One way of increasing women in tech

Many countries seek to increase the numbers of women in tech. They still have a way to go. However, one social enterprise, Code First: Girls, is successfully forging a path to achieve more balance in the tech industry. 

Over the past three years it has delivered over £4.2 million worth of free tech education and taught more than 6,000 women how to code for free. It has helped companies to recruit and train tech talent in their firms.

It has also launched a 2020 campaign to teach 20,000 young women to code for free by the end of 2020.

How it all started

Code First Girls started out as a programme in the company Entrepreneur First (EF), which was established to enable bright individuals, initially recent graduates, to become tech entrepreneurs. When the EF founders, Alice Bentinck and Matthew Clifford, noticed a worrying shortage of women applying for the EF programme, the need for a female-focused initiative became evident. In 2013, they started Code First: Girls as an internal system. They hoped to diversify the male-dominated start-up landscape in the UK by helping those women who did not have tech or software engineering backgrounds to learn how to code on their journey into entrepreneurship. As EF grew, they still had women who were interested in the Code First: Girls courses for coding beginners.

So in 2014, they decided to turn the Code First: Girls initiative into an independent company and Amali de Alwis was appointed CEO to build it. She talked to us about how her enterprise is breaking barriers.

How do you sustain yourself?

Code First: Girls operates as a revenue-generating not-for-profit business. We make some revenues by running paid training courses and workshops for corporate clients and corporate partners, and by supporting them with their tech talent recruitment and retention in various ways. The revenues generated through this work allows us to offer free courses and training events to early career stage women and students.

How did Code First: Girls get started?

Entrepreneur First is where our company originated. We consider ourselves ‘sister companies’ to each other, and Matt and Alice (the co-founders of EF) are still very supportive of Code First: Girls. They remain on our Board of Directors as advisors. Matt’s not the only man who supports what we do at Code First: Girls! About half of our volunteer instructors are male, and they are every bit as supportive of increasing diversity as our female instructors.

Tell us about your courses.

We’ve covered incredible ground since the launch of the 2020 campaign in December 2017. We’ve run more training courses this year than ever before, and it’s thrilling to make a difference in the lives of thousands of young women. Our 2020 campaign is made possible by our partners including Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, Trainline, KKR and OVH to name just a few. They continue to be believers in the Code First: Girls vision.

We run free part-time coding courses for young employable age women/university students across the UK and Ireland as well as paid courses for female professionals. We also offer coding courses in companies for all staff (male and female) to help ensure that employees feel confident discussing technology with tech teams and understand better the role technology can play in businesses. Any revenues we make from paid courses are invested into providing our free community coding course across the UK.

How are you going to achieve your target of 20,000 women coming in by 2020?

To help achieve our 2020 goals, we have been increasing our community courses over the past year. Our last two semesters have seen us grow the number of courses we offer by 40 per cent semester on semester, and by the end of this year we will be teaching over 5000 women to code for free each year which is the size we need to meet our 2020 goal! We’re all hands-on deck in our mission to teach more young women to code and are on track to reach the 20,000 mark!

Additional reporting by Sophie Cridland. This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. 

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