Indigenous Australians are the original engineers. Why are there not more of us?

When I was about 10 years old, my little brother forgot the password to his laptop. This was in the days before we had password recovery; we were completely locked out of the computer. He didn’t know what to do and he was preparing himself to get told off by mum and dad.

I decided I needed to do something about it. I needed to get into the computer before mum and dad found out. I got online and started searching for instructions on how to hack into a computer. I downloaded some (probably illegal) software, installed it onto a USB and rebooted the laptop from said USB. I had no idea what I was doing at the time, but it worked! I cracked it! It was the first time I had thought about what was happening inside the computer. I was curious about it and I wanted to know more.

I have always been a bit of a technology geek. My first programming languages were HTML and CSS. I learned them because I wanted to customise my MySpace page. I was pretty competitive and I wanted my page to look the best out of all my friends. I was the go-to person at home when the TV wasn’t working. I would roll my eyes when mum asked me for help with connecting to the wifi (she’s actually quite tech savvy these days).

When I finished high school I had no idea what I wanted to do. Careers in technology weren’t something I’d seen happening around me. I didn’t think it was possible for me to make a career out of it.

At school, I did a careers test and they recommended that I become an actuary. Sorry to all the actuaries out there, but I really didn’t like that result. I’d rather be a garbage truck driver. So when I decided to study engineering, I was probably rebelling against the career guidance counsellor a little bit. I loved physics and I studied extension maths. I thought I might like engineering because apparently it had something to do with solving problems. It was a bit of a fluke that I ended up loving it.

This summer, Tamina Pitt is a software engineering intern at Google’s Sydney office.

Image: This summer, Tamina Pitt is a software engineering intern at Google’s Sydney office. Photograph: Tamina Pitt

It wasn’t until I started studying engineering that I really started to comprehend its significance. I don’t think engineering is understood well by outsiders. So let me clear it up for you: We have deep technical expertise about a given field, and we use our knowledge to solve real-world problems. Across almost every discipline, engineering is a crucial ingredient. So much of today’s technology, materials, systems and processes started from an engineer’s design.

At university I also began to realise something else: there aren’t many Indigenous engineers around. As far as I know, the number of Indigenous engineering students at my uni is barely in the double digits, out of over 10,000 total students that study engineering.

It’s disappointing to see Indigenous people underrepresented in engineering. Our ancestors are the original engineers. They have a deep knowledge and understanding of the land and the sky. They used their knowledge to form a lifestyle, innovating to solve everyday problems and live comfortably. The boomerang is a piece of aerodynamic engineering that has inspired many designs today.

It can be lonely to be a minority in a large industry like engineering. It’s helpful to connect with like-minded others. I’m part of Indigitek, a community of Indigenous people who are passionate about technology. We have meet ups where we hear from Indigenous people about their experiences in their career, creating something or starting a business. I’ve made strong connections and real friendships through joining Indigitek. This community has always given me encouragement and support to keep me strong. For any Indigenous person with a passion for technology, or an interest in science, technology, engineering and math, we would love to have you join our community.

I’m excited about the future of engineering. I have an opportunity to be a part of something big. I have the potential to create something that could change the world and improve people’s quality of life. I hope to see more Indigenous people join me and do engineering.

This article was first published by Guardian Australia on 14 December as part of their ongoing partnership with IndigenousX

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