What two founders learned by Coding Like a Girl

28th March, 2017

Solving a problem like the lack of female representation in tech can seem like a huge, almost impossible process – but it begins with one step.

While achieving gender equality in tech development remains a depressingly huge task, throughout Australia and New Zealand women are actively trying to create pathways for the next generation of innovative women to shine.

Programs such as DevelopHER and SheStarts have helped drive change, and over the past few years there has been a further groundswell of grassroots organisations cropping up to tackle the challenge head-on.

Code Like a Girl is one such organisation, which began as a meetup for women in the tech industry but has now blossomed into events and workshops aimed at enabling women of all ages to take part in the next wave of economic growth.

The initiative was started in 2015 by Ally Watson, who as a developer could see the lack of gender diversity in tech firsthand.

“This was all new to me, but as a developer myself I’ve lived and breathed the problems we’re trying to solve,” Watson told The Pulse.

Co-founder Vanessa Doake, with a background in HR and equality programs, said she was inspired to join with Watson after looking to the technology of tomorrow – and realising it was almost exclusively being built by men.

“We desperately need to change that – women’s continued involvement in the labour market relies on it,” said Doake.

“Roles which are suggested to be most significantly impacted by automation and machine learning, are also those that have the highest proportion of female workers.”

Add to that the sheer volume of tech talent Australia will need, and increasing participation of women in tech isn’t just the right thing to do but is the logical thing to do.

Programs such as DevelopHER and SheStarts are doing great things to actively redress the gender balance in tech, but according to Doake they remain the exception rather than the rule.

“At a superficial level there is [buy-in from the tech community that gender inequality is an issue],” said Doake.

“You don’t have to look far to see a tech event that has a panel dedicated to discussing the lack of gender diversity in tech, however, there are very few companies which are actively doing something about it.”

So, Doake and Watson set about doing something about it.

One giant leap

Watson began Code Like a Girl as a series of meet-up nights, aimed at getting women to share their experiences and wisdom with each other.

However, she soon realised that what women wanted wasn’t just a chance to talk through the issues – but gain skills.

“The meet-ups were a platform for sharing stories, projects and knowledge within our community, but for our attendees that wasn’t enough,” said Watson.

“They were inspired, sure, but now they wanted the skills for themselves and frankly there wasn’t a lot of accessible and affordable workshops out there to give coding a go.”

At this point she reached out to her friend, Doake.

“At the point where we could see the​ potential scope of what we were doing, I didn’t hesitate at Ally’s invitation to join her and kick this into the next gear,” said Doake.

With Doake at home with issues of diversity and HR and Watson bringing technical prowess and industry knowledge to the table, they set about bringing on a cohort of volunteers to broaden the initiative out.

To go big, they discovered, they needed to go small.

The kids are alright

One of the major developments in the Coding Like a Girl initiative was to start offering coding classes to not just women, but girls.

Code Like a Girl regularly puts on coding classes for kids – something which isn’t just about offering kids skills but changing perceptions from the ground-up.

“We want to normalise having a room full of 20 girls having fun and learning how to code,” said Doake.

“It’s critical to create an environment that’s accessible, where every girl, from any background feels included, inspired, supported and capable.

“We need more women with technical skills, and to ensure we have girls who want to be coders when they leave high school, we need to start young.”

However, it’s not just been kids who have learned throughout the program, but Doake and Watson themselves.

“I’ve learned the most important thing you can do is keep to your values,” said Watson.

“It’s the anchor. Every decision, every press article, every new volunteer we bring on board, every job offer and even sponsor we bring on; do they align with our values?”

Doake said the biggest part of playing a role in Code Like a Girl was simply being in awe of its volunteers and community.

“Our volunteer community is my biggest source of inspiration and makes me very proud,” said Doake.

“Hearing their stories of how the Code Like a Girl community has provided them the support and confidence to achieve things that they couldn’t previously makes my heart sing.”


Ally Watson will be presenting at the Myriad Festival in Brisbane this week while Code Like a Girl will be putting on a workshop