Why the World Needs More Geeks

We live in the age of the tech-savvy user. They may know how to use their smart devices and the multitude of apps they contain, but do they fully understand the technology behind them?

The answer in a lot of cases is no. As a result, many of us spend time using technology that may be popular, but is not secure, efficient, or productive. Worse, it may expose us to unwanted advertising and even security threats.

The world needs more people who can not only use technology, but really understand how it works and benefits users. The people behind some of our most popular technology products – Uber, Facebook, Instagram – know this. Innovation truly happens only when people ask “Why don’t we do it this way?” or “Wouldn’t it be better if we did this instead?”

When I started my formal education and professional career in IT 25 years ago, there were very few females around me. What saddens me is to fast-forward to a new millennium and see this has changed very little, and according to some stats may have worsened. The numbers of women (and men too) studying and choosing careers in the so-called “geek” fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are down across the board.

Studies in Australia, where I live and work, have shown a 20-year decline in students studying math and science and there is a clear gender imbalance; boys are far more likely to study STEM subjects than girls.

I am very proud to call myself a geek. The word “geek,” in most cases these days, applies to technologically oriented people. But originally it referred to those in research or laboratories, so the term “geek” fits the whole “STEM” arena.

I see at least five reasons why we need more geeks

1. Innovation
Nearly all of the major innovations and inventions of the last 30 years have involved technology. Some of these technologies have completely disrupted whole industries -- from the automation of repetitive and lengthy tasks such as manual packaging and order entry to the demise of the corner video store with the introduction of on-demand and streaming content.

2. Societal Benefits
Every economy has and will benefit from technological advancements. It might be improvements in healthcare, such as telehealth bringing clinical care to patients who live in remote regions or are simply unable to travel to see a doctor. It could be statistical and predictive analysis of weather images that can provide early warnings of severe storms and save lives. And these are only two examples of thousands of possibilities.

3. Globalization – Anywhere, Anytime
Technology breaks down all physical and perceived boundaries. It allows instant connectivity for collaboration and opportunities for people to literally work from anywhere. Technology skills are universal and can be employed anywhere, opening up the world to all “geeks.”

4. Organizational Benefits
The organizations we work for are realizing the need to become more agile in their functions, procedures, and communications. To achieve agility, you need technology. It can improve efficiency and connect teams that are geographically dispersed. Organizations need people with the skills to identify and set up these technologies.

5. Technology is Exciting and FUN
There is always something new to experience and understand. A career in technology will never be boring. You will not have to do the same thing day-in and day-out for years on end. With each new gadget, gizmo, or solution, you get to not only master it but explain it to others – which for me provides the biggest buzz.

Many organizations, including Cisco, have recognized what having fewer STEM professionals means for our future. They are making significant investments in STEM in many regions, including Australia and New Zealand. Cisco just launched AUSTEM 2020, which builds on our long-term commitment to tackle the STEM skills shortage, help create an innovative economy and boost job growth.

One way we do this is through the Cisco Networking Academy program, which has helped 120,000 students develop IT skills since 1998. Networking Academy courses are currently offered at 117 educational institutions in Australia.

Over the next five years we’ve committed to train over 100,000 students in STEM through Networking Academy, giving them industry-relevant, job-ready technology skills. We have pledged that 20% of Cisco staff will provide 20 hours of mentoring to STEM students per year – or 5000 mentoring hours annually.

Again, knowing how to use technology is not enough. We need professionals and technologists who understand and can articulate the benefits of technology and how it should best be applied. We need more young people pursuing technical studies or careers, now, to put us in good stead for the future.

If you are not already, consider becoming a geek. Please join me on April 23 for Women Rock-IT, a live Cisco TV broadcast, and find out how you can launch an amazing career in IT.

This blog is the third in a series of posts from some "Rock'in" Cisco women who have challenged gender stereotypes and turned their passion for technology into rewarding and successful careers. See the first and second installments here.