Meet the Australian Founders of ‘Code Like a Girl’

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Inspiring the next-gen of women who code.

Code Like a Girl

Code Like a Girl started as a Melbourne meetup less than two years ago, but has quickly grown into a much-loved tech resource, holding regular sell-out events and coding workshops for females of all ages. They launched in Sydney last night (to another sell-out crowd) and have plans to be Australia-wide in the near future.

In our changing world of work, many jobs and even industries are being made redundant by new technology. Considering the fact that women are already underrepresented in tech industry jobs, Ally Watson and Vanessa Doake saw an opportunity – and Code Like a Girl was born. As we delve further into the digital age, the founders want to ensure women and girls are along for the ride. Vanessa’s background in HR and fascination with the world of work, combined with Ally’s industry experience and skills as a .Net developer make them uniquely placed to tackle this issue.

Code Like a Girl cofounders Ally Watson and Vanessa Doake

Code Like a Girl exists to encourage females of all ages to get into, or stay in, skilled tech and digital jobs. It may not always be easy, but it’s definitely more fun with friends, and that’s what Ally and Vanessa are hoping Code Like a Girl can provide. We chatted to the ladies in the lead-up to their latest coding workshop.

Why did you start Code Like a Girl?
Ally: As a coder, I know how important it is to keep up-to-date with the latest technologies, be inspired by others in the tech space, and have a network of people for advice. The best place to do this is at tech meetups and Melbourne has lots of these, for just about any technology. The thing is, just like the industry, there are often not many women in these meetups. Being a newbie can be daunting for anyone but for women in particular, the challenge is greater.

“We design and host tech-focused events that bring together local talent and girls who are curious or passionate about coding and technology.”

When I moved to Melbourne three years ago, I was faced with this all over again. I didn’t know anyone and found myself bailing on tech-meetups because I was worried I’d be the only the girl in the room and social anxiety got the better of me. It occurred to me that I probably wasn’t the only girl who felt this way, so I created my own meetup: Code Like a Girl. Now we’ve started running workshops to provide the girls of Australia with the tools, knowledge and support network they need to flourish in the world of coding.

What are some unique challenges you face?
Ally: The greatest challenge for us is removing the stigma that “tech is geeky” or “it’s only for guys” and engaging girls at a young age. Coding is one of the most important skills of the 21st century and there is a significant talent drought. It’s so important that kids, especially females, are exposed to these kinds of skills from an early age. Unconscious bias means that girls are not exposed to problem solving and electronic-based games in the way boys are. This disparity has led to a huge imbalance in the number of boys compared to girls who pursue technology as a career path. It becomes a cyclical problem, more boys encouraged at a younger age leads to a male-dominated industry, making it even harder for women to break the cycle.

What does Code Like a Girl actually do?
Vanessa: We design and host tech-focused events and workshops that bring together local talent and girls, from various education and career backgrounds, who are curious or passionate about coding and technology – creating an opportunity to learn, connect and celebrate each other’s achievements.

But what we’re doing is so much bigger than just teaching girls how to code. Many jobs traditionally held by women are under threat by automation. In Australia, the majority of new jobs will be in ICT [Information and Communication Technology] – an industry which currently very few women study, work in or stay in – Code Like a Girl’s work is to ensure women have an equal place in the technology-focused workforce of the future.

Who should come to your events or take up coding?
Vanessa: Our heartfelt motivation every day is to create innovative learning environments where every girl from any background feels included, inspired, supported and capable.

Any woman regardless of age, or socio-economic background, will find a place in our supportive and inclusive community. We run our events free, or very low cost (circa $15 for a workshop) to ensure finance is not a barrier for any woman to learn digital skills.

Some people place Melbourne as the start-up capital of Australia – others say San Fran is the only capital that counts. What are your thoughts on this?
Vanessa: I think Australia is full of high-quality tech and startup talent. Sometimes our island nation suffers from “Hollywood syndrome”, where we put overseas (especially US) talent on a bit of a pedestal. I think there are many talented individuals in our sector in Australia that are more than capable of playing on the world stage.

You launched in Sydney last night. How did it go?
Vanessa: The Sydney launch was fantastic. The room was full of energy and excitement! The panel, which consisted of Holly Cardew (Pixc), Emma Poposka (Brontech), Tanya Butenko, and moderated by Google’s very own Sally-Ann Williams, awed and inspired the crowd, leaving everyone empowered and filled with hope for the future of women in technology.

Visit codelikeagirl.org

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