Model Makers

Inspiring More Women To Get Into Tech

Caitlin Lomax

Issue 39, October 2020

When a maker couldn’t find a tech meetup group to support other women in her area, she started one herself.

Recently, DIYODE was given the opportunity to support the launch event of Women in Tech South West, Western Australia. The event was held on the 31st of August 2020, and was the brainchild of Caitlin Lomax who had moved back to South West and couldn't find any local groups to support her tech interests.

During the free 2-hour event, the audience were able to be inspired by other women in tech who appeared in person, live streamed or were pre-recorded. The impressive line-up of guest speakers included:

Joanna Popper: Head of VR Location Based Entertainment from HP.

Jacinta Karras: Tech Program Director from CHE Proximity.

Elise Young: Fullstack developer from WarpForge.

Toni Knowlson: Head of Digital Innovation from Amazon.

Michelle Easter: Mechatronics Engineer from NASA.

Allison Coleman: Lecturer in IT from South Regional TAFE, WA.

For those who could not attend in person, a live stream was made available on Facebook.

Not only did the event encourage more women to get involved in tech, but it also provided some encouragement for businesses to embrace more women for their tech roles.

We caught up with Caitlin to find out more about this event and what to expect in the future.

Congratulations on such a great event Caitlin. Before we talk more about the event, please tell our readers a little about yourself.

My name is Caitlin Lomax. I’m a Digital Producer with a focus on mixed reality projects. I work with everything from Arduinos for art installations to virtual reality training experiences.

I taught myself to code when I was 13, after my Dad bought me the book, ‘Game Programming for Teens’. I wrote a ‘Space Invaders’ rip off while learning Basic, but growing up in a regional town I didn’t have many female role models in these fields, so I didn’t really feel inspired to keep pushing forward. Instead, I ended up trying my hand at modelling (I know - crazy right!? They couldn’t be more different!), and I actually had a pretty successful career! I got to live between Paris and NYC, which was pretty amazing.

When I was trying to decide what to do next I remembered how much I loved learning to code and started studying IT online. I didn’t end up finishing the course (life got in the way), but I kept teaching myself things on the side for fun. A few careers later and now I get to do what I love every day!

[L - R] Allison Coleman, Caitlin Lomax, Elise Young

What a journey. It’s great to see that you have circled back to working with technology. What got you first interested in electronics and coding?

I think it comes down to 2 things. Firstly I’ve always loved games. When I was younger I would make custom mods for my Sims’ clothes and furniture. To do that, you had to have a basic understanding of how the game was put together.

Which brings me to the second! I really enjoy learning and understanding the process of why things do what they do. Learning to code helped me understand what was going on in the background of games I was playing, and the websites I was visiting (at one point I was thinking about life decisions in ‘if else’ statements!).

When I got my first Arduino and realised I could make interactive projects, it created a wave of ideas in my head.

We live your programmer's perspective on making real-world decisions. What is your microcontroller of choice and what things have you made with it?

The Arduino Uno/ATmega328P. I’ve made a few things now. The first thing I created was for my friend Jess (her artist name is OneJessa). She was building this big pink hairy chandelier...yes, hair, like with pink wigs. She wanted the lights in the chandelier to flicker to the audio that was playing when you stood underneath it. I wired up some 12V LED’s and used an aux input to drive the brightness so she could change out the audio whenever she wanted.

At the end of last year I got to work with an amazing team on another art installation that mixed interaction and animation. There were 4 tablets displayed to represent different parts of the brain. The more you played with the tablets, the more stress was caused on that part of the brain, and the increased stress would turn the rgb LED strip around it from blue to red. If all the tablets' stress levels combined equaled “full brain capacity” without going into overdrive, it would unlock different animations on a projector in the room.

Another notable project I did was with my friend Rob. We made a cocktail machine! It was working but we still needed to do some testing to make sure the amounts that were being dispensed were correct.

Yes, the Arduino Uno is such a versatile and easy-to-use device. We’ll have to keep in touch to learn more about this drinks mixing machine. Tell us, what motivated you to start your Women in Tech group and events?

In March I had to make a quick decision to move back to Bunbury. My boyfriend and parents were living in Bunbury, and I was worried that if the borders closed I wouldn’t see them for who knows how long.

It’s been 12 years since I’ve lived here and I was so surprised that not much had changed in the way of women role models in tech. I have so many resources, connections and knowledge now, that I just knew I could make a difference here by starting something like this! I often wonder: if I had access to more of these resources and role models growing up myself, would I have landed where I am in my life sooner? I’m hoping these events will make sure that girls growing up in the region won’t have to worry about that, and can follow their passion knowing they have supporters behind them.

Awesome! It’s great to see makers like yourself seeing the opportunity to educate and inspire other makers during the pandemic. For our readers who missed out on your Women in Tech event, can you give us a broad overview?

Women in Tech South West is a meetup group that will be happening every 2-3 months with smaller, more technical events held in between. The big meetups will have speakers and panelists from local and international tech companies.

Our guests at our launch event included speakers from Amazon, HP and NASA! The aim of the Women in Tech events are to showcase the achievements of women in tech in the SW region, and provide a support network where we can grow professionally and personally, find jobs, make friends and build confidence in knowing that we are capable of doing these roles!

The people we have coming on board have been so fantastic that we will be live streaming as much as we can, so that even if you can’t attend physically you can still be involved no matter where you are.

It’s also for allies who want to support us. Showing up and letting us have the stage shows our allies want to help us.

Well done on arranging an inspiring line-up of speakers. How did you manage to get hold of them?

lot of them were my friends, mentors or colleagues. Michelle from NASA was random though. We had mutual friends from back when we were both models and I reached out to her on instagram!

Allison Coleman, who was the only other speaker from the South West, was introduced to me less than a week before the event. I knew I wanted to fill the final seat on the panel with someone local and I was stoked when we were connected. She’s done some pretty amazing things (even got to sit down with Bill Gates!). We are so lucky to have role models like her locally.

Excellent. We imagine there was a lot that went on behind the scenes to make it all come together and run so smoothly. Where can our readers replay your live event and what kind of ‘takeaways’ will they get by watching it?

The video is available on our Facebook page or website! Women in Tech South West - WA on Facebook and our website is http://www.womenintech-swwa.com

In particular, your female readers will get so much inspiration and validation. I’ve had multiple women reach out to me since the launch letting me know they have taken up coding courses because they were so inspired!

And if you are watching our livestream as an ally, I think we did a really good job of educating and explaining how you can help pave the way for the advancement and inclusion of women in technological jobs.

Agreed. We’d encourage our readers who work in the tech industry to also watch it. Do you have any more events like this planned?

Yes! We are currently putting together the program for the next event which will probably happen at the end of October/start of November. We will announce it on our Facebook page and website once we have final confirmations!

We very much look forward to it. Do you have any words of advice to encourage more women to get into tech?

If you are even remotely interested, give it a go! Find your support network, never stop learning and just do it!

Let’s hope we’ve inspired our readers to join your support group or a local group in their area. We thank you for your time, and look forward to seeing how you inspire more women to get into tech in the future.

get involved:

Connect with the Women in Tech South West - WA group:

Facebook: @WomenintechSWWA

Instagram: @womenintechswwa

Website: http://www.womenintech-swwa.com/