Melbourne teen breaks code ceiling
The 17-year-old Methodist Ladies' College student has made history as the first Australian female to compete in the International Olympiad in Informatics.
17-year-old Belinda Shi will become the first female to represent Australia at the International Olympiad in Informatics.
But she does not want to be seen as "that female" on the male-dominated Australian team.
"I want to be seen as the person on the informatics team who just happens to be female," she said.
Belinda Shi is the first female to be selected in the Australian team for the International Olympiad in Informatics. Photo: Simon Schluter
"I'm not on the team because of my gender, it's because of my ability as a programmer."
In August, the year 12 student will travel to Kazan, Russia to compete against programming prodigies from around the world.
The prestigious competition runs over two days, and each day, participants are given five hours to solve three mathematical problems. Slumped over computers, they use algorithms, or steps, to crunch huge data sets and find solutions to unique problems.
Belinda's selection is significant because it coincides with a push to engage more females in coding.
Both major political parties have pledged to boost the number of female students in STEM – or science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Research by the Australian Computer Society shows that women hold just 28 per cent of information and communications technology jobs, compared to 43 per cent of professional industry jobs.
Belinda first got involved in coding when she was in primary school, and experimented with an animation program called Scratch. She was hooked.
"I've always liked creating things. I learnt how to create programs to solve problems," she said.
She recently used her coding skills to solve a problem at her school – the roster for gate duty.
Students on gate duty – who stand in pairs at each school entrance every morning – were previously selected by fishing names out of a hat.
"I wrote a program that would allocate who did what on what day," she said.
"Some tasks are really repetitive. Coding makes them a whole lot faster and more efficient."
She has also started a lunchtime coding club, where she shares her knowledge of programming and robotics with other students.
The teenager wants to encourage more girls to take up coding, and said it is becoming useful in many fields outside technology.
"That stereotype of men with nerdy glasses in a dark room is starting to go," she said.
There will be 27 students representing Australia at the International Science and Mathematical Olympiads this year in biology, chemistry, computer programming, physics, maths and Earth sciences. Competition is fierce – these students were selected from more than 150,000 high school hopefuls.
The Turnbull government has committed $48 million to engage students in STEM over five years, and is spending $13 million to boost the participation of females in STEM.
While the Opposition has promised that under a Labor government, coding would be taught in every primary and secondary school and $393 million would be spent on teaching scholarships for recent STEM graduates.
Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham said engaging more women in STEM was good for gender diversity, business and the economy.
"Three-quarters of the fastest-growing occupations in Australia require skills in science, engineering, technology and maths," he said.
"By encouraging more women to embrace the immense opportunities that exist in science, technology, engineering and maths industries we can improve women's financial security and ensure they are well-equipped to fill the jobs of the 21st century."