In celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8th, 2021, Women Talk Tech is dedicating the month of March to saluting young women in the tech sector.
This week’s guest is Nicole Ooi, a fourth-year computer engineering student at Queen’s University, and the Internal Vice-President of Queen’s WiSE (Women in Science and Engineering). While Nicole is now eagerly looking forward to launching her career in business and technology consulting, the path towards a career in the tech sector was not a clear or an obvious one as she moved through high school and into university.
When Nicole was nearing the end of her high school career she knew she wanted to attend Queen’s University for engineering. At Queen’s University, students in the engineering program must do a general first year in order to take a variety of courses in different disciplines before deciding on a stream to specialize in for the remainder of their degree. Nicole arrived at Queen’s unsure of exactly which area she wished to specialize in, but she knew with certainty that she did not want to go into computer engineering.
“Why did I not want to do computer engineering? Even thinking about being in the computer science classroom in my high school, kind of scares me. I don’t believe there was a single girl who took computer science in my high school. I never really considered it, I just thought it was a boys club, and not explicitly that it wasn’t for girls, it just didn’t appeal to me at all.”
Nicole had come down with a case of what she calls, the “tech scaries” — she was scared of all that she didn’t know about the field of computer engineering, and she did not know how to find the information that she felt she was missing. Nicole believes that there is a disconnect happening with young girls in high school, where prior to, they want to learn and enter into the tech sector. However, in high school, when many young women are presented with the opportunity to take computer science courses for the first time, many of them do not engage.
“Any young person grows up, and they just want to learn, they want to explore. And at one point, something is deterring [girls] away from actually pursuing [tech]. I really do believe it’s the environment that schools have created in those classrooms. Sometimes it’s the way that teachers are teaching it, and sometimes it’s not seeing yourself at the front of the room.”
Nicole’s biggest piece of advice for young women entering into the tech sector is to try to find other women in the field who you can lean on and look up to. In her experience, Nicole has found that working with other female students in her program has helped her in feeling like she can persevere through the more difficult times because she has other young women around her who are going through the same experiences. She also sees great value in seeking out mentorship programs in order to find older and more established women in the tech sector to support and uplift younger students.
For Nicole, the collaboration between men and women in the tech sector is invaluable when it comes to the inclusion and integration of women in the field. Nicole is hopeful that everyone, both men and women, see the value of diversity in the workforce and wants to see achievements in this regard, however, often they do not know how to be good allies. Nicole believes that making men aware of the instances of exclusion in the tech sector, and demonstrating strategies that can be used to combat these situations are a step in the right direction.
Through her work with WiSE, Nicole is actively creating a community of empowered women in tech who are seeking to uplift and celebrate other young women in the field.
You can find Nicole on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/nicoleooimx/
You can follow WiSE on Instagram here: @queenswise