Time Out is profiling the incredible people who are shaping the future of Melbourne in this Future Shaper series. We have asked a panel of esteemed judges comprising Senator Lidia Thorpe (Greens Senator for Victoria), Claire Ferres Miles (CEO of Sustainability Victoria) Pat Nourse (creative director, Melbourne Food and Wine Festival), Simon Abrahams (creative director and CEO of Melbourne Fringe), Peter Tullin (co-founder and CEO of Remix Summits) and Kate Vinot (chair of Zoos Victoria) to help us identify the people and organisations changing the future of Melbourne in the areas of food and drink; arts; community and culture; civics; and sustainability. In community, one such person is Sarah Moran, the CEO and co-founder of Girl Geek Academy.
Sarah Moran has been coding since she was five years old, but as she went through high school, she noticed something strange. “I found myself being the only girl,” she says. “When I was in primary school, we all learned technology together. When you give a kid toys, and they’re tech toys, we all enjoy playing with them.”
“But then you kind of get to that point where you sign to figure out your identity in high school. Groups of friends don't necessarily hang around and play with computers together... and those that did were the 'nerdy boys'.
“But what I noticed is at almost every school across Australia, there's at least one girl who’s interested in computers – you might feel alone at your school, but did you know that at every school there’s someone like you?”
Moran is the CEO and co-founder of Girl Geek Academy, an organisation providing programs that teach women and girls skills in technology – everything from how to code and build websites to 3D printing and animation. Founding the business, however, was almost completely unplanned. “We accidentally ran the world’s first all-women hackathon,” Moran says. “And off the back of that we said ‘You know what, this needs to be a thing’.”
Like anything, there are definitely stereotypes around those who are interested in or employed in tech. And these stereotypes can be harmful – not only can they dissuade people from following their passions, but with skills in tech increasingly in demand, stereotypes that keep women out of tech are potentially contributing to gender inequality in the workplace.
Part of the role at Girl Geek Academy is combating these stereotypes. “What we are really passionate about is the other ways that you can come to technology,” says Moran. “So we talk about there being hackers, hustlers, and hipsters.” Hackers, she explains, are those who “like to break things and build things”. Hipsters are people like graphic designers, who think about how we interact with tech, what it looks like and the emotional response it can provoke. And the hustlers (a group Moran says includes herself) are those who actually get people using a certain technology. “So between hackers, hustlers and hipsters, you need the three of those skills in a team to bring new technology to life.”
When it came to deciding where to base Girl Geek Academy, Moran says Melbourne was the easy choice – and for a few reasons. “Only 3 per cent of the world’s venture capital goes to women, and even less to Women of Colour. So when people say, ‘You’ve got a great tech idea, you should go to Silicon Valley’, well, I’m sorry, but if you’re a woman that’s a really shit idea,” says Moran. “The reason we’re headquartered here is because of all of the great things that Melbourne is and does.”
“I think that Melburnians embrace change and are willing to accelerate and participate in change,” says Moran, explaining, quite poetically, that maybe Melbourne’s infamously mercurial weather might have a role to play in that. “If the weather is changing every day, we have to be able to change with it.”
And change is something that Moran is hoping to see in the future, especially in the world of tech and especially following the pandemic, saying her dream for the future is one with an “intersectional internet”. “An internet that is built by women, and an internet that is built by First Nations people,” says Moran. “We're given an opportunity now to build the future that we really want. [For] anyone who is looking to shape the future, 2021 is going to set the pace so much that lies ahead.”