Aleisha Amohia | Te Whanganui-a-Tara/Wellington | President of Victoria University of Wellington Women in Tech and Developer at Catalyst IT
Q. Girls and non-binary children often find it hard to see a pathway for themselves into a coding career. How did you get into coding? What is one piece of advice you have for them?
It's hard to see yourself in a space where no one looks like you. I never related to the nerdy, anti-social IT guys that Hollywood thought was representative of a person in tech. Taking Digital Technologies at school sparked my interest for coding. I had some amazing teachers who made sure my peers and I were challenged, but supported.
We were lucky enough to go on a school trip to Silicon Valley and Seattle, and checked out the Googleplex, Facebook, Microsoft, Dreamworks and more. That trip sparked my interest in the industry. Finally, I took part in the Open Source Academy that my workplace, Catalyst IT, runs every summer, and had an awesome time. That was when I realised I could make coding my career. I now work there part-time while I complete my studies at Victoria University of Wellington.
My biggest piece of advice is to find a community – that might be a club at school, or a chat group online, or a monthly MeetUp group. It's easy to forget what we enjoy about coding and tech when we're faced with a hard assignment, or an ignorant person, or lack of role models. But it's so important to remember that there's this huge whānau of women and gender diverse people who have been in the same shoes, and we're all looking out for each other.
“There's this huge whānau of women and gender diverse people … and we're all looking out for each other”
Q. Tell us about a rad piece of code that you’ve written? What piece of code are you most proud of in your career so far?
I work on a global open source library software called Koha: https://koha-community.org
What I really love about open source is that everything we do directly affects a client or librarian, perhaps on the other side of the world! Open source development is collaborative and interesting, and there's always work to be done. Being an open source contributor means I haven't yet coded an entire app or program (other than my uni assignments), but I write lots of features, smaller enhancements or bug fixes. I've touched almost 7000 lines of code in Koha and written some cool features, including a way for library borrowers to leave a note against a checkout for the library, and a dashboard for the librarians to manage these.
Q. What big dreams do you have as a coder? What are you aspiring to do next?
As a coder, I'm interested in creating software for rangatahi Māori to get them excited about science, tech, engineering and math pathways, in their language. I don't want to necessarily make a coding app, but those subjects are not taught well at school to Māori kids and it creates a wall, really early on. I want kids to learn STEM in a way that is accessible, fun, interesting, inclusive and engaging.
But before I get there, my next big thing is finishing my studies! I'll be graduating next year with a Bachelor of Science majoring in Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence, and a Bachelor of Commerce majoring in Management and minoring in Information Systems. It's quite a mouthful, but really exciting!
”I'm interested in creating software for rangatahi Māori … in their language”
I'm looking forward to working full-time and getting in to some of the projects at work that we haven't had time to complete while I've been studying. I also can't wait to travel! Another great thing about being part of a global project like Koha is that there are other developers like me all over the world. I'd love to meet some of the 468 others worldwide who have contributed to Koha. Aleisha codes in Perl, Template Toolkit, HTML, CSS, SQL, Java.