Challenging stereotypes in the digital industry

23 August 2018

Waikato student and Spark Scholarship recipient Alaa Abuellif

A year ago, Alaa Abuellif was spending 15 hours a week on the bus, travelling from Tokoroa to university and back each day. Now she’s living on campus at the University of Waikato, making her dream of becoming a software engineer a whole lot easier.

Alaa is the recipient of a Spark Scholarship, worth $10,000 and offered to only five New Zealand students each year. The scholarship is designed to foster a more diverse talent pool in the digital technology sector, a cause Alaa is particularly passionate about.

“Software engineering isn’t a common field for females to go into,” Alaa says. “When I was in high school, I’d never even heard of it. Computer subjects didn’t look into coding; they were all about the design and making websites, so I hadn’t considered the technical side of it.”

After finishing school, Alaa started studying medicine. She says it was “really interesting, but it just didn’t click” so she decided to look into engineering instead.

From the first class, Alaa knew software engineering was for her. She likes the practical side of her Bachelor of Engineering (Honours), and has created interactive recipe books, online games, and driving-lesson booking systems as part of her degree.

“When you make something from scratch, it’s an incredible feeling – you want to do it again and again – that’s what drives me.”

Alaa wants other women to consider engineering as a career path too. Next month she’ll head to Texas for the Grace Hopper Celebration Conference, the world’s biggest gathering of women in technology. Alaa won a fully funded scholarship to attend the conference, and she can’t wait to meet other females who share her passion for software engineering.

“It’s really inspiring to learn from women who are making a difference in the digital industry,” Alaa says. “One day, I want to run my own software engineering company.”

Related stories

Waikato alumni doing their bit

Three University of Waikato graduates are the driving force behind an innovative project to provide…


Keeping your drone in the air

Joseph Simblett is making a drone control that will fit in the palm of your…

Tyler Marriner

Playing in the blockchain

The blockchain is that decentralised database that keeps all records of digital transactions, but what…

Waikato students take out the grand prize for the NZ Cyber Security Challenge

Hundreds of aspiring cyber-crime fighters tackled a range of increasingly tough tasks, hacking drones and…

Facing the challenge of women in cyber security

The NZ Cyber Challenge is taking up the issue of the under representation of women…

Students fast-track to work

At Rocketspark’s office in Cambridge, the staff all have one thing in common. They are…

Hacking your holiday

Dr Joe Burton looks at how cyber criminals are increasingly targeting the tourism market.

Scott Brown and Thye Way

US ambassador drops in

US Ambassador Scott Brown was keen to hear about research being done in cyber security…

Deterring cyber attacks: old problems, new solutions

Dr Joe Burton looks at how we change responses to cyber attacks.

Cree and Frank web

What on Earth is that?

Scientists are using artificial intelligence to quickly identify pest plants and insects.

How do you deter cyber-attacks in an increasingly complex world?

Dr Joe Burton has been in Estonia at the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of…

From Waikato to leading the world in Artificial General Intelligence

Dr Shane Legg started out with a Dick Smith’s computer for his 10th birthday, now…