing things. We’re planning another for 2016.

“I wanted to give something back in STEM – I was often the only woman pitching and speaking at conferences and I thought, I should stop giving out, and start doing! And I started my new job at NUIG as Executive Director of Blackstone LaunchPad with a focus to very much aware that entrepreneurship is a valuable career path, no matter their background. I help students grow their ideas and offer resources and support.

“Women need to find a mentor – there’s no better advice – and that mentor doesn’t have to be older, she can be younger, and a man can be good too. I really feel we need to build open, strong communities. It’s all about opening the door for someone else, and that can be as simple as offering to introduce someone on Twitter.”

Olivia Leonard, 40, is Payments Tech Engineer at MasterCard Dublin

Olivia Leonard

“I’d a circuitous route into tech – I studied English Literature and Maths Physics at Maynooth before the light dawned and I did a H.Dip in IT, which involved a lot of computer science. It was tough but I really enjoyed it. I felt lucky – I’d found my niche and it gave me an applied, pragmatic viewpoint.

“I started my career in telecoms at Ericsson where they were looking for someone with Unix skills – I’m a Solaris nerd – and I learned a phenomenal amount, I was really well mentored, but I wanted to get closer to the world of IT and the internet. I’ve a huge belief in the internet, its powerful and democratising influences in the world, and I always thought it’d would be one of the fundamental fame changers – this is the way we connect.

“Next, I joined Iona Technologies – a company I was in awe of – as a network analyst working with internet-facing technology. After that, I moved into the world of finance, first at Davy Stockbrokers, and then at AIB where I stayed for seven and a half years, working my way up to a leadership role. It was hugely formational for me, somewhere I really put down roots. I’d encourage people to look out for an organisation you can grown within, because you can build up credibility within your role – people get to know you. You get good advice, and you form as a character.

“Now I’m working at MasterCard Dublin (labs.mastercard.com), which is one of the company’s global tech hubs. An opportunity came up to go back technical, and I thought, ‘I’d like to work there’. I’ve a team of 11 and we’re working on middleware, which is the interconnecting of lots of different systems across a network. There are network connections, but they’re not enough – it’s about making things all talk seamlessly that’s the challenge. We’re looking for a frictionless experience, ease of use – how my system can connect with yours. So with wireless payments, it’s about how to make payments much more seamless. We’re moving towards a connected world, and we plan to be the enablers.

“Technology careers have so many facets and there are so many avenues to go down. We absolutely need to debunk the myth that STEM and tech aren’t for girls. Younger children have very little inhibition, very little self-limiting belief and they don’t believe they can’t. Don’t allow yourself to be limited by stereotypes. Maths, physics and computer science are all just ways of learning about the world around us.”

Ursula Clarke, 29, Technical Lead at the CoderDojo Foundation

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“When I was really young I was home-schooled, and my dad introduced me to computers, games and learning maths and english via computers, so I’ve always had an interest. My godfather, who worked in tech gave me a book on the programming language Basic, and I learned HTML and CSS and started making websites in my teens.

“I actually went to art college – I have a degree in Fine Art – and then afterwards did computer science, which I aced, so I became a developer and worked for daft.ie for three years on features like search, back-end admin and user accounts, but I wanted to move on to something more challenging, so I moved to the CoderDojo Foundation.

“CoderDojo coding clubs for kids started in Cork in 2011, and now there are 860 clubs in 60 countries; 150 of them in Ireland. It’s as far afield as Ghana and Madagascar. In 2013, the central organisation for CoderDojo was born, and we’re based at Dogpatch Labs in Dublin. My role’s really broad: I run Hackathon events, I mentor, I work on open source projects. On a daily basis, I might be applying for the Google Summer of Code, where I’m looking for interns to work on our projects, I might be fixing a bug on our ticketing system, doing statistics for a team, or planning another Hackathon.”

“I’m also involved with Rails Girls (railsgirls.com), which is a global network of free events for women interested in learning the Ruby on Rails programming language. Mentors help out at the event, and they tutor participants. We’ll do a few exercises, and at the end of the day everyone will have made their own web application. We’re planning another event this year – that’ll be the fourth Rails Girls event!

“Right now, I’m planning a career move. I’m looking at contracting and doing different things on the leadership side. I feel there’s a big gap on the educational side that needs to be filled too. Coding isn’t always about kids coming in and the end game being a developer, it’s about critical thinking and analytical thinking, and that’s something that’s of huge use.”

“I’ve found that sometimes people can be intimidated a girl who knows what she’s doing, but I don’t let myself be pushed around that way, though I know it does affect other women in the industry, and I support them.”

This article first appeared in STELLAR’s April issue. Our October issue is on shelves now! 

 

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