How to expand the tech talent pool? Teach coding to girls

by Jennifer Steele, Implementation Consultant at Genesis


With growth in the technology sector far outstripping that of most other UK industries, one might expect that companies would be drawing on all parts of the workforce to keep up the pace. While this is true to an extent, there is still one group that is underrepresented in tech firms: women.

According to the British Computer Society, despite women accounting for 50% of the working age population in 2018 (those aged 16-64), only 16% of IT specialists were female. Shockingly, London was associated with the lowest level of female representation; just 14% of IT specialists in the capital were women.

To fill the 4.2 million tech vacancies in the UK (Tech Nation) we need to tap into the female workforce, and the key to doing this is breaking down the barriers that see so few women entering tech in the first place. In doing so, not only do we expand the pool of talent from which the industry can hire, but we offer thousands of women the opportunity to discover hugely rewarding and exciting careers in one of today’s most important industries.

I recently became involved with Code First: Girls; a not-for-profit social enterprise that has delivered an amazing £6 million worth of free education to young women across the UK since 2013.

Thankfully we are waking up to this untapped potential and many organisations have sprung up in recent years to help address the gap. I recently became involved with Code First: Girls; a not-for-profit social enterprise that has delivered an amazing £6 million worth of free education to young women across the UK since 2013. The key to their model is a program of volunteers who pass on their technical wisdom to young women seeking a foothold in the tech industry.

I have been lucky enough to have fallen into tech; I studied Maths at university and was introduced to Java programming in my first year. I went on to study a Masters in Computer Science and, when I graduated, I made the seemingly natural step into the FinTech industry. For the last 13 years, I’ve always been one of only a handful of women in every technical course that I’ve studied and in every team in which I’ve worked. It’s only recently that my eyes have been opened to the broader problem that this implies.

Code First: Girls offer a number of courses throughout the year designed to provide a taster to tech for women with no technical expertise or background. Despite having never taught before, I signed up to teach this year’s summer intensive course to see if I could do my bit to entice a few more women into tech.

In early July I found myself standing in front of more than 30 bright young women expecting to learn how to build a website from scratch. All recent university graduates with degrees ranging from English, to Graphic Design, to Physics. Some of the women were budding entrepreneurs seeking to setup a website for their business or gain some technical understanding in order to make knowledgeable tech hires. I was inspired and not a little intimidated.

The course was intense; not only teaching the basics of web development, but also giving the girls a taste of Python scripting and introducing them to source control and the command line. The girls were curious about the technologies they were learning, and tenacious; travelling across London for a 2-hour evening course on the hottest day on record.

As a newbie, I found their guidance invaluable and their enthusiasm for technology and teaching was infectious for the girls and for me.

It wasn’t just the students with whom I was impressed. My fellow instructors were young men and women in full-time technical roles, giving up their summer evenings to teach. For more than one of them this was their third or fourth course. As a newbie, I found their guidance invaluable and their enthusiasm for technology and teaching was infectious for the girls and for me.

After only 5 weeks of classes, the students created their own websites in groups. It was fascinating to see the different takeaways from the course; the Graphic Designers produced beautiful webpages using custom css, whilst others created complex forms, e-commerce sites and interactive travel maps. More than one project promised to be the beginnings of a new online business.

Although a 6-week course will not necessarily provide the complete set of tools to go straight into a tech job, many of my students were planning to continue their learning, through either paid or unpaid courses, to get a proper foothold in the industry. One young woman used the expertise she gained from the course to apply for full-stack web development bootcamp, guaranteeing her a job in tech on graduating.

It is motivating to see organisations like Code First: Girls succeeding in their mission. Two thirds of alumni who responded to a survey currently hold a job in tech, with an overwhelming number saying the course increased their interest in technology and made them more confident in talking about it.

Working to educate and inspire young women and girls to move into tech is something I would encourage all women, and men, working in the tech sector to get involved with. Regardless whether the support comes in the form of teaching, mentorship or just being a role model, we all need to encourage more women into tech to support the future of our industry.