You can read this article published on Farnell.com here.
Tell us about how Code First Girls came about and how you got involved...
Code First: Girls was originally set up as a programme in Entrepreneur First, a company that helps technical individuals to build their own tech start-ups with seed funding, office space and mentoring. The co-founders of Entrepreneur First - Alice Bentinck and Matt Clifford – found that very few female graduates were applying, and those that did apply tended to come from non-tech backgrounds. Following huge demand, Code First: Girls was spun off as an independent company in September 2014 and we’ve continued to go from strength to strength since.
My personal involvement started when I took one of CF:G’s courses in autumn 2014. At the time I was working for a food start-up, and part of my role had involved helping to update the company website. It became clearer and clearer that an ability to understand the fundamentals of HTML and CSS would be really helpful. I found that I really loved the experience, and it happened that Code First: Girls was expanding at the time, so I had the opportunity to come on board as their programmes manager in early 2015.
My own role is mostly about managing the communities, courses and events that CF:G runs, and to help foster partnerships with businesses that want to diversify their workforce. I’m also continuing to study coding on the side.
What does Code First: Girls do?
Code First: Girls has two main brackets of activity; our community activities and our corporate services.
Our community activities include free coding courses, masterclasses and career development events. Our primary audience is female university students and recent graduates, and we currently run coding courses at universities across the UK, as well as non-university based courses in London.
On our corporate services, we offer coding courses for company staff and also help companies look at their tech talent recruitment and retention policies and processes, the focus being to help them better understand how to increase diversity in their workforce and how this could benefit their business.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced?
Our biggest challenge at Code First: Girls is quite a comforting one – there’s so much interest! We hate having to turn people down, so our main goal at the moment is to keep scaling up and get as many courses running as possible to accommodate the demand.
We’ve also had a lot of interest from women outside the 18-25 bracket, so this autumn we’ll be expanding our offering to include courses for older women who also want to learn how to code.
Tell us about some of the most inspiring moments you’ve experienced...
We recently held our summer intensive course, in which students spent two evenings a week over four weeks developing a personal project with the support of our volunteer instructors. The moment when you see them present what they’ve been working on is always so uplifting and inspiring, particularly when you hear the women talk about how much they’ve enjoyed themselves and how their confidence has increased.
In a nutshell, why should people learn coding?
People should learn how to code because it opens up so many opportunities. Even if you have no plans to become a developer or to work in IT, in the future it’s likely to benefit practically anybody to at least be familiar with the basics. It enables you to have conversations with people who do work in the computing industry, and if you need to edit your own or your company’s website, you’re more likely to be able to do so without relying on a third party.
The government recently changed the curriculum to introduce coding to pupils as early as 5 years old. What do you think of this initiative?
I think it’s incredibly important to introduce children to computer programming skills from an early age. There’s a huge talent gap in the technical world in the moment, and the earlier children become familiar with the basic concepts, the easier they’re likely to find it to develop more advanced skills as they get older.
Does changing the curriculum go far enough, or is there more that needs to be done?
Putting coding onto the curriculum is a big step in the right direction, but of course there’s always more that could be done. Government initiatives can be very powerful, but the private sector and organisations like ours have a role to play too. In terms of reaching out to young people, we need to be developing projects that take help children to find the fun and creativity of coding. There are great organisations like Apps for good, Stemettes and Code Club already doing this, but it’s really important that all the different parts of the tech community are mobilised to get kids motivated.
In a recent survey conducted by Farnell element14, we found that female teachers are generally less confident in their ability to teach coding than men. Why do you think this might be the case?
When it comes to STEM subjects in general, we definitely suffer from a leaky pipeline. There are fewer women with a background in coding and computer science, and it’s very difficult to teach something you don’t have a lot of experience with. That’s why it’s so important that we’re not just encouraging young women to enter the programming space, but also ensuring that teachers are properly supported.
What advice would you give for young women who are interested in learning more about coding and programming?
There’s no greater barrier to success than your own mind. Learning to code can seem intimidating at first, but it’s really not as scary as it seems. There are loads of fantastic resources out there if you do a little research. You can find some of the resources we recommend for self-learning on our website.
Do you think the landscape is changing for women in coding?
It’s become a widely recognised fact that there’s a serious lack of diversity as a whole in the industry. From speaking to a wide range of companies, we’re confident that the will to make changes is definitely there. It’s not a single issue though – we need to get more women into learning STEM subjects and engaging with computer science at an earlier age. When women do break into the industry, it’s vital to nurture their talents and encourage them to stick around.
Which coding languages do you think are the most useful to learn at the moment?
