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ICT Feature: TODAY: Girls In ICT Day

 - Thursday, 26 April 2012, 00:00

Information and communication technologies (ICT) are everywhere and are important to every aspect of our lives. They make our lives more comfortable. They connect people worldwide – anywhere, anytime. A career in the ICT sector has no limits anymore. Jobs range from traditional engineering or programming to designing new types of mobile apps or saving the environment. However, not enough young people are choosing careers in ICT – and these numbers are even lower when it comes to young women choosing this path.

‘International Girl’s in ICT’ day is an initiative backed by ITU (International Telecommunication Union) member states to create a global environment that empowers and encourages girls and young women to consider careers in the growing field of ICT. International Girls in ICT Day is celebrated on the 4th Thursday in April every year.

The ITU invites everyone to participate, especially those that are able to change today’s misconceptions and influence the minds of young women. Every effort should be taken to introduce young girls to career opportunities in technical fields. Essentially, these opportunities are the driving force which encourage girls to really consider a career in ICT.

This week the ICT feature looks at four of Malta’s leading women in fields ranging from ICT to Engineering. We will get a glimpse of what it means to be a woman in an ICT or engineering role. The ICT Feature talked to Mary Grace Busuttil (MGB) – Head of Oracle Enterprise Solutions, Alexandra Bonnici (AB) – University of Malta Lecturer with the Faculty of Engineering, Michelle Cutajar (MC) – Phd Student in the Department of Microelectronics and Nanoelectronics with the Faculty of ICT University of Malta and Pam Bonello (PM) a Senior Software Specialist all kindly agreed to an interview where we learn more how they faced challenges and dealt with them accordingly as well as what they think should be done to increase the number of women in ICT.

What inspired you to take up a career in ICT or Engineering?

M.G.B: Back in the early 1990’s when I was a teenager, I started my computer studies out of curiosity and private interest, as at the time computer studies wasn’t part of the school curriculum.   I was always fascinated by how I could apply IT systems in a business environment. This eventually pushed me to opt for a Business and Computing Degree and after that take up the post of a Business Analyst at Megabyte Ltd in 1998.

A.B: Maths and Physics were my favourite subjects at secondary school and choosing those subjects as ‘A’ levels seemed to be the most logical choice. In my first year at sixth from I had the opportunity to visit a student project exhibition organised by the Faculty of Engineering and it was the projects exhibited which inspired me to consider follow the Engineering course offered. I chose to follow the Electrical Engineering stream because I liked those subjects more than the others and now I specialise in Image Processing and Computer Vision – an area that studies different ways of how information can be obtained automatically from images – in a way we try to get computers to ‘see’.

M.C: I always aspired for a career related to research and development, and a career in ICT guaranteed a profession which is full of opportunities and innovation. Nowadays, ICT has become an essential part of our daily lives, and this made it possible for more and more people to acknowledge its importance. Since the area of ICT is always evolving, there are always further goals and achievements to be reached, all of which stimulate further research and innovation.

P.B: While at secondary school, I found mathematics appealing. This therefore led me to continue to include Maths in my curriculum for 6th Form as well as Computing as I knew that this would be a crucial subject in my career no matter the field of expertise. Thankfully, this allowed me to be exposed to the subject which though I found challenging, I grasped with confidence. Unlike students today, I was exposed to the Internet and mobile technologies well into my teens and was fascinated by how ICT makes life so much easier. I would send e-mails to my relatives across continents which arrived within seconds, information from resources around the world could be acquired with the click of a button. I was determined to know more and make sure I used these technologies and the knowledge I acquired through my studies as best as I could. Everything else seemed to have fallen into place from then on.

What are some of the challenges which you face/faced as a female in the ICT industry?

