Celeste Carnegie: We need more Indigenous Australians in the tech space
October 11, 2017
‘We are the original innovators’. IndigenousX host Celeste Carnegie. Photograph: Indigenous Digital Excellence (IDX)
I have always enjoyed trying new things and figuring out what works best. I am a tech savvy youth. I’m proud to say that my first position in the tech space was when I became my mother’s own personal in-house (her house) IT officer. Honestly, I had no idea what I was doing. I would put a cord into a plug waiting for a reaction or a low frequency noise only my generation seems to hear.
Working with technology was never a serious option for me. I continue to be surprised knowing that a job like mine exists. I get to work with new technologies and hope to be a successful mentor for young people at the same time. I’m not what you would call “classically trained” in the realm of tech; I don’t have a title like ”web developer” or “IT expert”, so the notion of my dream actually working didn’t seem plausible.
Luckily, my love for technology never wavered, and after leaving it behind for netball it resurfaced and set me on a new career path. I now work as a learning experience designer and lead facilitator for Indigenous Digital Excellence (IDX).
One of IDX’s key programs is Flint. Rural and remote communities can request that IDX hold digital technology workshops within their community. Just like a flint used to start a fire, I hope to ignite the spark. My usual day consists of packing the three 25kg Pelican cases, the smaller 15kg 3D printer case, two drone bags and our own luggage into our 4WD rental car and making our way to distant lands and seas. While we are in the communities, we experiment with drones, robotics, coding and 3D printing. The goal is to make sure everyone is more confident in using technology and equipped to facilitate workshops autonomously. The Flint program was created as part of a solution to the under-representation of Indigenous peoples within science, technology, engineering, arts and maths, or more concisely, Steam.
A main assumption is that communities have access to technology and young people are learning digital literacy in school; however, this is not always the case. Opportunities are not always presented to us in ways that we can identify with, or the technology and style of facilitation is not always tailored for each individual community. It’s exciting to meet and witness some of our mob creating apps, running digital media agencies and developing virtual reality platforms, but we need more.
The tech space will continue to evolve and expand regardless of whether we are part of it or not. We have to use our innate innovative knowledge as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to forge our own pathways and opportunities into Steam fields that can in turn be passed on from generation to generation.
Throughout my travels across this country I have encountered a common theme – an absence of women engagement. A common concern I often hear and experience myself is that the tech space is intimidating, and many women feel as though we are not welcome at the digital table. Women are under-represented and ignored in Steam fields globally. As written in the Atlantic article Why is Silicon Valley So Awful to Women?, “Women not only are hired in lower numbers than men are; they also leave tech at more than twice the rate men do”. I have found the common misconception is that technology is for men, and frustratingly that ideology continues to be the norm.
In 2016, the federal government allocated $3.9mn towards organisations and affiliated programs that cater to Steam education solely directed at young girls and women. It’s a great initiative that will hopefully push the future of Steam and the aspirations of young women forward. However, all the selected funding recipients were mainstream organisations, and I have found none that focus primarily on Indigenous Australian peoples.
If the Steam industry is missing the representation of women and the representation of the Indigenous Australian community, what does that mean for Indigenous Australian women?
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are part of the minority groups not catered for and are often not included in program planning and implementation processes across organisations. Our engagement in Steam is vital as we have always endeavoured to nurture inclusivity and diversity.
My goal is to create a space where we can come together, create, learn and experiment with technology as well as connect with our culture and learn from those who have come before us. We have the ability, skills and creativity to flourish within the tech space. Australia’s first peoples have been innovating for more than 60,000 years. Our ability to constantly adapt and transform makes me feel proud that I am a descendant. We are the original innovators.
Celeste Carnegie is a Birrigubba Woman from far north Queensland. She is a learning experience designer at Indigenous Digital Excellence (IDX)
This article was first published by Guardian Australia on 10 October as part of their ongoing partnership with IndigenousX