We spoke to Ramida Juengpaisal about what it’s like to be a female coder in Thailand, and if the COVID-19 crisis could create new opportunities for women in tech
As a female coder, Ramida Juengpaisal is something of a rarity in the male-dominated technology industry in Thailand.
Women make up more than half of the country's technology and science researchers but still encounter obstacles like gender stereotyping and social anxiety, according to the United Nations.
Ramida, 24, and her colleagues at web design firm 5LAB in Bangkok built a web tracker of coronavirus cases in the city of over 8 million people that gives residents up-to-date news and information about the pandemic.
The Thomson Reuters Foundation asked Ramida about breaking into the tech industry and if the coronavirus crisis could create new opportunities for women coders.
How did you come up with the idea for the tracker?
My mother messaged me about a coronavirus case near my office in early March. I searched online for more details, but there was no single database that aggregated all information.
I took the idea of creating a website that curates data about COVID-19 to my colleagues at 5LAB, we brainstormed and came up with the tracker which we built overnight.
How widely has the tracker been used? What kind of feedback have you received?
At its peak, some 40,000-50,000 users per minute were accessing the tracker. We have recorded about 8.5 million unique users since we launched.
Based on user feedback on accessing reliable information, we added a news section. We also added three more languages besides Thai and English - Chinese traditional, Chinese simplified and Japanese.
How did you get interested in tech?
In my third year of studying industrial design at the Chulalongkorn University (Bangkok) I took a course in technology design. Coding is fun, and I can also make a meaningful contribution because good design can change the way people live.
With better design, technology can solve problems and make people's lives easier, better.
What's been your experience as a woman in tech?
Women are under-represented in the tech industry. For women in the industry, there are often fewer opportunities. The biggest challenge is the perception that girls are less suited for technology-based roles. But this is changing.
Growing up, I always heard that men are more logical and that women use emotions rather than reason. This is the starting point of gender bias that persists in the tech industry and in other industries, too. It might lead people to think that women have less programming logic than men.
While I have not faced any discrimination myself, some of my female friends have faced challenges including bias in the recruiting process, and not being considered for promotions.
How do you think the coronavirus is changing the way people use tech?
This crisis has pushed people to use online platforms more: from ordering food to shopping, to education, entertainment and banking, video-conferencing, doctor consultations and fitness classes.
We are going to see a big change in how we design and use technology after the crisis. We will value good design more, and the people who provide it.
This crisis is also teaching us that tech can help women in difficult situations: for example, apps that can help women report domestic violence more effectively at a time like this, by collecting evidence of abuse, compiling timelines and exporting reports.
What needs to happen in order for women to play a more significant role in building new technology?
Women are still denied access to technology. For many women, simply being able to access information online is an easy way to gain knowledge and resources. Although girls and women are still unable to access the internet in many parts of the world.
We need more women in tech. One good thing about this crisis is that we have seen people - including women - come forward to create things that are useful to others, and be recognised.
(Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran; Editing by Tom Finn. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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