Diary Of A CTO: Upskilling For A Career In Tech

By Pamela Connellan
on 18 October 2022

As the notion of a life-long career path becomes a distant memory, the onus is now being put on the modern worker to consistently adapt, update and evolve respective skillsets. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Australian technology industry which – in light of a digitally-led COVID recovery and a downfall in skilled migration – is crying out for more talent.

Women Love Tech talked with Eglantine Etiemble, the Chief Technology Officer at PEXA recently, and she shared her thoughts on continuous learning and the need to equip more Australians with in-demand tech skills.

WLT: Can you tell us why you feel we need to upskill more people into the tech industry?

Eglantine: The Tech Council of Australia estimates that we will need  1.2 million tech workers in Australia by 2030 compared to the 850k we have today: the current study and migration pathways won’t be able to fulfill that demand and we need to think broader. Reskilling talent from other industries is a important mechanism to develop as it will help with this challenge and with role obsolescence as well.

Fortunately, a breadth of options are now emerging – such as Holberton School – and these options are helping us do this. They are based on modern ways of learning, blending theory, practice, collaboration and community building, and help prepare candidates willing to reskill in a meaningful, relevant, and job ready way.

WLT: I’ve heard that if you study at Holberton School, it’s possible to start a career in tech after nine months?

Eglantine: Yes, it’s incredibly promising. It is a challenge the industry has been grappling with for a while as the traditional learning pathways are challenging for people already in the workforce. Some tech organisations have been trying to build their own internal program but it is resource heavy and not a practical solution for everyone.

Short reskilling course exist but in my experience, the level of skills and network after a 3 or 4 months course isn’t sufficient to have autonomous intern and this requires a strong support structure within the receiving organisation.

A program like Holberton is a 9-months full time commitment and is designed to really prepare you to be operational in a tech role right away by combining theoretical and hands on learning, networking, publishing. It promotes, as well, a connection with the sponsoring organisation, giving you a head start in terms of understanding a team and a culture. It’s quite unique and very promising.

WLT: I’ve heard you’re looking to Holberton as an avenue to get more women into tech?

Eglantine: Yes, absolutely. PEXA is a strong supporter of inclusion and diversity, and we are, like many tech companies, looking at how we can improve the ratio of women in tech. The industry is currently at 28% only and PEXA is slightly below this level, hence a series of initiatives have been launched, including Holberton.

One of the challenges is that with too few role models and a male-dominated classroom, the studies are not appealing to female students who represent only 35% of tech cohorts; even more concerning, we find that the ratio drops after graduation to 25%.

Consequently, whilst addressing the roadblock to tech studies, it’s critical to create pathways to join a career in technology later in life for female. We’ve been trialling an array of things and Holberton is probably the most promising of them. The way the studies are designed is very supportive for the candidates (mentoring, coaching, peer learning), and allows an early immersion in the workforce, supporting a transition from a previous career.

One of our students is currently finishing the program and we’re looking forward to having two others joining the next cohort. Another thing that was great for PEXA is that we were fully included in the selection process, allowing us to select candidates with the best fit, really interesting backgrounds and fantastic motivation. This starts the connection process early on as well.

Holberton is definitely one of our avenues to accelerate gender diversity at PEXA, and I think we need to commit to this kind of program at the industry level.

WLT: I’ve interviewed some of the Holberton School graduates and many of them say they never thought that working in tech would be as satisfying or as creative as it is until they studied it.

Eglantine: Yes, I think people underestimate the tech industry. I can say the technology community is a beautiful, very vibrant community. But you need to experience it to understand that. I think the Holberton course does this very well, It not only equips you with the skills – I think it equips you with the level of confidence because you’ve done the work on the job.

What I was hearing a lot in the previous reskilling attempts we’ve done is the creation of a strong imposter syndrome. This is when people feel they don’t really have the depth of experience they need. But I don’t think this happens with the Holberton School graduates because they’re very well prepared.

WLT: Yes, the graduates I’ve talked to seem to be confident by the end of their course because they’ve actually been doing the work.

Eglantine: Yes, the program is remarkably well structured. To learn a whole new skill like tech it is a major rewiring. You have to relearn how you work, how you interact. So, it’s a very deep rewiring and it’s not easy but there’s a fantastic support network with your peers and all the students at the school.

The students at the Holberton School are nurtured. The school facilitates all the communication between us and the students. So, the students get the extra support they need which is really critical to set them up for success. But no one should imagine that it’s an easy ride. It requires a lot of courage and it requires a lot of support. Holberton is doing that really well. It means companies like my company, really need to step up and do the same.

WLT: What would you say to a young woman who may be doing her HSC or VCE, and is considering her career options?

Eglantine: I would start by saying technology today is probably one of the most versatile and exciting industries to work in. We need people who are very detail oriented, who are very meticulous, but we also need people who are innovative, who bring energy into the room and who can drive change. We need connectors.

The problem is, when we think about a software developer or a ‘backend’ tech worker, we’re thinking introverts, problem solvers – working on very complex issues. Whereas you have room in tech today for people who are very creative – who are really people connectors and extroverts. They’re people who want to build beautiful products and get teams to work together.

So, I would just start to kill that myth that tech is boring and tell a young woman the tech industry is going to offer incredible work opportunities for all different profiles – and very sustainable opportunities as well. There’s so much work emerging in technology, and there is so much more which is going to come.

It’s offering life opportunities as well. The technology and the skills are highly transferable. So, in my experience, you can come and join a company in a country somewhere else, very easily. And if that’s what’s interesting to you, you’ll get that kind of opportunity. Say if you’re studying law – it’s very hard to transfer. Even when you’re studying medicine, it’s actually extremely hard to transfer.

So that’s pretty powerful. I would strongly encourage any young girl to go and explore that because there is a beautiful, vibrant, empowering industry out there which is very thirsty for women. And that’s my second point – we need so many girls and women to join the movement.

And I know the tech industry can look dry from outside. But inside – there’s strong community and a lot of support. It’s very vibrant

So, I would say to women out there – don’t be too afraid. Go and try something. If you don’t like it, you know what? In three years, you’ll be able to reskill. You’ll do something else in five years and that’s going to be your life. So just do something – go and enjoy it.

WLT: Thank you very much for talking with Women Love Tech, Eglantine. We’ll have to leave it there but thank you so much for your time.

Eglantine: Thank you for this interview. Pamela. You’re fighting the good fight at Women Love Tech. Thank you.

To find out more about courses at Holberton School, visit here.

For more from Women Love Tech about the tech skills crisis in Australia, visit here.

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