Doing an Apprenticeship in IT as a Woman: “A Forward-Looking Profession with a Lot of Variety”

Doing an Apprenticeship in IT as a Woman: “A Forward-Looking Profession with a Lot of Variety”

Lea Zürcher finished her training as an IT specialist at SIX in summer 2022. The young woman is thus counteracting the worsening shortage of skilled labor in the IT sector. Read in the interview below why it’s a shame that men still account for the vast majority of her co-workers.

Although many jobs of the future are in the IT sector, there are still few women in computer science. Why is that, Lea?

Lea Zürcher For the life of me, I can’t explain it. If a girl rules out an apprenticeship in the construction trades because she doesn’t feel physically up to the challenge, I can understand that. But in the IT sector? Maybe the imbalance also has to do with the notion that only weird nerds work in information technology, which actually isn’t true at all. My classmates were all socially adept and were all very different from each other. That goes just as much for the women. Misfits with close-cropped, multicolored hair that hack into FBI databases like you see in many Hollywood blockbusters are few and far between (she laughs). 

Studies claim that nearly one out of four girls believes that she can never be as good as boys in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). What’s your view?

I think that’s absolute rubbish, but I can understand the trepidation. There probably aren’t many girls who call math their favorite subject. It wasn’t mine either. On the other hand, though, a disproportionate number of women have done pioneering work throughout the history of computer science: Ada Lovelace, Margaret Hamilton, and Grace Hopper, to name just a few. And if you look at the roster of the members of the class of 2022, you see more female names compared to other years. You can become good at anything if you really want to and work at it. 

Apprentices at SIX can train and further their education in many different areas of computer science.

What led you to computer science?

When I was in the 8th grade, I read up about a lot of different professions. I very much would have liked to become a mediamatician, but at the time there only around five apprenticeship slots in all of Canton Zurich. So, my brother, who is an application developer, encouraged me to get a taste of what it would be like to become a system engineer. Although my technical curiosity wasn’t my biggest interest, it was big enough to want to learn more. And I wanted a forward-looking profession that involves an interesting variety of work. So I applied, and in the end I had a choice between two apprenticeship slots.

Why did you choose SIX?

The informal, family-like atmosphere and interaction between employees and trainees caught my attention when I did my brief trial apprenticeship at SIX. Apprentices at SIX can train and further their education in many different areas of computer science; at other companies, apprentices often work for four years in telephone support. 

How did people close to you react to your decision to train to become a system engineer?

Most of my friends said: “Better you than me.” But nobody tried to talk me out of it, and I’m really grateful that they didn’t. I believe that my parents were most of all glad that I was able to find something that suits me. Be it bricklayer, druggist, florist, or computer scientist, it didn’t matter to them as long as I was happy.

Do you have a female role model in IT?

No. Maybe I would if I had needed one, but I didn’t really miss having one. I generally don’t look for many role models to follow anyway. At any rate, I can’t name you a specific one off the top of my head. Um, maybe my brother, but there’s nothing much feminine about him.

Peering into the future, what do you look forward to the most?

To enjoying my life and having a fun job. Hopefully one day my children will marvel in disbelief when I recount to them that women used to be a rare species in IT.