A faint buzzing sound can be heard. It gradually gets louder, and suddenly the source of the noise becomes visible. A tiny drone has lifted off and is flying around the room, steered by Juliette via a computer: upwards, downwards, from left to right, and even upside down. But “steering” isn’t quite the right word in this instance. Behind the aerial maneuvers lie lines of code that Juliette just learned how to program minutes earlier. “This is really cool. Never would I have thought that you can do so many fascinating things with IT. I had always thought that IT means spending most of your time sitting and staring at a computer screen,” the 13-year-old student says. Juliette is one of the 40 schoolgirls who participated in the inaugural “Girls 4 IT” day hosted by SIX.
Dalith Steiger, one of the speakers at the “Girls 4 IT” event, affirmed that it, too, had taken her time to gradually realize the vast array of possibilities that IT presents: “If you had told me as a young girl that I would do something someday with IT, I probably would have shook my head in disbelief.” Today the mathematician and computer scientist ranks among Bilanz magazine’s Top 100 Digital Shapers in Switzerland. Enterprise Management 360 lists her as one of the Top 10 Pioneering Women in AI and Machine Learning. “Information technology is a universal language and opens up possibilities everywhere,” she sums up in conclusion, reassuring the students that “if you run into a wall somewhere, a new pathway into IT opens up somewhere else. Even my math grades, for example, were sometimes catastrophic.”
Different Professional Backgrounds
Besides Dalith Steiger, other expert women spoke to and took questions from the students as well. Marisa Tschopp spoke about her research on artificial intelligence, and Claudia Zeuren gave the young audience a taste of her passion for cybersecurity. Claudia currently works as a trainer at the SIX Security Operations Center (SOC). Cephyrine Zimmermann took an unusual career path. She’s a former e-sport player and was the first woman in Switzerland to make a name for herself in this field. E-sports brought her in contact with coding, and today she works in the IT sector. Cephyrine sees to it that the IT systems in the human resources department at SIX operate flawlessly.
Alongside the drones, small robots and other diversions kept the day from becoming just a series of speakers recounting their experiences. The “Girls 4 IT” event gave the students the entire afternoon to make their first hands-on encounters with coding in a variety of workshops. The moving and blinking robots, too, were programmable via computer using a color code. From there it was just a small step to programming a personal website using HTML code. The sinister sides of the internet were also addressed. The workshop on the topic of phishing, which, like all of the workshops, was moderated by apprentices at SIX, vividly demonstrated to the students how they can protect themselves from scammers.
IT Isn’t Just Mathematics
“I can definitely see myself working in IT one day,” says Lea. “Today was a great opportunity to explore a new area and get a taste of coding.” Her comment delights Diego Suter, who’s in charge of IT apprentices at SIX: “Many schoolgirls don’t have an education in IT at all on their radar. Our aim with the “Girls 4 IT” day is to raise their awareness of the IT world and to show them the career possibilities that exist and just how multifaceted information technology is.” SIX deliberately wants to get more women and girls interested in and enthusiastic about IT. The “Girls 4 IT” day playfully introduces schoolgirls to information technology and takes a look behind the façade of bits and bytes. “We want to counteract, to a degree, the impression that IT consists solely of mathematics. Some math is indeed required, but English language skills, an ability to think abstractly, and good team-working skills are equally as important,” Diego says, while somewhere in the background a drone buzzes faintly.