Woman holding sparkler / Franzroos Fotomacher / Pixabay.com
Techweek New Zealand is an annual event to celebrate the advancements within our technology and innovation industry. This year’s Techweek was a personal favourite of mine because it merged my three great passions: clean technology, creativity and diversity.
Throughout the week, there were panels and workshops that addressed the issues for women in STEM, the need for accessible tech for people living with disabilities and brought the most fascinating parts of technology to the younger generations. Here are some highlights.
Diversity in Tech:
While underrepresentation is still an issue within the STEM industry, New Zealand has a veritable treasure trove of qualified experts who came out to share their experiences during Techweek. From women sharing their experiences with breaking into the industry to discussions around accessibility, Techweek19 produced many nuggets of wisdom.
Farmehr Farhour, CTO and co-founder of Kara Technologies, demonstrated the international sign for love after a discussion about accessibility on TechWeek TV. The brief lesson in sign language came after a segment on how the technology we produce needs to cater to those living with disabilities, but also how it already has helped with interaction, communication and movement.
At a Women in Tech even in Hamilton, Louise Hutt talked about embracing the discomfort of challenging stereotypes. Hutt is New Zealand’s youngest electricity CEO and is also running for mayor! Trying to break into any industry as a minority is tough; there are judgments, criticisms and stereotypes that can shake us from our goals and make us change ourselves. “Trying to make people feel comfortable with our inclusion is what we’re taught to do.” But Hutt says that a step outside of our comfort zone is a step in the right direction.
‘Inspiring Women in Tech’, a session presented by MYOB at AUT campus, had more than 200 participants in the audience. Aptly named, the panellists of the workshop were highly successful leaders within the tech industry. Some of the points discussed were why there is a disproportionate amount of men in the field, and what can be done to combat underrepresentation. “You can’t be who you can’t see,” the women answered. There was also a call to action for giving women not just roles at the higher levels of a job, but leadership roles at all levels within a company.
Similar ideas were shared at a session with Katy Pfeifer, Town Square co-founder, at MOTAT which focused on ‘How women are rapidly reshaping our world.’ Her advice: “Call people out, find a mentor, then be a mentor.”
Clean Technology at Work:
Amongst the limitless possibilities that technology offers us, its pitfalls can often be forgotten. Unsustainable energy, pollutants from manufacturing processes and the amount of plastic used in robotics and 3D printing can be a challenge. Techweek19 made clean technology a focus, starting on Day One.
At the opening launch in Wynyard Quarter, Sean Simpson of LanzaTech gave a moving presentation on the need for more sustainable technology products and processes. “Why do we need Clean Tech? Because dirty tech isn’t working so well.” His words are echoed in his actions; LanzaTech is a globally acclaimed company that turns the carbon-rich gas emissions from steel mills into ethanol that powers bio-fueled vehicles.
More big ideas like these were also projected on the Auckland Harbour Bridge (see attached video). The Vector Lights on the Harbour Bridge put on a light show designed by school students, with help from design agency Method. Their imaginative ideas of what the future of clean tech could be were translated into moving images on the thousands of energy-efficient LED lights on the Bridge. It might be hard to glean from the flashing displays, but the patterns include Lime scooters that drop seeds to replenish plant populations, energy that comes from the movement of the waves and a space elevator that forms a direct link between Earth and the first Mars colony sometime in the future.
The Future of Technology:
Technology is New Zealand’s fastest growing sector, so it’s no wonder that companies are wanting to encourage youth to get involved. Techweek19 gave students many opportunities to interact with, learn about and create their own technology.
A showcase of student projects utilising technology at Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate in Otara drew visitors from the public and from other schools. The interactive projects all began from the same challenge: to communicate culture through technology. Among them were weaving tutorials, slow walks on Niuean beaches via a virtual reality headset and a Snakes-and-Ladders-type game that produced a fact about Tonga with every successful move.
One impressive highlight was youth in tech educating other youth about tech. YTech? is a non-profit, South Auckland-based start-up that promotes technology to students. Many of them are still in high school. They led an interactive session called “Creating the Next Tech Entrepreneur,” with workshops about how to effectively ideate and brainstorm streamed live to hundreds of students around New Zealand.
Over 80 girls aged 7-14 participated in the ‘She Can Code’ event in Timaru. It was a hands-on, engaging workshop that aimed to teach the basics of computing and coding to young girls. The future generation inspired the organisers with their enthusiasm and problem-solving skills. They participated in the ‘Electric Garden’ project, which uses sensors to measure moisture, light and temperature levels in the garden. The girls examined the available data to determine what changes needed to be made to optimise plant growth.
For many of the world’s problems, technology plays a vital role in the solutions. Technology’s capacity to change lives is massive, with many projects aiming to combat issues like climate change, the digital divide and the future workplace.
The best of these projects are celebrated at the Hi-Tech Awards, and you can check out this year’s winners here.Support Villainesse