If you’ve got a creative streak, a passion for project management, or you want to inspire kids how to navigate our world through technology, don’t discount the lessons you can learn from information technology. Three UOW students and a graduate explain how being tech savvy isn’t just about knowing how to log onto the network – it’s about using your mind to create whole new worlds.

You can bank on it

Learning how to budget, or pay off credit cards isn’t something most of us would call a fun lesson. But for a team from the University of Wollongong undertaking their undergraduate degree in information technology, teaching high school kids to be dollar dazzlers paid off big time.

Ondrea De Franceschi, Nadia Putri, Jackson Ng, Joshua Stapleton, and Shaun Irwin have made financial literacy fun with an app they developed for IMB for their final year project.

The free interactive app, designed to teach high school students from 13-17 years, covers everything from earning an income, spending and saving, buying a car and managing debt and even allows users to create their own avatar and track their savings after setting a goal for what they want to achieve. The application also has a calculator that lets users determine how much interest they will have to pay.

For the team learning how to code a real-life application was a challenge. Developing an interactive and relevant app that would engage young people in a subject that many wouldn’t find uninteresting was the harder part of the challenge but also the most creative, says Ondrea.

“Having younger cousins but also just coming from high school ourselves and as frequent users of various existing applications, we felt we knew what would best engage young people in learning financial literacy,” she says.

“We believed that dumping a lot of information on a page to read was not going to be the most effective way for it to sink in and the users to learn."

Ondrea says information technology involves a lot more than crunching numbers and coding in front of a screen, as there are also crucial elements of project management, business analysis, documentation and user interface designing.

“Coming from high school I was interested into going into an Arts degree but I went to all the information and open days and was interested in what I could do in IT at UOW,” she says.

“The University of Wollongong gave me an opportunity to study abroad in Beijing, China where I took part in an IT summer school at a partner university. We had to develop a working app in two weeks. This opportunity sparked my interest for application development.

"Coming from an arts background in high school it opened my eyes to the creativity that can be incorporated in information technology.”

Ondrea, pictured below left with Nadia Putri, graduated in July this year and is now working as a graduate within application development.

“There are so many avenues that you can take in information technology that people don’t realise,” she says. 

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To Kingdom they come

It’s like Masterchef but for nerds according to Benjamin Darbyshire, a final year Bachelor of Information Technology student at the University of Wollongong.

A bunch of entrepreneurial innovators, working together in a room for 24 hours to create the next big thing – not with chicken and pasta but with ideas, computers and an abundance of creativity.

Benjamin has been organizing hackathons – events in which teams of thinkers get together to come up with bright ideas and bring them to fruition – for a few years now, making a name for himself in the hackathon community Australia-wide for his ability to attract hundreds of innovators to use their brain power for the greater good.

And on 26 November 2016, UOW student group The Wollongong IT Society (WITS) hosted the inaugural Kingdom Hack Wollongong event, proudly presented by Wisetech Global – a multidisciplinary hackathon which brought together competitors including coders, designers, entrepreneurs and first-time hackers, to participate over 24 hours to make something amazing. The event boasted $10,000 in prizes, including $2000 cash for the winning team as well as awesome category prizes.

Hosting hackathons was not a career avenue that Benjamin even considered when he enrolled in his undergraduate degree four years ago.

“Before co-founding Kingdom Hack, another hackathon caught my attention,” Benjamin says.

“The organisers were looking for someone to do social media and marketing. The next year I took on the role of senior organizer of the event and it was the largest event of its kind in Australia since its inception. We had around 160 people participate.”

With this major success Benjamin’s interest in organizing more events was piqued and he’s now one of the major motivators for getting hackathons up and running around Australia as the co-founder of Hackathons Australia, and co-founding his own event Kingdom Hack.

“When I started my degree I didn’t expect to be doing this type of thing at all,” he says.

“It’s not so much about the information technology, but about networking and understanding the nature of how technology is moving.

“Hackathons are an avenue into start ups for anyone. There are industry leaders just walking around looking at what participants are doing and coming up with.

“You get to hang with a bunch of cool people, and there are opportunities for employment with talent scouts looking for innovative people. That kind of experience is really hard to find.

“My degree and my work with hackathons has given me a really strong love of project management. It links up nicely with everything else I’ve learned.”

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Photo: Chloe Ianni 

Learning how to play the game

From Minecraft to e-business may sound like a stretch, but Ken Devika is taking kids as young as four years old through the journey of playing games to making them.

Ken is the founder of Devika Learning, a program which gives young people, from the ages of seven years to 18, the skills they need to apply technological skills to their own world.

Devika Learning is Ken’s latest venture. He also founded Devika, an e-business consultancy which advises clients, from start-ups to top 100 organisations, on how to make the most of their presence in the e-commerce world.

“Devika Learning introduces young people to real-world concepts through gaming,” Ken says.

“For example, through playing Minecraft we introduce them to things like climate change, then they learn how to recreate history. They learn how to build objects to make their own games and we then introduce them to coding so they can build their own games using C# software applications.”

Ken is passionate about teaching the next generation of leaders that there is more to e-business than a shopping cart.

“The e-business industry is expanding rapidly. The majority of our clients are overseas from Silicon Valley, to France and New Jersey,” he says.

As a member of the National Online Retailers Association, Ken is at the business end of the industry, literally, educating those already selling their goods through the worldwide web, as well as young people who can see a future in the cyberspace for themselves.

“E-commerce is becoming more than selling goods. It’s about content creation, selling services, selling expertise,” he says.

“What we are aiming to do at Devika Learning is to shape the way we think of e-commerce and open the minds of kids to see that there is a whole new world out there.”

After finishing his own Bachelor of Information Technology in 2010, Ken says he really didn’t know where his degree would take him.

“Throughout my degree we didn’t really think much about what we do,” he says.

“The only jobs we considered were working in the corporate world. But through Devika Learning we’re giving kids the opportunity to think outside the square and see there is a lot of creativity in the technology industry.

“Information technology is not just about coding. It is an industry that needs diversity to continue to grow and evolve.”

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Are you ready to make the future brighter? Then check out the range of Information and Communication Technology degrees at UOW, the university that QILT ranked as the best in Australia for Computing and Information Systems in 2016.

Top banner photo: Chloe Ianni