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Code First: Girls teaches more women to code in UK than universities

Social enterprise partners with BT to offer more women the opportunity to learn tech skills

By the end of 2018, Code First: Girls will be teaching an average of 5,000-5,500 women to code each year, which is more than the annual number of women studying coding-based subjects across the UK’s university system.

The social enterprise’s CEO, Amali de Alwis, who has always been a fan of data, looked into figures from UCAS showing the number of people of each gender who had been accepted onto a computer science degree course in 2017.

De Alwis found that of the 27,400 people accepted, 3,750 were women – 13.7% of the total. This figure was less than the number of women trained by Code First: Girls in a year, she said, and its courses are usually oversubscribed, with twice as many applicants as places.

But De Alwis made it clear she is not trying to “bash” the universities, and emphasised the importance of collaboration in making sure more people, and especially women, are encouraged into the technology industry.

“We are working very closely with, for example, the Institute of Coding,” she said. “We are very much working together to try and address this challenge because they also acknowledge that these numbers just aren’t good enough.”

The social enterprise has announced a partnership with telecoms and broadband provider BT to teach cohorts of 30 women the skills they need for a job in tech in a free four-month course.

The programme will teach women skills such as web development, Python programming, databases, test-driven development, agile development and cyber security, and participants will be given the opportunity to be interviewed for a job in a BT tech team.

De Alwis said BT approached Code First: Girls to ask for help in training groups of women with the potential goal of hiring them, and she pointed out that the organisation helps companies feel confident in hiring outside their usual talent pool.

Anyone who identifies as a woman and is aged 18 or over can apply for a place on the programme, as long as they do not already have a degree in software engineering or computer science.

The programme will run full-time between November 2018 and February 2019, teaching participants through project-based assessments with the ultimate aim of raising the women’s skills level to that of a junior developer.

De Alwis said the small number of women choosing science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem)-based subjects is “bonkers” considering how many firms talk about trying to increase diversity in the industry.

Read more about women in Stem

  • The number of women taking IT contractor roles has increased by nearly a quarter in the past year.
  • Research by the Open University has assessed the differences between the women in IT landscape in the UK and India.

This partnership with BT, among others, is designed to remove some of the common barriers that stop women applying for technology training, such as lack of funds, lack of previous education, socio-economic background or age, she said.

De Alwis said the initiative not only produces a dedicated, diverse talent pool for BT, but also creates an “easier access point for women who don’t have Stem and tech backgrounds and don’t have a degree”.

She added: “This is the perfect solution as far as helping you to get the skills you need and, at the end, you are connected with the company and you are guaranteed a job interview.”

As well as BT, Code First: Girls has been working with a number of other partners over the past year, such as Trainline and Goldman Sachs, to train young women in coding, as well as to give them access to mentors.

Anju Sethi, BT’s director of leadership, talent, learning, culture, engagement and inclusion, said the company wants to make sure women can enter the technology sector at any point in their career.

“Our goal is to invest in female talent that wants to make a transition towards a career in tech, and create additional possibilities for them,” she said. “Just like BT, Code First: Girls has a real ambition and vision for the difference they want to make.

“The organisation has cultivated a growing network of women who want to develop a career in the tech industry. They are working to ensure that this translates into women acquiring the necessary skillset that results in a job in tech.”

This push for partnerships came as a result of the Code First: Girls 20:20 initiative which aims to teach 20,000 young women to code by 2020.

Read more on IT education and training

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