AUT Engineering, Computer and Mathematical Sciences lecturer Mahsa Mohaghegh is the inspirational founder behind She Sharp. This New Zealand group provides a networking platform to women in computer science, computer engineering, IT, and tech-related fields to connect and support each other in these male dominated fields.
The idea behind She Sharp came from Mahsa’s own experiences. “When I did my Masters degree in Iran, I was the only female out of 15 in my class and the only female computer engineering student in a room of 5 other guys when pursuing my PhD. When I went to a Google retreat in Sydney, it was my first encounter with other females who had similar stories of feeling alone. I realised that as women we could tackle these challenges together.”
In 2012, Mahsa was the recipient of the Anita Borg Scholarship, an American computer scientist and passionate pioneer of supporting women who proposed a goal of 50/50 gender equality in the workplace by 2020. It made Mahsa realise she had to do something in this space.
In 2014, Mahsa launched She Sharp to help increase the ratio of young women in the tech sector. “The whole idea of She Sharp is to provide a place for female high school and university students and professionals from industry to connect. We have to tap into these girls from early on as this is the time where they start thinking about what they want to do in the future.” She Sharp started with a group of 15 students and is now burning strong with over 600 members.
Mahsa’s own interest in technology was sparked by a trip to the store with her Dad when he wanted to build a computer. “I was fascinated by all the little bits and pieces and wanted to know what was going on with computers. I’ve been teaching computer hardware for the last 7-8 years so I like the practical stuff. You really get to learn yourself, and see new technology evolve every day so you never get bored.”
Whilst there are challenges of being a woman in tech, Mahsa’s hope for young women is they follow their interest and get the opportunity to try new things. “It might be daunting and challenging but I think it’s really important to follow and embrace your dreams.”
“I think it’s important to have a mentor where you have someone who can share their own successes and failure stories. If you have someone alongside you, it makes the path that much easier.”
Mahsa’s commitment to changing the perception for women of computer science and technology will always continue to drive her forward. “The message I want to pass on to the next generation is that technology enables you to help other people and make other people’s lives easier. Sometimes the perception behind computer engineering is that it’s just coding or it’s boring and not social, but you can really make an impact and change someone’s life.”