M.G.B: We have to admit ICT still is considered a man’s world today, let alone 15 years ago. Although out of my own character I never had any problem to mingle, seek friends and work with men, I have to admit that this in itself poses a challenge. My perseverance, ambition and hard work always pushed me in the right direction and in a relatively “short time” I managed to fare well in all my assigned roles, and scale up the management ladder. Demanding customer requirements, tight budgets and deadlines, and continuous learning and investment are daily challenges. When I look back I admit that the only secret why I succeeded is because I love what I do and I am very passionate in delivering to promise. The biggest challenge is striving to balance work and family time. At the same I’m privileged to have the full support of my family and the right working policies where family friendly measures are fully implemented and supported.

A.B: My job is research oriented so the challenges I face are mainly in keeping up to date on all activity in my area of specialisation – but that challenge is what makes my job interesting. Initially, being a female engineer did feel a bit awkward. Some people have the impression that technical-oriented careers are not suitable for women and this sometimes lent to a greater need to prove oneself. Fortunately, Engineering and ICT are fields in which a person can be judged on basis of merit and so this impression is being constantly challenged.

M.C: The challenges I encounter on a daily basis, are the same as those which my male colleagues encounter. Careers in the ICT industry are always advancing, and therefore there will always be new ideas and new challenges which one has to tackle and deal with. However, these challenges are also what make an ICT career appealing, since these ensure a career which is always innovative and interesting.

P.B: My degree led to a couple of sleepless nights. Computer Science is as challenging as it is rewarding. I had often stayed awake with determination to understand logic concepts behind a particular programming language. Also, I was discouraged by people around me who believed in the misconception that the ICT industry is purely a male dominated world! However, my determination in succeeding and progressing in this area allowed me to move on and reach the position I have today.

With the ICT now serving as the world’s single largest growth engine more than ever the industry is going to need girl’s skills, enthusiasm and fresh ideas. In order to create a sustainable future, improve health, build infrastructure and enhance personal and public security, we need a diverse set of minds. Women’s intelligence, creativity and values shed new light in solving these problems. An environment that will encourage girls to pursue education and careers in this exciting and high growth sector must be created to ensure that girls actively participate in this industry. “I believe that it is of utmost importance that women in Engineering and ICT related positions hold their positions on basis of merit rather than the need to fulfill a quota” says Alexandra Bonnici. She firmly believes that it is more important to encourage children to appreciate science and if girls are supported when choosing careers in Engineering and ICT, only then will numbers increase. She continued by saying that through this support girls can challenge the mentality that they are not as good as boys and be truly appreciated by their co-workers. Michelle Cutajar, a Phd student in Department of Microelectronics and Nanoelectronics with the Faculty of ICT University of Malta doesn’t belive that there is just one solution to increase the number of girls in ICT since all women are different. However she stands by the fact that it is important to keep encouraging women to be role models with whom girls as well as other women can identify with. It is imperative that the talent, innovation and creativity which women bring to the sector is highlighted. On the other hand Mary Grace Busuttil states that the Educational Institutions and the IT Industry need to work hand in hand to raise the awareness and illustrate the full spectrum of ICT related positions. “ICT careers are generally perceived as jobs applicable to the techies or engineer gurus. So students who don’t fare well in Maths and science subjects are discouraged in taking up ICT. Instead I believe that a student who excels in for example business studies or artistic subjects can still opt for an ICT career.” Pam Bonello, Senior Software Developer for Ascent Sotware says that ICT is too often stereotyped as only programming. People fail to realise that ICT is varied and adapted to your own skills which will eventually open up many doors.

Is the lack of women in ICT a big issue in Malta?

M.G.B: I believe this issue is secondary to the prevailing low participation of women in the workforce, despite women excelling in their tertiary studies.  

A.B:: The lack of women following Engineering and ICT careers is an issue that is present to some extent throughout the world and not just in Malta. The good news is that students are becoming more aware of the diverse opportunites that exist and the different ways with which Engineering and ICT can be applied such that more and more students, men and women, are becoming interested in pursuing a career in these fields.

