Unlocking the Tech World – An Interview with Erana Taufa

22 August 2018

Tongan-born Erana Taufa moved to Aotearoa New Zealand when she was three years old. Now aged 17 years, this avid horror and science fiction fan is a Year 12 student in Otahuhu, Auckland. Her passion for technology began when she took part in her school’s Girls’ Code Club.

Erana Taufa

Erana Taufa

From there, Erana was one of approximately 30 students from around Aotearoa that applied for and were accepted onto the 2017 OMGTech’s Mana Tangata leadership programme. The programme connects young people with tech industry mentors, who support the young people to create a path towards becoming future technology leaders.

While attending the Mana Tangata orientation day, Erana met four other students, John Chen, Max Dangvu, Emalee Tea and Sok-Haing Yung. They were surprised to find that they all hailed from South Auckland as they felt that technology as a field of interest wasn’t something that was well-promoted within their communities. They, along with other Mana Tangata participants Neve Piad and Andrea Narain, decided to collaborate to see if they could change this by creating an event that would appeal to the young people in their communities and change the perception of “technology being for nerds who sit behind a computer screen.”

Y tech

“We wanted to make an event by youth, for youth. We started small and aimed for a crowd of 20-30 people as we were new to this and didn't know what to do. We were then put in contact by OMGTech with Edwina Mistry, Executive Director of TechWomen NZ and Director/Founder of CreateOps, and things started coming along like magic. Edwina introduced us to the right people at the right time and really quickly, we had Microsoft New Zealand, Air New Zealand, Datacom Group, and so many other amazing companies on board and wanting to take part in our event,” says Erana.

The inaugural Y-Tech? event took place in February this year, with over 200 attendees.

Y tech

“It was such a success. None of this would have happened without OMGTech’s help and especially Edwina for dreaming big for us when we were scared and shy,” says Erana.

Following on from the success of the first Y-Tech? event, the team was invited by TechWomen NZ to attend the Digital Nations Conference where they got to “meet and talk to so many amazing people not only from New Zealand but also overseas”. Erana and Max were then asked to be part of the Youth Panel at the New Zealand Education and Technology Summit. Another Y-Tech? event is planned for February 2019, with plans afoot to expand to new locations and invite other young people to join the organising committee.

Y tech group shot

In August 2018, CreateOps and the Y-Tech? team partnered with NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and Michelle Dickinson (aka Nanogirl) to organise an event called “Walking on Mars”. It provided an opportunity to examine the history of Mars exploration, see some of NASA’s newest technologies, and learn about STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) opportunities. Via Skype, Tom Soderstrom, IT Chief Technology Officer at NASA JPL, took 200 high school students, teachers and parents on a journey through the NASA JPL Mission Control room, Spacecraft Build room, and the ‘Center of the Universe’ at JPL NASA in Pasadena, California.

It’s wonderful to see Erana and her Y-Tech? partners blazing the trail for all young people to embrace technology. This is especially true for young women, a group that is historically less visible in this field. But there are still challenges ahead. We asked Edwina Mistry, Executive Director of TechWomen NZ and Founder of Createops to give us her perspective.

“Women are under-represented in STEM careers in New Zealand. While New Zealand is doing better than some countries, there is a need to do more for two reasons:

  • Technology is part of every industry today and every industry has opportunities for people with skills in technology. The number of tech roles is increasing so to keep the economy growing well, we need to ensure women are interested in taking on tech roles.
  • There is a need to break down barriers and myths that girls and young women have about tech being boring and only for boys and young men, and that to be successful in a tech career you have to be good at coding and maths.

TechWomen NZ work to help inspire girls and young women into technology, support the growth of women in tech roles, and help develop policy and actions for improving diversity in the tech workplace.

The reasons for this inequality are many, spanning issues such as social pressure on girls and women to pursue ‘suitable’ careers, societal biases in higher education and the workplace, and a lack of support for women who wish to have a family or re-skill when returning to the workforce. These are complex problems that we all need to work to understand and address.”

One thing is for sure: with Erana and the Y-Tech? team on the case, Aotearoa New Zealand’s tech scene is heading in the right direction.