Pursuing a career in STEM with Rebekah Chow

Rebekah Chow is a Software Developer working in the team that maintains and enhances the websites for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

As someone who grew up loving technology, it never occurred to Rebekah Chow that pursuing a career in STEM would mean entering an industry that was dominated by men. Now an engineer at Nine working on The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, she remembers the moment she first realised that her path was less a common one for women.

“I went to an all girls high school and I remember wanting to take technology classes… and being worried that the courses I wanted to take weren’t going to be run because there wasn’t enough interest. I think that kind of made me realise that, ‘Oh, maybe what I’m doing is not a normal thing’,” Rebekah recalls.

In her technology elective at Bethlehem College, Ashfield, she was one of only 10 students, “which is pretty much the smallest class you can have,” she says.

Why were so few women interested in studying technology at high school? 

Rebekah wonders if it came down to a lack of awareness about what a career in STEM could look like for women.

“I can remember in particular that the reason I ended up in software engineering [was] because I got chosen to attend an engineering information day [at the University of New South Wales] when I was in year 11 or year 12… It was me and maybe eight other girls in our grade of 130 people,” Rebekah says.

“It makes me wonder if there are other people in my grade who would’ve loved a career in STEM, but just didn’t know about it, because they didn’t have the opportunity to learn about it.”

That information day led Rebekah to a Bachelor of Engineering (Software) with Honours at UNSW which she is completing in 2021 while working part time at Nine.

At university, the gender imbalance was particularly stark.

“There’s definitely a big difference in the gender ratio in university, you can easily see that there’s many more males than females, but I don’t think I’ve ever experienced being treated differently or excluded at university,” Rebekah says.

Tackling the imbalance

“I guess it comes down to the type of people you decide to hang out with… I have a great group of friends and I don’t think any of them have ever been anything less than supportive of my career or what I’ve been doing. So I think I’m pretty lucky that way.”

At Nine, Rebekah says the willingness of colleagues of all genders to provide help and support has also helped her to build confidence and overcome her fears about transitioning to full time work.

“I remember being worried about how I would take what I’ve learned at university and apply it in the industry,” she says.

“Would I just be given a task? And what if I didn’t know how to do it?”

Rebekah says it helped to remember that everyone was at the start of their career at one point: “Everyone knows what it’s like… and everyone’s willing to help and support you along the way.”

Since joining Nine, Rebekah has been promoted from Software Engineering Intern, to Graduate Engineer, to Engineer and now to Acting Engineering Manager. It’s another milestone for Rebekah, whose love of technology was inspired by her father’s career in technology. As she grows in her career and reflects on her dad’s, technology is a path she recommends.

“I think that if you’re interested, even in the slightest, I would say definitely explore that interest. I had no idea what you could do with a love for technology until I decided to explore it.”

Article by Fatima Kanji & Felicity Yan, from Women In Tech.

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