Software engineering star
Software Engineer, Grok Learning
Director of the Girls’ Programming Network
Tell us how you got into software engineering.
I started out enrolled in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and Chemistry. At that point in time I had no idea what programming was.
When I got to uni I met some people who taught me to code just for fun. They ended up pushing me to enrol in a coding course. It was hard to keep up because everyone else seemed to have done coding before, but I did ok.
This led to me doing more and more coding courses. I got better and better, eventually climbing to the top of the class and adding a computer science major to my collection of degrees.
I completed an internship at the National Information & Communications Technology Research Council (NICTA), which led to a job (in a different department) because people thought my experience combining computer science and real world problems was useful.
While finishing uni, I volunteered at the Girls’ Programming Network (GPN) as a tutor. I was not very confident in my skills but it turned out to be a great time and I could actually help people out. I kept going back to GPN, until I ultimately took over running in 3 years ago. I grew the program massively, created some versatile and innovative content for teaching girls to code and decided to expand it to other nodes around Australia.
Being part of GPN meant I met a lot of friends and mentors who were founders of these programs. These people also were the founders of Grok Learning. And about a year ago I was asked by my mentors to come work for them at Grok because of my combination of software engineering experience and educational experience from GPN.
I’ve been at Grok 10 months now working as a full stack developer. I work on everything from writing coding courses to creating new technology that will help us to teach an even broader range of kids in fun, new exciting ways.
What is the big picture goal or purpose at your company?
At Grok, we’re getting ready for our biggest competition of the year, the National Computer Science School (NCSS) Challenge.
This year we’re trying to get even more kids doing the competition (we have about 10,000 a year at the moment) by making it more fun, interactive and understandable for kids around the country and making it easier for teachers to use.
When did you get switched on to STEM, and how?
As long as I can remember I always loved maths. When I got to high school I fell in love with science and did as much of it as I could throughout high school.
When I had to choose something to study at university, I discovered engineering. I hadn’t really thought about how science actually got applied to the real world, so that’s when I decided to get into engineering.
What do you know about STEM now that you didn’t know at school?
STEM is more than cool facts and knowing how things work. STEM is nothing without having a set of problems to be solved or needs that need to be fulfilled.
I look forward to people bringing STEM to new areas in the future. I am loving working in the intersection between technology and education. And before this I loved working in the intersection between renewable energy and technology. Just using programming in any job is exciting. So, I think the most exciting thing is STEM + X.
What is your advice to young women who want to learn about and pursue a career in STEM?
Do it! For girls in high school, do lots of it; do maths, do science. Luckily technology is something you can even do at home! So try some coding projects! Get hands on with other things too, whether it’s lego or electronics or building something, it’s great to set your self a problem and to create something that solves it.
At university, give a new subject a try! I did and I loved it, it’s never too late to get started on STEM. And it will open your eyes to a whole world where you can really create change.
Renee’s career path:
>>> Bachelor of Engineering (Chemical)/Science (Chemistry), University of Sydney
>>> Intern, NICTA (National Information & Communications Technology Australia)
>>> Volunteer, Girls’ Programming Network (GPN)
>>> Software Engineer, Data61
>>> Software Engineer, Grok Learning
Author: Larissa Fedunik-Hofman
Larissa is the editorial assistant for Careers with STEM and a Chemistry PhD student. Larissa’s goal is to promote public engagement with STEM through inspiring stories.