Tamina Pitt: Indigenous Australians are the original engineers. Why are there not more of us?
December 22, 2017
‘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’ Photograph: Amanda James/Tamina Pitt
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Tamina Pitt is completing her bachelor degree in computer engineering at UNSW, and is on the organising committee of Indigitek, a community for Indigenous people with a passion for tech. This summer, she is a software engineering intern at Google’s Sydney office.
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 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.
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.
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