The founder of Pink Bottle Productions has been crowned the UK’s coolest techie by a selection of young students.
In a competition that aimed to challenge the "computer nerd" stereotype and encourage young people to consider a career in technology, Ashling Lindsay was voted as having the most inspiring job by a panel made up of students aged 8-15.
Lindsay, 24, from Belfast, is a self-taught animator and owns Pink Bottle Productions, which creates pictures, videos and short films.
Others to be nominated for the award included a game designer, an app developer working with the latest wearable technology, a computer scientist who uses supercomputers to research cures for diseases, and a music computer designer working for rock musicians.
Walton Le Dale High School student Melissa Bateman, 15, was one of the judges. She said she wanted Lindsay to win because she isn’t a stereotypical tech person.
"She is young, female and the owner of an animation studio. She sounds like she really enjoys IT and she is really enthusiastic and happy.”
Another judge, Dana, 11, from St Edmund’s Roman Catholic Primary School in Enfield, said: “I would love to do Ashling's job.”
Before judging the nominations, all of the children said they were aware of the "geeky" stereotype attached to those who work in the IT industry. More than half said they thought IT was a career for men.
Changing perceptions of IT careers
By the end of the judging process, 72% said they would now consider a career in IT with nearly all of the children saying the day had changed their original perceptions.
On her win Lindsay said: “I feel shocked and honoured to have won this award. I hope that I have demonstrated to young people that there is much more to IT than just sitting at a computer using spreadsheets.
“I think it’s vital that we inspire kids to explore the amazing opportunities that are out there across the world. Illustration, design and animation often get overlooked when people consider a career in IT, so I’m just glad that I have been able to raise the awareness of these creative roles.”
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Callum McGillick, 15, also on the judging panel, said: “It’s changed my view on the people who work in IT. I thought the people who work in IT were just young males but now I think the age range doesn’t matter and females can do IT as well.”
Daisy Group CTO Nathan Marke said the firm was stunned at the volume and quality of entries it received.
“I feel particularly proud to be involved in an initiative which has been successful in changing children’s perceptions of IT," he said.
“I would like to thank everyone who took part in the competition and extend my congratulations to all of the finalists. Ashling, in particular, has demonstrated brilliantly that IT is accessible to all people, regardless of gender and age. I truly believe the children have been left inspired to pursue their dream careers.”
The students were assisted by Computer Weekly editor in chief Bryan Glick who helped them with any technical questions they had.
Chair of the judging panel Glick said: “You could see the children had a natural interest in IT but the industry still isn’t doing enough to engage with them and turn that enthusiasm into a desire to work in IT.
"This project showed that kids respond to great role models – and we need to see more of those role models helping to encourage young people into a career in technology.”
Negative IT worker streotype
A quarter of the students said they believed IT plays a major role in their lives and that it is necessary for almost all jobs. The children identified ICT, maths and art as the skills needed for a career in IT.
Everyone thinks that the typical person who works in IT has glasses and is almost nerd-like, but in fact they could look like anyone
James Hasstan, student
A negative stereotype for IT workers was highlighted by 90% of the student judging panel. Zara Adam, 14, described the stereotype of an IT professional as “male, geeky, shirt, tie, vest jumper, tweed jacket, satchel and black shoes”.
Many said this image would dissuade them from working in IT.
Among those aged 14-15, both genders were aware of the stereotypes, but the girls showed more awareness than the boys. In addition, 80% of the girls perceived the IT industry to be male-dominated.
The boys were also aware of the stereotypes, but more than half said they were less inclined to believe them.
James Hasstan, 15, said: “Everyone thinks that the typical person who works in IT has glasses and is almost nerd-like, but in fact they could look like anyone.”
Among those aged 8-11, some commented on the stereotypical physical features of IT workers and said “they wear glasses” and “there are more boys than girls”, but they focused more on their behaviour. The children said: “IT workers don’t go out much”, “they use phones and gadgets a lot”, “they are first to get new gadgets” and “they are big gamers”.
The three best-known figures in tech were cited as Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates. The children could not name anyone British and famous for working in the IT industry.
The majority of the children said they were surprised to learn that many of the award’s finalists had hobbies and enjoyed to travel, as many of the students had previously thought of IT workers as reclusive.