What were you doing when you were 16? Some of us were still deciding on which university we wanted to attend, let alone the course we wanted to take. A lot of us were preoccupied with video games like DoTA and not much else. And then there were those who were still in the midst of experiencing their first love or even heartbreak for the first time. Being 16 just seems far too young for anyone to know who they are, or even what they want to do out of life.
Not Audrey Pe. From an early age, the 16-year-old Grade 11 student at British School Manila has already known what she’s wanted to do at an early age, and has already gone through leaps and bounds to be closer to her dream. Developing a love for coding at an early age has inspired Audrey to pursue a career in tech, but the lack female tech role models initially discouraged her from doing so.
Audrey wasn’t alone, though — the lack of women in the tech field is what dissuades the majority of young girls to go into tech, yet the young teen is about to change all of that. Audrey is the founder and Executive Director of WiTech, a community organization that aims to celebrate women in the field of technology and encourages young girls like herself to take up tech.
At such a young age, Audrey has already achieved so much — and that’s just the beginning. She recently spoke at the 31st ASEAN Summit last September 5 about her agenda to close the gender gap in tech, counting foreign dignitaries, industry people, and the youth among her audience. We spoke to the tech wunderkind about WiTech, and why you’re never too young to make a difference in the world. She’s definitely a name to watch out for.
1. How did WiTech start?
When I first encountered coding in middle school, I fell in love with it and decided to learn basic HTML and CSS through free online courses. Because I enjoyed it so much, I started considering pursuing a career in tech but was discouraged by the lack of female tech role models.When you think “tech” most think of Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg. WiTech is trying to change that by introducing women in tech role models to the masses and challenging the tech stereotypes through interviews and social media posts.
2. What inspired you to start WiTech?
Growing up in a society wherein the gender inequality in tech has made me feel unwelcome in the field has fueled me to try my best to ensure that girls around the world never feel like they don’t belong in this growing industry. Instead of waiting for the gender gap to be lessened or be dissuaded to pursue tech, I sought out to look for my own tech role models and share their stories with the world.
A simple Google search about the lack of women in the tech industry gave me access to thousands of articles and statistics about the gender gap in tech. According to a survey by IT organization ISACA, women in tech cited the lack of female role models in the field as the top reason as to why they believe there is a lack of women in the field. This prompted me to think of ways in which I could help bring more women in tech into the limelight.
3. At 16, you’re already heading an organization that’s out to trailblaze the local technology scene. How are people’s reactions to you leading this team at such a young age?
A lot of people don’t believe that I’m still in high school! They’re usually surprised to hear that I started WiTech when I was 15. Whenever I encounter this sort of situation, I try to insert the message that you’re never too young to make a change in the world. When I first started WiTech, I never thought that it would grow to be this impactful and meaningful to so many women in tech. All I knew at that time was that I wanted to stop waiting for that gender gap in tech to be diminished and start doing something instead. I saw a problem and set out to help make a solution.
4. What stories do you feature on WiTech?
On the WiTech blog, we focus on featuring women in tech from around the world. Past interviewees come from Malaysia, USA, Philippines, India, and more! These women not only work in programming but also fields such as biooceanography and drone development. Our posts aim to show people that there are so many inspiring and multi-facted women in tech from across the globe.
5. WiTech grew from a blog that highlighted women’s achievements in tech, to a community organization. How did that happen?
Once WiTech started getting more traction in the form of views and followers, I realized that it’s one thing to use blogging as a form of promotion of women in tech, but perhaps not enough in providing opportunities to young women who wish to work in tech. Thus, WiTCon (Women in Tech Conference), the first Philippine women in tech conference for students and by students was born. WiTCon is slated for March 2018 and will feature women in tech as speakers and workshops geared at encouraging more high school and college students to promote gender equality in the tech industry. WiTCon prompted the rebranding of WiTech into a community organization, and brought together eight young women from high schools and colleges around Metro Manila to be part of our core team.
6. Your team is composed of young women like you, whose interests lie in STEM. How did you meet them and decide to form a team together?
I met most of the WiTech core team through YouthHack Manila, an organization that promotes tech and startup culture amongst the youth. Because we all were part of YouthHack in some way, we understood how invested we all were in tech, yet we struggled to find female role models in the said field. When I pitched the idea of WiTCon to each of the members, we all connected in sharing ideas and excitement about how big a difference this event could make in our community. I’m incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to work with such an empowering team of young women—all going against the STEM gender gap that we face.
7. As a community organization, what does WiTech have in store in the near future?
Besides WiTCon, we hope to set up ambassador programs and WiTech clubs in schools in order to give more young girls opportunities to learn programming. Because coding is such an in-demand skill, it’s essential for young women to get interested in coding early so that they have more time to hone their skills and get exposed to tech opportunities.
8. How does WiTech plan on inspiring the youth, particularly young girls?
Whenever the WiTech blog publishes content, our aim is that anyone who reads the articles will rethink their image of a person in tech. Our past features aren’t cookie-cutter images of technologists, but instead a diverse range of women in different industries who have all struggled to fit into the male-dominated world of tech. By reading their stories, young girls can be taught that they themselves can grow up to be like the women in tech featured on the blog.
9. Meanwhile, what are your personal goals for yourself? Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
In five years, I’ll probably be halfway through college! I see myself learning a lot and growing alongside WiTech. My goal is to use what I’m taught in college to continuously improve WiTech — maybe even launch my own startup! All I know for sure is that I want to keep helping people through my advocacy.
10. Similarly, how do you envision WiTech, 5 years from now?
In 5 years, I envision WiTech growing its network of empowered women in tech in order to empower future women in tech. This could be through WiTCon, the ambassador program, WiTech clubs, etc. As long as the gender gap in tech exists, WiTech will be working towards breaking glass ceilings and inspiring women around the globe.
Do you have any girl friends who are into tech? Tag them in the comments section!