P.B: It can be discouraging to work and study in a predominantly male environment, and have at times been discouraged by my peers. However, I.T. is non-gender specific and both sexes are equal in the playing field. More and more women are entering the world of I.T. and boundaries are being broken. At Ascent, we are seeing more and more female applicants, and though we are still far off from where we should be, the numbers look very encouraging.

To finish off this insightful interview each one of these inspiring women provided a few tips for budding young ladies considering a career in ICT or Engineering. Mary Grace Busuttil advises taking opportunities abroad, to always keep yourself up to date with vendor certifications and specialisations and most importantly to develop your intrapersonal skills and self confidence which help you stand out among the rest. “Everything is difficult until it becomes easy. ICT is a challenging career and does require you to push yourself. In the end however, ICT could enable your career and offer exposure to leading markets, technologies, and opportunities,” admits Pam Bonello. To add to this Alexandra Bonnici reveals that although Engineering and ICT are demanding they yield rewards. Prospective female professionals should not be discouraged by the small number of females following these careers but rather give their utmost to achieve their dreams. Lastly Michelle Cutajar directs students to forget the old mentality of ICT is for males only. Nowadays girls are consumers of technology just as much as boys are. “ If there is any prospective female ICT students, who are still thinking about it… just go for it!”

The Malta Independent ICT Feature

Two newly graduated students from America have come up with a new innovation to help children with Type 1 diabetes to learn more about their condition as well as understand how to monitor it. Jerry the Bear is the latest invention for children which acts in the same way as a human with diabetes would. Children continually learn by feeding him the right foods and giving him insulin injections. Jerry’s diabetic owner will be able to monitor and maintain his health as they would their own. This will help children understand the importance of regular insulin shots. The project grew out of personal experiences the two founders went through.

A recent study on telecommunication revenues predicts a decline till 2015. The report suggests that telecommunication companies in Europe will experience difficulty if they do not differentiate and complement their core services with other innovative services. 

Today, 26 April, marks the ‘International Girls in ICT’ day. This initiative is celebrated every year on the 4th Thursday in April. To celebrate this day, in today’s ICT Feature we have conducted exclusive interviews with four of Malta’s leading women who occupy principal roles in either the ICT or Engineering sector. Mary Grace Busuttil, Alexandra Bonnici, Pam Bonello and Michelle Cutajar provide insight into how women can be encouraged to taking up a career in ICT as well as what inspired them to enter this traditionally male dominated industry.

Roderick Spiteri is Marketing and Communications Manager at MITA and editor of Malta Independent ICT feature

Robotic teddy-bear teaches diabetic children

Jerry the Bear is a soft, cuddly teddy bear that features blinking eyes, insulin injection sites and a glucose-level display so that children can learn about their condition by helping to monitor and maintain Jerry’s good health.

A pair of Northwestern University graduates Hannah Chung and Aaron Horowitz created Jerry the Bear which combines robotics and artificial intelligence to produce an interactive teaching toy for children with Type 1 diabetes. For children with this long-term illness, it can be a struggle not just to understand their condition but also to learn how to manage it. That’s where Jerry the Bear comes in.

Jerry has insulin injection patch sites, a pulsing heart and a chest gadget that displays his blood glucose level. Jerry’s diabetic owner will be able to monitor and maintain his health by feeding him food items like milk, fish or chicken – and give Jerry an insulin shot when he needs one. Jerry not only provides a loveable method to teach children how to manage a serious condition but helps shape an empathetic bond. Equipped with a toy injection pen, children can use the robotic toy to learn the importance of regular insulin injections and even practice giving them. Jerry also boasts a display on his chest that indicates his blood glucose level and his eyelids become droopy when his blood sugar gets low. Sensors in his mouth even enable him to respond to what he’s fed.

