Friday 20 January 2017

Inspiring the next generation of women in IT

by Amanda Menard

There has been a lot discussion regarding the lack of women working in IT. Current figures from the Australian Computer Society and Deloitte show that women make up only 28% of the ICT workforce. One of the initiatives working to change this statistic for future generations is the Girls’ Programming Network.

The Girls' Programming Network (GPN) is an initiative of the National Computer Science School at the University of New South Wales and began in Sydney in 2008. It has since expanded its reach to include branches in Perth and Canberra with further growth planned into other states and regional centres.

The goal of the GPN is to teach girls programming and to connect them to women in industry. It achieves this goal by holding a series of day long events to teach girls the basic concepts of programming with the support of many female tutors. Events are free for girls from Years 4 to 11 to attend and are fully catered.

Tutors come from all areas of industry and academia - University students, government, telecommunications companies and other private industry organisations.

I have been involved as a tutor at some of the Canberra and Sydney GPN events. It's incredibly rewarding and also provides the opportunity to network with other women IT professionals. The events target girls with a wide range of skills - from girls who have never coded before through to girls with advanced programming skills. The ratio of tutors to students is very high - usually one tutor for 3 or 4 girls which means beginners have the chance to ask questions and gain assistance quickly when stuck or dealing with a new programming concept.

Some of the events I have participated in have involved Markov chains and Arduino Boards. The most recent event on Markov Chains by the Canberra GPN had a record number of 71 girls registering with 40% having attended a GPN event previously. This event focused on Markov Chains to generate sentences based on sample text ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ by Dr Seuss. There were also practical exercises to illustrate the concept using words on large cards and lots of string! Previous events run by Canberra GPN have focussed on cryptography and programming scissors-paper-rock.

The other event I tutored at was for Sydney GPN and focussed on teaching the girls how to program Arduino boards - essentially small microcomputers that could be programmed to perform tasks such as turning on lights, playing music and displaying text on an LCD screen. We used NICTA Boards, which were specially built to make it easy to teach students how to use Arduinos, with built in inputs and outputs such as an LCD Screen, lights, buttons, a LED Shift Register, light sensor, and many more. There were also practical exercises using homemade playdoh (which conducts
electricity), batteries and lights to help the girls understand how electronic circuits work.
The feedback from the girls and their parents is incredibly positive. Many girls attend more than one GPN event and it is inspiring to see their enthusiasm and confidence in programming increase throughout the day. We've also had students organise code camps at their school!

We would love to involve more women as tutors. Events are usually held on a Sunday with room set up and preparation taking place on Saturday. You don't have to commit to participating in all events as nominating to be a tutor at a single event is also greatly appreciated. You can also be involved behind the scenes with the creation of workbooks and reference material.

For further information about becoming a tutor, email Canberragpn.
Further details are available from the Canberra GPN website at or the Sydney GPN website at

About the author:
Amanda Menard currently works in cyber security at the Department of Defence. Amanda has previously worked for Datacom TSS and holds a Masters in Technology from the University of Canberra. She volunteers as a tutor for the Canberra Girls' Programming Network helping to inspire young girls to pursue a career in ICT.

 This post has been created by Amanda Menard and published by A Turner on behalf of AWSN. 

(c) AWSN 2016

Friday 13 January 2017

Slip, Slop, Slap Cybersecurity

by Ricki Burke

Slip, Slop, Slap was the slogan of a famously successful campaign in Australia and New Zealand to raise the awareness for the public to protect themselves against the increased risk of skin cancer. Protecting yourself against the sun (Slip on a shirt, Slop on sunscreen, Slap on a hat) may seem like standard actions to many of us now but this was launched by Cancer Council Victoria in 1981.

Fast forward 30 plus years and there is a new threat which appears have caught people unaware, Cybersecurity. We are vulnerable at work, home and in public but the problem is, only a small minority seem to know this.

Recently I was on the train and sat next to someone doing online banking on their laptop. I'm a curious person, (thankfully not mischievous) and was able to see a lot of information I shouldn't have. Fortunately for that person I had no ill intentions, but if I did, he could have had a bad day. 

One of the biggest weaknesses any organisation has, is its people. A staff member could innocently click on a bad link and suddenly your whole network could be at the mercy of ransomware. This is one common problem found within the working environment. There are too many examples to list. But, what happens when someone is still working whilst travelling on the train or working from a café and dealing with confidential information?

At home, you or your family could be online, shopping or posting information innocently without taking the necessary measures to protect themselves. The problem is that hardly anyone knows what measures to take. And, whose job is it help raise awareness to the wider public?

The lack of public awareness is not just a local problem but a global one. When I searched #CyberAware I was pleasantly surprised to see a Twitter account from UK based Leicestershire Police, @leicscyberaware.

The advice may seem simple to those in the Infosec or IT world, but if you’re not from this environment how would you know what steps to take? I think there is a general misconception that emails, published sites or apps available to download on phones will be safe. As if there is some sort of regulation of what is can be made available online…

I think that the responsibility to raise awareness does not lie with one organisation or authority, but instead we could all take more of an active role in providing education. If organisations can really start teaching their employees to be more #CyberAware at work, then they, in turn take that home to educate their families or those around them. We need a collaborative effort across government, councils, education providers, authorities and corporations.

A memorable TV ad worked in the 80’s for skin cancer. How do we now communicate this growing threat to the masses?

This post has been written by Ricki Burke who kindly provided his time to contribute to the AWSN blog.

Ricki is an Information Security recruiter with Interpro and has over 5 years experience in the IT industry. He has supported organisations globally, providing them with talent with niche skills. In total, he has spent over 10 years working to understand business needs, recruitment consulting and building relationships. He is actively looking to make a difference within the industry and is a Co-Founder of Cyber Security Career Kick Start, a free event for students to gain knowledge and practical steps to get their first job within Information Security. Plus, he is partnering with networking groups such as AWSN to help promote diversity.

 This post has been written by Ricki Burke and & published by A Turner  on behalf of AWSN. 

(c) AWSN 2016