This month we caught up with CF: G alumni Karisma Parkinson, project consultant on Global Markets Technology for Bank of America Merrill Lynch, on completing her first CF: G Beginners HTML/CSS course this Spring. Read on to hear more about her experience....
I work in Global Markets Technology for Bank of America Merrill Lynch as a project consultant, I have worked on several large scale programmes in the PMO (Project Management Office) providing project governance and business management support to ensure that the funding for our global initiatives is tracked and within budget.
I now support Diversity & Inclusion initiatives for technology; one of the business problems we face is ensuring that the pipeline of talent into our tech organisation is diverse. The number of women studying Science, technology, engineering, maths at degree level must increase significantly if we are to see a gender balance. It’s true that there are more men working in Technology but it has never occurred to me that technology is a man’s world, and I happily share my experience with young women to demystify this notion.
I love working in technology, I feel I have found my happy place working in a fast paced and exciting environment where no day is the same. I have been lucky in my career to work with great role models that have shown me that there are no barriers when you are doing something that you love. The project teams I have worked in have become like a second family to me, and everyone plays a part in the delivery of the project – it takes different skills sets, competencies and personalities to complete the team.
Confession time... up until January 2016 I had never coded, I would peer over the shoulders of developers to see them handle this strange language of commands and strings of text so I was excited to be invited by CF:G to the HTML / CSS beginners course to learn more about it.
The learning experience:
On a cold Monday in January I turned up at Thoughtworks eager to learn. The pre course preparation work made me feel confident and the first lesson sped by. I really wasn’t expecting to enjoy it as much as I did, I could have happily sat there for another few hours practicing. It was great to be in a room with like minded people, enthusiastic and with a real passion for learning. The next few classes were challenging but hugely enjoyable, I was absorbed in the task and seeing what I was writing in Sublime Text come to life on screen.
Hannah, Jenny and Rob really brought the lessons to life, what seemed complex on paper is simplified and they managed to answer all my questions so easily, explaining it so that I understood the principles behind what they were explaining. After three lessons, what we had been taught was turning into attractive and functioning web pages and we were ready to start working on our own projects!
I paired up with Emily who was like an encyclopaedia of Sherlock Holmes knowledge, her concept, a site to promote a tour of Sherlock’s London which could then spin off into other Literary London Tours was inspired.
It was fun to be creative and to put my newly learnt skills into practice. In the final class, the teams presented their sites, it was a real testament to how much we learnt to see sites that could easily be put into production.
I am missing my Monday classes and the bonding experience we shared as a group. I would recommend the CF:G Course to everyone that is thinking about learning to code, there are challenges but when it falls into place its hugely rewarding.
I am going to continue coding, at the moment it’s like being on holiday and using google translate to ask for things on the menu, but with practice it’s starting to become easier. I will continue to encourage people to seek out tech learning opportunities, it’s about being able to contribute to the conversation and find a way to express yourself through this universal language.
This blog post was originally published on RedEye's career blog here.
Tell us a bit about you:
I am Elizabeth Chesters, a UX Consultant for RedEye in London. I joined at the start of May and already I’m working with big clients, in retail and ecommerce. I will be responsible for things like conducting user research, interviews and expert reviews.
What do you love about the industry and role you work in?
Moving from development into UX, means I am able to get away from my desk and talk to people, which I love. I also enjoy cross cultural research, so I make the most of opportunities to practice any language. I can also use these opportunities to really challenge my assumptions and beliefs. At university I studied human computer interaction, which gave me the confidence to continue it.
In addition to my daily responsibilities at RedEye I also volunteer as a UX designer and researcher. For the past year I have volunteered with Women Hack for Non-Profits and more recently with EmpowerHack. The biggest challenge I have faced so far is researching how to design for refugees. Not so long ago I went to volunteer with refugees in Calais and Dunkirk. I was also invited to speak at EmpowerHack’s panel, for their health hackathon specifically for refugee health.
What is Code First: Girls?
I have been a volunteer with them for almost 2 years now and I am also a buddy volunteer. I teach the students and I also help new volunteers with any questions about teaching or the courses. I have also taught their Ruby course at Manchester University and have since continued in London. To date, I have taught all their courses, including the summer intensive, boot camp and ran a UX master class.
This June I will be re-running the UX master class, in collaboration with Women Hack for Non-Profits.
Explain to us what being named a ‘One to Watch’ really means:
This year I was lucky enough to be added to Code First: Girls ‘Ones to Watch’ list. The award is a list of 25 women in the technology industry who are ambitious, under 25 and active in the community. With women from all aspects of tech, it aims to encourage more women to take the plunge. From tech journalist Georgie Barrat, to the founder of security start-up SE3 Solutions Ltd, it highlights options other than programming.
As well as the list, there is an achiever’s breakfast, allowing us to come together to celebrate what we’ve done. We also get priority for all Code First: Girls events, like their annual conference. Lastly, continuing the inspiration theme, we were each interviewed sharing our technology journey and adventures so far. Unfortunately, Eddie Jaoude, the interviewer edited it so I look like I was talking to myself! If you fancy a giggle, you can watch mine here.
I was chosen because of the impact I’m having on people around tech, whether they’re directly involved in the industry, aspiring to be or just fancy having a dabble. From primary school children in Code Clubs, to university students with Code First: Girls and adults through CodingLondon I’ve taught most ages. Every person on the list had an edge to them, which meant they went above and beyond their day jobs.
Why did you choose to join RedEye?
I knew of RedEye through an online UX Slack community. A RedEye employee posted the job opening online and I applied, despite there being no junior positions.
