Melbourne Knowledge Week: connecting minds, creating change

Ally Watson is a coder. One of the millions of people needed to build the websites and mobile phone apps that are a necessary part of life in the first world. She is also the bright mind behind the popular networking group, Code Like a Girl.

Launched in August 2015, Ally thought about eight people might come to her first Code Like a Girl ‘meet up’. Instead she received almost 100 responses and quickly had to find a larger venue.

‘For such a long time I had wanted to do more in this space’, said Ally, because although she has been a coder for almost six years, female coders are still a small minority in the male-dominated tech world.

The gender divide can start well before women enter the workforce. ‘Girls don’t always have the confidence to do computer science’, said Ally. Indeed her own decision to study the discipline was a last minute switch from art, but she soon fell in love with it. ‘I like the problem solving side of it. You start with a blank screen and by the end you have a website or an app’.

Post-event feedback from those attending Code Like a Girl meet ups underlines the importance of connecting with others.

A participant named Dani said: ‘Really motivating, even for a beginner coder like myself. Thanks to all involved. Look forward to future events’. While Elizabeth said: ‘It was lovely to meet everyone. Good luck to everyone with their journey in tech – it’s such a very exciting space to be a part of’.

These days Ally aims to hold a meet up every month or so, and she is also branching out into coding workshops for girls, including one for Melbourne Knowledge Week 2016, to be held at Signal, a creative studio for young people 13 to 25.

Now in its seventh year, Melbourne Knowledge Week is the City of Melbourne’s flagship event to celebrate and cement Melbourne’s position as a knowledge city, alongside its well-known reputation as a sporting and cultural capital.

The Knowledge Week program includes an extensive range of public events that aim to connect the city’s most innovative industries with the community’s most curious minds, to solve problems, build on our collective knowledge and skills, and explore what the future may hold.

‘The knowledge sector here in Melbourne is both very diverse and very savvy. This event is a smart way to engage and educate with the wider community in order to bring people with us’.

Delivered in partnership with the organisations best-placed to lead these conversations, the events cover a diverse range of topics from augmented reality’s impact on neurosurgery, to hands-on events such as Ally’s Code Like a Girl, Creative Coding workshop for young women. These are events in which people can learn new skills, engage with like-minded peers and contribute to the change occurring around them.

In addition to the public events, there are a number of events tailored towards businesses to facilitate connections and collaboration for those working in the sector. There are also several group problem-solving events, known as a ‘hackathons’, for which organisers have managed to secure some previously proprietary data, for tech-savvy computer programmers to synthesise into usable and meaningful information.

Councillor Dr Jackie Watts, Chair of the Knowledge City portfolio sees Melbourne Knowledge Week as ‘an important medium to explore, collaborate and connect with the talent and innovation shaping the transformation that will secure our city’s future economic and social growth’.

‘The knowledge sector here in Melbourne is both very diverse and very savvy. This event is a smart way to engage and educate the wider community in order to bring people with us’, she said.

The quantified self: life hacking in the internet age

The quantified self: life hacking in the internet age

As the digital capability of the city continues to grow it is important to prepare the community for the digital future, said Dr Watts. ‘Melbourne Knowledge Week is an opportunity to expose the community to exciting developments taking place in Melbourne’s own knowledge sector’.

Driving this digital future for the city is Victoria’s first chief digital officer appointed in 2015 to head up the City of Melbourne’s Smart City Office.

The office will focus on exploring, connecting and re-designing the city to secure our future growth and resilience. Four key areas of focus are: streamlining and digitising council services, attracting and fostering tech and bioscience start-ups, continuing the development of the city’s open data platform and preparing Melbourne for future technologies such as driverless cars.

The Smart City Office will also collaborate with Melbourne’s research and higher education sectors to help build on the city’s international reputation as a knowledge hub for research and education services. ‘By advancing the reputation of Melbourne as a knowledge city we can attract more students to our city and this is good for businesses in general’, said Dr Watts.

Ally Watson is herself the embodiment of such ‘professional tourism’. Her soft Scottish accent is immediately apparent and reveals her Glaswegian origins.

Having lived in Melbourne for just two years and still well shy of her 30th birthday, Ally is exactly the sort of professional tourist Melbourne is keen to welcome with open arms.

When asked why she chose Melbourne Ally said, ‘Atlassian, Campaign Monitor and Envato are all household names in the developer world and a big influence on my decision to come work in Australia where these companies were founded. I chose Melbourne in the end for it’s thriving and active tech community and it’s ability to provide a seriously good cup of java’.

‘I just love it here, it’s the coolest place’.

Melbourne Knowledge Week 2016 (2 to 8 May)

Program highlights

2 May, 5.30pm
Mundane sublime: how technology transforms the city
Festival keynote featuring Dan Hill, Head of Arup Digital Studio.

4 May, 10am
The quantified self: life hacking in the internet age
Build simple wearable tech that looks at data gathering on a personal scale.

6 May, 9.30am
When accounting collides with botany
What happens when accountants and botanists join forces to measure and report carbon emissions?

7 and 8 May, 11am to 4pm
Creative coding
Introduction to coding through digital art-making, run by Code Like a Girl.

For more information visit Melbourne Knowledge Week.