James Governor's Monkchips

Teaching The World to Code, One Woman at a Time

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When I first came across Makers Academy, a local Shoreditch startup, I was impressed. The idea behind the company is straightforward- an intensive 12 week course, turning someone with no application development skills into someone that can build web apps. What also piqued my interest was that Makers Academy also acts as a recruitment consultant, finding jobs for the people they train at companies looking to hire development staff.

The course isn’t cheap, at £8,000. But then, the benefits are really significant. An entry level programmer building Ruby on Rails apps can potentially make £35k £25-£30k per annum. The return on investment, then, seems pretty clear, which begs the question= why aren’t central and municipal governments taking advantage of similar approaches? But this post isn’t really about politics, so let’s park that for now.

Shortly after meeting the firm, self-proclaimed Maestro Ruben Kostucki pinged me to see if I wanted to help with an initiative to help women learn to code. The idea was to look for sponsorship so that we could pay for women to go through the course, and hopefully become beacons, so that others could be inspired to follow suit.

Our longer term audacious goal is a fully sponsored woman only cohort for the Makers Academy, but for this initial experiment, we’re extremely happy to report that IBM is stepping up to sponsorship, so one woman can take the course for free. RedMonk, Shoreditch Works and MozFest are all supporters.

A competition to choose the winner will happen during Mozilla Festival (entrants must attend) between the 25th and 27th of October in London. If you’re interested in participating, find more information here.

While on the subject of tech education for women, another organisation I am keen to promote is Tech Mums. Recently founded by Dr Sue Black, the livewire who led the campaign to save Bletchley Park, Tech Mums wants to help women lose their fear of digital technology, again with a structured course designed to tackle issues such as online safety. And yes the last session is coding in Python with Arduinos, which apparently is emerging as the most popular part of the course. Tech Mums is currently fund-raising with an indie go go campaign, so please make a contribution. I am particularly keen to support Sue and Tech Mums because they’re starting in Tower Hamlets, the poorest borough in England, yet adjoining the thriving Shoreditch startup cluster.

As Sue says:

We need to give more women the chance to see what opportunities there are in tech. To give them the confidence and understanding that enables them to create a better life for themselves and heir families. This is not only good for them, but also in the long run good for the economy. The more people in the UK that are tech savvy, the better chance we have as a nation of taking part in the digital revolution. Due to our inventiveness and creativity in the UK we led during the industrial revolution, are we leading now? Let’s wake up and take this great opportunity to create a Britain that is leading again. A digital Britain we can all be proud of.

I am not trying to change the world at scale, but rather just to do my bit to turn the dial. Makers Academy and TechMums are great vehicles to make a change.

“Educate a woman and you educate a nation”

– TechMums.

One comment

  1. Hi James,

    I may be a bit off with that post, and it’s probably not devoid of clichés, but this is just a try to give my 2c.

    I wonder if women’s problems with learning coding has to do with the way usual coding courses are structured, especially in universities – or even schools.
    Maths, cold reasoning are pulled at the center of the topic, with usually a high trigger on “who can solve the problem first in the class”. I remember a high school extra programming curriculum I did where the point were to program a game. Cool actually, but at that time much more appealing to guys than to women.

    Fast forward to university, where I followed computer linguistics [1] as a minor. The class was around 80% women (will not get into why here). Pulling the concept of language structure, the professors slowly pushed some programming into it. First in the theory, on how to notice structures in apparently unorganized data (how can you find a verb, a subject…), then how to count and sort it. Then came some programming language basics – which I didn’t need to attend as CS major – so that a few months after, all students began hacking XSLT & Java together. After a few sessions, the problems stopped being trivial and involved serious skills. Especially the XSLT approach worked well – producing clear results on data that was needed for the other courses.
    The best part? The overall drop rate was extremely low, so much lower than traditional CS drop rate for males!

    My conclusion? We should probably better emphasize the end results of programming rather than algorithms and hardware. We should be clear on the other possibilities of programming, like gaining insight on your own social media data, automating and simplifying communications, automate dull work etc. We should also emphasise more on other aspects of computing that are not so hard cut as algorithms. There is a serious need for developers who understand better UX and design, and who can relate to users. As programming technologies get easier and easier to work with, those aspects will make the difference.

    BTW, what is the content of the Python Arduino course? It would be interesting to put into the context of my comment 🙂

    [1] http://www.sfs.uni-tuebingen.de/study-iscl/2012-ISCL-Flyer-BA-EN.pdf

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