Jerry the bear was conceived out of a nationwide college non-profit organisation called Design for America which Hannah Chung helped found in 2009 and now comprises more than 600 student members. Jerry the bear, the group’s first innovation project grew out of personal experiences. Chung’s family has a history with Type 2 diabetes, while Horowitz was diagnosed with a hormone deficiency as a child. Once the pair expanded the project beyond the confines of their college campus, Horowitz received a Dell Social Innovation fellowship to help with startup costs. Later, Chung and Horowitz took a sabbatical to take advantage of a business accelerator programme called Betaspring. They are now experimenting with Jerry’s third prototype, researching internal and external design. Horowitz focuses on the mechanics and robotics, while Chung works on Jerry’s soft exterior based on feedback form product testers – children with diabetes.

“The biggest thing for us is that we’re motivated on the goal in getting Jerry in the hands of children with Type 1 diabetes. Everything we do drives that because that’s what’s important,” Horowitz says. “Our social mission is tied to the products we create and we’re immensely optimistic. That’s the beautiful thing about being our age.” The entrepreneurs predict that Jerry will hit the market some time in 2013, but there’s no firm deadline as yet. Eventually, they hope the bear will be the first in a line of toys for children with medical conditions ranging from asthma to obesity.

European telecommunication revenues set to decline

A new report suggests that core European telecommunication revenues will decline by 1.8% per year until 2015. This is partly due to the competition of Over-The-Top (OTT) players like Google, Apple and Skype.

The latest annual edition of the joint telecoms report form management consultancy Arthur D. Little and equity broker Exane BNP Paribas suggests that European telecommunication companies are going to have a difficult job if they are to report revenue growth from their core services over the next few years. The telecommunications and pay-TV sector faces a sustained decline in revenues by 1.8%, driven by a combination of macroeconomic obstacles.

The report states that these revenues will fall until 2015. The report also suggests that substantial diversification revenues and cost transformation opportunities exist for operators that make the right strategic choices in these markets. The move to an all-IP world where everything is connected presents a major threat to telecom operators’ central voice and SMS revenues, but it also presents significant opportunities for these operators to extract value from adjacent markets. According to Antoine Pradayrol of Exane BNP Paribas; “ We forecast a negative revenue trend for telecom operators, which increases the need to restructure their cost structure including through network sharing to reduce pressure on free cash flows.” On the fixed side, players will not be able to rely on TV and broadband services to offset the decline in traditional telephony.

If telecos restructure successfully, then the report identifies opportunities for them to enter vertical markets such as automotive, energy and utilities and financial services. Potential revenues could reach 4% to 9% of large telecos’ turnover by end 2015. Whilst these numbers are significant, they are not enough to reverse the overall negative trend. In this context, telecos must accelerate their cost transformation in both operating costs and in investment. However, more fundamental changes to business models will be required. Director in Arthur D. Little’s Telecommunications, Information, Media and Electronics (TIME) Didier Levy says “We’re really now at a turning point, we need dramatic changes.” In light of these declining revenues and strong challenges, European operators are forced to re-evaluate their business models as well as consider opportunities in other businesses.

Another report from international law firm, Pinsent Masons, also suggests that telecos in Europe need to focus on their key strengths and adopt more service-based business models if they want to survive. Author of this report, Jon Dell, a partner with Pinsent Masons, says that the combination of exponentially increasing data volumes over the last five years and great competition from new entrants has caused telecos to reassess their business models as they try and match investment and focus on the needs of a data-driven customer base. The report also highlights five key areas that mobile and fixed-line telecos will have to consider when making future plans for their business; coping with the data explosion, spectrum use, mobile payments, the use of smart devices for work and regulatory changes.

These two reports are somewhat at odds with recent research form Ovum that reported global telecos revenues reaching $1.9 trillion in 2011, compared to $1.8 trillion in 2010. Matt Walker, principal analyst in Ovum’s Networks practice said; “ Signs have emerged in 2012 of a slowly improving economy and further improvement should help reach the revenue goals.”

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