“What kind of person appears in your head when you imagine a hacker? Are they male or female? In the movies, all the hackers were always male, and even now if you google 'hacker' a shadowy male figure comes up. I want to defy that stereotype. And then I want to normalise women going into that field.”
Sarah Manikam, this year’s recipient of the Electric Kiwi-AUT Women in STEM Scholarship, is studying a cybersecurity major at AUT, with the goal of becoming a penetration tester, or an ‘ethical hacker’. In a highly male dominated industry, Sarah is determined to make a name for herself in the world of Cybersecurity.
Sarah had us at ‘ethical hacker’ - but what does it mean exactly? Simply put, instead of trying to break into systems for malicious purposes, ethical hackers are hired by organisations to find weaknesses in their computer systems, networks, or applications. They do this with permission from the owners, so that makes it totally legal… and ethical. As a digital and tech focussed company, we think it’s pretty rad!
In order to apply for the scholarship, which is available to full-time students enrolled in a bachelor's degree program related to STEM, applicants were asked to submit a personal statement outlining their background in STEM, academic goals, and career aspirations. Among a pool of high calibre applicants, the judging panel found Sarah to be exceptionally impressive.
A Bachelor of Computer and Informational Sciences student, Sarah has immersed herself in a variety of things which helped her develop the hard and soft skills needed to succeed in her chosen degree, a highly competitive field. Joining her first female-only ‘hackathon’ was her self-affirmation that she belongs in the tech industry. She’s also highly involved in AUT’s Women in STEM community, has volunteered for Computer Science 4 High School, and is an active member of many other uni clubs.
“I love supporting other minorities. I love the surprise on people's faces when I tell them I - a girl - am studying computer science. I love that my first hackathon, a female-only hackathon (She# AI Enviro Hackathon) had such a wonderful and uplifting community.”
Being a well-rounded student is very important to her, as she wants to make the most out of the opportunities that support her as a woman in the STEM industry.
“Technology is always evolving and will continue to change industries for a very long time. The skills that this degree teaches can be implemented in so many ways. Networks and Cybersecurity, my major, were my chosen specialties because there's a growing demand for these skills. It's a field where problem-solving and continuous learning is essential, and I can feel like I make a positive impact on other people's lives.”
Electric Kiwi is in an industry that heavily depends on technology and it's really important to us that our company reflects diversity. In order to support women to succeed in STEM industries, Electric Kiwi have been collaborating with the AUT Women in STEM community over the last 2 years, focusing on connecting female STEM students with inspiring role models and organising workshops to help students transition from their studies to professional careers. As part of this partnership, we have provided an annual academic scholarship to a student aspiring to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. These fields play a vital role in shaping New Zealand's future, particularly as we strive towards achieving net zero emissions. Just like AUT, our goal is to ensure that women have equal access to education and rewarding careers in these sectors. This scholarship is one of the ways we are actively contributing to this goal.
We asked Sarah what’s next - she’s currently halfway through her degree and is already thinking about internships she could do to further hone her skills and get real life experience. “I'd love to get into cybersecurity after I graduate - but I'm pretty open to anything and I'm still experimenting with what I enjoy!” We’re very proud to be part of Sarah’s journey to becoming a successful woman in the STEM field. Congratulations Sarah and we wish you all the best in your career.