Having worked in the IT industry for over 20 years, and been the only female in the room on many occasions, I can say with some certainty that we haven't yet resolved the challenge of attracting an equal balance of men and women into the industry.
For instance, we run a training course called NetAcad at Cisco, which helps young people from all over the world learn IT networking skills -- currently, only 8 percent of our students are female. This baffles me -- I see so many young women absorbed with their smartphones and tablets. I want to shout out, "If you're enjoying using technology so much, just imagine the fun you could have creating it!"
April 24 marks International Girls in ICT Day so it seems the perfect time to address the true possibilities that technology presents for young girls and aspiring women. So here are five reasons why young women should consider a career in IT:
1. The Industry Is Crying Out for Talent
Young people have taken the burden of unemployment more than most generations during the recent recession. Although recent ONS statistics showed overall unemployment was falling, the unemployment rate for 16 to 24-year-olds is 19.8 percent -- much higher than the total jobless rate of 7.2 percent.
Yet, figures suggest that up to 900,000 ICT job vacancies will be unfilled in Europe by 2015 due to a lack of suitably qualified employees. In an industry set to continue expanding in the coming years, as ICT becomes even further embedded in our professional and personal lives, the number of jobs on offer is only going to increase. Simply put, if you choose a career in IT, jobs will not be hard to come by at the end of your studies.
2. Work for Your Dream Company (In Any Industry)
Virtually every business now relies on technology of some form to operate and to succeed -- whether its ecommerce, online innovation, customer analytics or systems maintenance, there is a whole range of technology job opportunities in all kinds of companies. Consequently, a career in IT extends far beyond the dingy computer room, offering the potential to work in practically any industry and be part of its strategy and future. How many study paths provide that level of flexibility?
3. You'll Never Be Bored
For me, real job satisfaction comes through the problem-solving nature of my job and the constantly evolving challenges involved in this fast-paced industry. That's what's so brilliant about technology -- the boundaries of what's possible are constantly shifting and you can help to push them. If you have an aptitude for problem solving and logical thinking you'll certainly never be bored in this industry. Aside from the technical challenge, there's also the opportunity to travel and meet some fascinating people. My IT career has taken me from North America to Europe, Africa, India and China, attending global events and game-changing conferences, and brought me into contact with people from all walks of life.
4. You Can Help Change the World
Think of the most significant inventions and business achievements of the last 15 years, and it becomes clear how much IT has shaped the world. Facebook, Google, the iPhone (and most other devices from Apple), 4G mobile connectivity, all define possibilities in how we connect with others and interact today.
Over the next few years wearable technology, 3D printing and augmented reality will all make big strides. The Internet of Everything (where every device can communicate automatically, be it a smart-phone or a smart-fridge) will continue to grow, further binding our consumer existence to technology. A career in IT could put you at the forefront of these important advances, changing people's lives in dramatic ways.
5. You'll Be Financially Secure
Let's face it: Money plays a role in every career decision. Entry-level jobs in IT provide very competitive graduate salaries with the potential to climb quickly as you progress up the ladder or accumulate more qualifications. Clearly there are some individuals with entrepreneurial flair and brilliant aptitude who have become extremely successful through the technology industry -- the richest man in the world works in IT. However, for those of us with more modest ambitions, IT is still capable of providing a fulfilling and financially rewarding career.
So for any young women (or men) unsure what career path to follow, or for anyone considering a change, IT should not to be dismissed. The industry rivals any other for employment opportunities, reward and dynamism. Most importantly, it gives you the opportunity to shape the world. Do you accept the challenge to do so?
Cisco is one of many companies taking part in Girls in ICT Day, welcoming over 2,500 girls in nearly 80 locations worldwide to spend the day at our offices to see what a job in IT is all about.