Making ICT Careers Week redundant

The fact that Australian students aren't interested in studying ICT is an indication that both the government and the industry has got the message wrong. ICT is not one sector, and we need to stop marketing it in this way.

I was finishing primary school when the internet boom first hit. Companies like Google and eBay and even Wotif.com showed us new ways to work, trade and travel.  You might even say ICT was cool.

But times have changed. As a student in my final year of a double degree in Software Engineering and Mathematics, it saddens me to read the statistics.  The Australian Computer Society (ACS) reports that as our industry has grown 30 per cent in the last ten years, enrolments in ICT courses have been dropping.  Nearly half of domestic Australian university students don’t even finish their ICT degrees.

What happened?  Who is responsible for my generation’s lack of interest in IT?  Parents, schools or universities? The Government or the private sector?

It’s a good time to ask the question. This week is National ICT Careers Week, set up by the government to address (in their words) “the growing gap between the demand in Australia for ICT skills and the number of students enrolling in ICT tertiary courses.”

I don’t pretend to have the answers.  But I do feel this debate could perhaps benefit from an ICT student’s perspective.

The more I think about it, the more I find it strange that we find ourselves in this position. I guess we techies have always had a bit of an image problem, but Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg proved to us that geeks can transform the world and prosper at the same time. I look around me every day and see my peers obsessed with technology: smartphones, apps, social media, digital TV, music streaming...the list goes on.

How is that obsession not translating into a desire to actually be part of that obsession?

Tech isn’t another world, it makes the world. The more we tell that story, the more young people will want to be part of it.

Over the summer, I had an incredible 12-week internship in India.   I got the opportunity as part of InStep NSW, a partnership between the government of NSW  and the business technology consulting company Infosys.  Mentored by top Infosys Labs researchers, I worked on some of the latest Big Data technologies and saw how they could solve real problems here in Australia – from rostering nurses more efficiently in a hospital to analysing complex business data to make better decisions.

Through InStep, I also built lasting friendships with other students from around the world, and experienced living, working and travelling in a very different country.  These are life experiences that I believe make me a more interesting job candidate as I interview for ICT roles now, and will stay with me as I build my career.

It made me think that perhaps there is currently a gap in Australia between ICT education and the real world of work – and therefore, the real world of technology. Internships provide the hands-on contact with technology that students want and need in the real world.

I also believe ICT is misunderstood. A common misconception is that ICT people are only concerned with ICT or support.

If you love technology but are also passionate about the environment, music or even politics, there is a space for you there. ICT is not one sector, and we need to stop marketing it in this way. Today, technology is a core component in many industries used as a way to revolutionise operations.

My hope is that our talented next generation of students understand this.  Maybe then we won’t need an ICT Careers week.

David Farias is a software engineering student at the University of Sydney.