I chose to join RedEye because I love consultancy. I love jumping onto different projects, facing new challenges and different industries. RedEye also have a selection of well-established clients. The user testing labs were also a huge factor. I was looking forward to actually talking to users, obtaining first-hand experience of what they’re thinking and using eye tracking. I’m also really excited to be working within Conversion Rate Optimisation, a completely different area for me. Not only do I get to do the research but I’m going to learn how to back up my points with concrete numbers.
Charlotte Fereday from Code First :Girls adds:
“We chose Elizabeth Chesters as one of the twenty five Code First: Girls Ones to Watch 2016 list because Elizabeth is an excellent example of a woman making a real impact in technology. In the rigorous selection process for the list, what stood out for us was her impressive career trajectory combined with her dedication to pro-bono and volunteering work with multiple organisations including Code First: Girls, Code Club, Women Who Hack for Non-Profits and many more.
Elizabeth’s passion for improving diversity in the technology sector and encouraging people of all ages, ranging from school children to adults, means that she is single handedly driving impactful and positive change in the sector. Elizabeth is a real asset to Code First: Girls, over the last two years she been lead instructor on many courses and Masterclasses and is an inspiring mentor for hundreds of young women across the UK. Elizabeth is a true mover and shaker in technology and we are proud to feature her as a role model to encourage other women to follow in her footstep and consider careers in technology and entrepreneurship.”
This term, we ran two courses at the University of Cambridge - a Beginners HTML/CSS course and an Advanced Python course. CF: G interviewed the Advanced instructors, Charles, Melis and Natasha, to see how they got on with the courses, what their highlights were and what advice they’d give to women interested in a career in the tech sector.
CF:G - Thanks so much for taking the time to do an interview with us. To start off with, could you tell us a bit more about what you do as a day job?
Melis: I work as an Investigator Scientist at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology. I work on building web tools to study residue interaction networks in protein structures.
Charles: I am doing a Postdoc at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology. In my work I try to understand how genetically identical cells are able to behave differently and I use programming and statistical tools to get answers.
Natasha: I’m in the final year of my Bioinformatics PhD at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology. Mostly, I work on analysing different aspects of gene fusion mutations in cancer using various quantitative approaches.
CF:G - What was your favourite part of the course?
Melis: I really liked the last session where students presented their own projects. It really shows what the students who don’t have any programming experience at all can do with what they learnt during the course. It made me very happy to see that our contribution in teaching Python was useful for the girls.
Charles: It was great to see the girls immediately apply the programming basics that they learned at the course. They used those skills to build websites that were useful for their own projects.
Natasha: Programming is good fun but can be seen as a bit arcane, and I think that demystifying it and being part of people’s first programming experience was quite rewarding.
CF:G - Can you tell us about some of the course competition website entries from your course?
Melis: All projects were fantastic. Each group used different aspects of what they learnt during the course. Some girls combined their knowledge of HTML/CSS with Python to build websites, and some used only pure Python. They were all very good.
Charles: The project presentations were great. One that stood out for me was a website with which the girls intended to collect memberships for a society that they were involved in. You could really see that they had fun developing the website.
Natasha: There were some really fantastic ones! There was an entry that wasn’t a website, but was more of an economic simulation game that used econometrics theory to model when a group should agree to purchase some good. In addition to web-based programming, Python has a lush history of being used in scientific and quantitative computing, and it’s great that a student brought out that aspect.
CF:G - What advice would you give to students who’ve completed a CF:G course and want to go on to pursue a career in the tech sector?
Melis: They should definitely go for it. I would recommend them to first check which sub sector in tech they are interested in and focus more on that. They can improve their programming skills by doing online courses. There are plenty of them, Codecademy being one of them.
Charles: In attending a CF:G course you do not only learn programming, you also get together with other bright and motivated people. Keep in touch and encourage each other to improve your programming.
Natasha: Absolutely go for it! :) As an additional point, I always like to emphasize that plenty of successful people started programming “late” and/or didn’t formally study computer science. Programming is quite a meritocratic field, and if you’re interested in the work then you really can self-teach yourself enough to kick start your career.
CF:G - What do you think is the benefit of attending the course for students who come from a non-STEM background?
Melis: I would definitely recommend everyone regardless of their background to learn coding. There will always be a need for programming skills even if the job is going to be unrelated. For instance, a history student can make a web app about the history project she works on using the skills she learnt during the course.
Charles: The course gives you a kickstart no matter what your background is. Everyone can program! As a student with a non-STEM background, attending the course will make it easier to demonstrate that you can program to a future employer.
Natasha: Whereas students in engineering or mathematics degree regulatory encounter some sort of programming during their studies, this is still quite rare in most other subjects. Programming really is for everyone, and the non-STEM students seemed very happy to have a chance to dive into the content.
CF:G - Lastly, what advice would you give those who are interested in becoming a CF:G instructor?
Melis: Becoming a CF:G instructor is a lot of fun. You become good friends with the other instructors, exchange knowledge. You also learn a lot while teaching. The students are amazing, they are very eager to learn and try everything during the course.
Charles: Go for it! Aside from being good fun, it encourages you to re-learn programming as you are now teaching it. It gives you a different perspective and makes you a better programmer yourself.
Natasha: I found it a very valuable and rewarding experience. The students that voluntarily attend these classes are quite motivated and interested in learning, and you also get to catch up on Python topics that you might not encounter every day. I mostly do data-oriented programming, and it was fun to learn more about the web app side of things.
CF:G - Thank you for your time!
Code First: Girls