In our courses we focus mainly on the web development so we cover HTML and CSS for our beginner courses, in addition to more advanced courses in Python and Ruby, which I think are great languages to learn. In general though, it really depends on the area you want to get into. There are so many languages available that cater to a wide variety of requirements – it’s difficult to say that one is necessarily more useful than another.
Finally, where do you see Code First: Girls five years from today?
We’re working a lot on building ourselves into a true social enterprise and expanding our service to accommodate more women. This autumn we’ll be increasing our intake by around 50% - meaning over 450 women will be taught how to code between October and November 2015, which is really exciting.
Of course, we always say that the ideal outcome would be that the landscape would progress to a point where Code First: Girls didn’t need to exist at all, but until that happens we’re going to keep developing our service to empower as many women as possible to enter the tech space.
Last month’s Festival of Code 2015 (FOC) showed off the imagination, creativity and coding talent of the nation’s youth, and also boasted a best ever participation rate for girls.
Strategic Internet Consulting was part of Horsham’s first FOC mentoring centre and, what’s more, one of our teams – made up entirely of seven- and eight-year-old girls – made the national final in Birmingham.
Here eight-year-old Maddie, a member of the triumphant team, tells us why coding is a great hobby for girls, while below her dad, Strategic director Alex, explains why getting girls into coding is key to closing the yawning digital skills gap.
This was my first time at the Festival of Code and I loved every minute of it! The instruction was to make something digital – a website, game or app – within a week and, after a bit of time mulling over ideas, my teammates Emily, Charlotte and I came up with the Intelligent Elephant Alarm Clock.
We called it that because it’s the alarm clock that, like an elephant, never forgets! It gets information from the internet about the weather, temperature and lots of other things that might be interesting (for example, when the One Direction (RIP) concert tickets you’ve been waiting for have finally been released!), and buzzes you at the right time. The Intelligent Elephant Alarm Clock made it through to the finals in the ‘Should be Made’ category, and TechCrunch called it ‘one to watch’! You can watch the presentation here.
We were really pleased because we were up against so many other great projects. There were 202 altogether, made by 12,000 kids in 69 locations, so to reach the finals (and meet Dallas Campbell!) was fantastic.
I don’t think being girls gave us an advantage, but it wasn’t a problem either. We were the only girls in the Horsham centre and only about a third of all the people who took part in FOC15 were girls, but those who took part really showed that it’s not just something for boys. I loved coming up with ideas, learning new skills and thinking through problems step by step, to come up with an answer that worked. That’s what coding seems to be about to me and there’s no reason girls can’t enjoy it and be really good at it.
I wouldn’t even say I was coding-mad or desperate to do it before FOC. But making the Intelligent Elephant Alarm Clock and seeing all the other amazing projects made me think about where great ideas come from and how they get turned into real things. If more of us girls don’t join in, everyone is missing out on a lot of amazing ideas. Maybe some of them might change the world.
The main reason I wanted Maddie to participate in FOC 2015 is that coming up with ideas and then making them happen is rewarding, instils self-confidence, brings a sense of teamwork – and is loads of fun!
But there’s a bigger picture too, and one which made the best ever FOC participation rate for girls so important. Girls still only made up 32% of team members, but that’s a big rise on earlier years. We know that founder Emma Mulqueeny is a huge advocate of getting girls into coding and has done an incredible job attracting more girls to the competition.
But people like Emma and Code First Girls work against a pretty depressing backdrop. At Google, women make up 30% of the company's overall workforce, but hold only 17 percent of the company’s tech jobs. In the mid-1980s, 37% of computer science majors were women; in 2012, 18%.
Those aren’t just abstract statistics to us here at Strategic. As an Inbound Marketing and open source web design agency located between London and Brighton, two huge centres of tech innovation, we’re more aware than many of the digital skills shortage and understand the need to get young people interested earlier. We’ve had some brilliant interns, and (like Emma) recognise that “year 8 is too late” when it comes to starting down the path to a coding career.
And if there is one obvious way to bridge the skills gap, it’s to get more girls excited about coding. Our industry desperately needs to attract more young people who possess that winning mix of creative imagination and digital skills. By giving more girls than ever a fun, friendly and exciting introduction to coding, FOC15 made a start. The rest of us need to build on that foundation.
Strategic’s Festival of Code infographic: Teaching Kids To Code Is Key To Tech's Future
Alex Embling is the Director of Strategic Internet Consulting, a B2B Inbound Marketing and web design agency based in Horsham, Sussex. Strategic have experience across a wide range of industries, and are HubSpot Silver, and Google Partners.
Code First: Girls