‘In Myanmar, Men Are Leading the IT Industry and Women Are Lagging’

By Thiha Toe 8 May 2015

Sandy Sein Thein is one member of a growing contingent of Burmese society: those among us who left Burma to work or study, but have returned to contribute their skills and vision to larger Burmese society at a time of rapid change.

For the 26-year-old, the nexus of women and technology beckoned. With a background primarily in marketing, she admits that she is “not a technician or a programmer.” Nonetheless, when her employer Idea Box, which focuses on activities that encourage innovation, saw a need for more women in the varied and growing technology-related fields, Sandy Sein Thein became a self-described “Geek Girl.”

In this interview, she talks to The Irrawaddy about a gender gap in the technology arena, her organization’s mission and the opportunities that the 21st century presents to Burma’s young people.

What is Geek Girls Myanmar?

While working on innovation activities, we started a ‘Women in Technology’ community called Geek Girls Myanmar at this time last year. Geek Girls Myanmar is a community that encourages women who are involved in the technology [arena] in Myanmar. We started this community because in Myanmar men are leading the IT industry and women are lagging behind. Women also do not progress as expected in start-ups, either.

To tell you the truth, about 60 percent of the students at computer studies universities are women. But they are lagging behind when they start working after school. We started thinking, ‘Because females are lacking in this kind of industry, what should we do? What should Idea Box do?’ That’s how we started Geek Girls Myanmar.

And what exactly is it that you do?

We do workshops and trainings monthly. We do these for free and the main aim is to get the women together.

It’s easy for males to meet up [with each other]. It’s convenient for them to meet up in a teashop and talk about coding, gaming, computers and whatnot. There are no such gathering places for women.

We are not like a community, more like a platform. The purpose is to better educate them. And we don’t just educate about technology. We also school them in business, PR [public relations], and entrepreneurial skills. Although there are 400 members online, only about 50 of them are active offline.

What is your advice for Burma’s younger generations?

The way I see the youth today, most of the youth in Myanmar lack the desire to learn. Most of them are learning, but they are learning more about negative stuff.

They are reading less as well. For reading, you don’t necessarily have to be reading a big book; there are lots of places to learn online.

Today, there are a lot more open sources compared with when we were young. Things have become more convenient for young people today. I would like to suggest to young people: Do more self-learning, since today we can now use the Internet.