“We Can All Benefit From More Women In High Skilled High Paid Jobs”, Says Code First: Girls CEO

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We spoke to Amali de Alwis, CEO at Code First: Girls, about the gender imbalance in the tech industry, their 2020 campaign, and what she would tell young women who consider learning to code.

Code First: Girls CEO

Amali de Alwis, CEO Code First: Girls

Tell us a bit about your background and what led you to your current role as CEO of Code First: Girls, one of the UK’s leading coding school for young women?

I’ve had a varied background combining creative studies and STEM subjects. My first university studies were in Manufacturing Engineering, followed by a degree in Fashion. In my career, I started as a quant researcher at a research consultancy working across consumer goods. I later moved to financial and professional services, where I worked work across various aspects of the tech sector, from helping companies embrace mobile banking, to helping them analyze how semantic analysis of social media could be used to measure and understand brand trust.

As my career progressed, I also found myself increasingly involved in mentoring. I was a small business mentor through Startup Direct, as well as the Commonwealth’s CSC Leaders program, and found I really enjoyed supporting others grow. So when the opportunity came up to join Code First: Girls as their first CEO, the combination of being able to work in the tech sector whilst supporting others to achieve was the perfect combination for me!

What is Code First: Girls’ vision and mission?

Code First: Girls is a not-for-profit social enterprise, which means that we generate revenues through commercial work and then plug all the profits from that work into a social mission – which in our case, is to help more women get into tech and digital roles. We do this to help address the gender imbalance in the tech industry, as according to the ONS (Office of National Statistics), only 3.9% of individuals working in tech and telcos are female software developer and engineers – down from 10% in 2007. This decline of women working in the sector has led to a lack of diversity in the tech and digital workforce, which in turn has had a negative impact on the UK economy.

To tackle this imbalance, we run free and paid coding courses, as well as professional development events to help women understand more about the tech and digital roles, and also undertake advisory work with companies to help them increase diversity in their tech talent recruitment and retention processes. Since 2013, we’ve delivered over 3.4€ million worth of free coding courses to young women across the UK.

How do your coding classes work? What can a young woman who enrolls in a class expect?

We have three different sets of courses: We run free community courses for young women from all social and educational backgrounds. We also run paid courses across the UK for more established female professionals often through corporate partnerships. And finally, we run short and longer paid coding courses at companies for men and women of all different levels.

With the free community courses and the professional women courses, they run over 8 weeks, one evening per week. Subjects wise, we do a Level One course, which is an introduction to web development. This teaches people to create a website from scratch. We also do a Level Two course in either Ruby or Python, which teaches people how to create a web app. On completion of all these courses, students leave with a publicly hosted concrete project that they can point people to and add to their CV/portfolio and profile on their LinkedIn.

In the past 3 years, we have generated an amazing roaster of alumni who have often switched into tech and digital, and gone on to a whole variety of roles across tech from software engineering to digital marketers to product management.

We heard about your 2020 campaign, to teach 20,000 women to code by 2020? 6 months down the line since you launched the campaign, where do you stand with this goal?

We’re making great progress, our courses are in high demand! So far this year we’ve taught around 1.5K young women to code through 55 free coding courses across the UK. We plan to increase to 90 courses in the autumn, which means that by the end of this year we will be teaching around 5.5K young women how to code for free.

This has been made possible in large part thanks to our amazing corporate partners who are backing the campaign and the cause. Since we launched the 2020 campaign in early December 2017, we’ve had Trainline, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, KKR, Goldman Sachs and OVH come onboard. We have a few more partnerships to announce in the near future so stay tuned!

That said, we still have a lot of work to do. Looking at the enrollment data from UCAS ( The UK’s Universities and Colleges Admissions Service), in 2017, of the 23,650 individuals who were enrolled onto a computer science degree, only 3,750 (14%) were women. So it’s not hard to see how introducing 20,000 young women to coding will make a big difference to them as well as the companies who are looking to potentially hire them.

What do you think of the #paymetoo movement, which started in the UK and seems to have received some visibility beyond the borders? How is Code First: Girls working to close the gender pay gap?

The digital skills gap and gender pay-gap are a really critical part of the puzzle, and not just for engineering but also for jobs across tech and digital. As the fastest growing sector with well paying, in-demand jobs, unless we can get more women in tech and digital, it will be near impossible to close the gender pay gap.
Code First Girls plays an active role in addressing the gap. With our 2020 campaign, we truly hope to make a substantial difference.

What would you say to a young woman who is considering learning to code?

Go for it! It’s a win, win, win; for you, for the company looking to hire you and for society as a whole. Many studies have shown that the lack of women in the tech sector and other high paid sectors is a disservice to these companies and to society at large. We can all benefit from more women in high skilled high paid jobs in fast growth and innovative industries.



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