How Code First: Girls and Amali de Alwis helped me overcome any challenge

Lucy Cousins, July 9, 2019 4 min read

It was recently announced that 10,000 women have been taught to code by Code First: Girls, meaning they are halfway to their goal of training 20,000 women by the end of 2020. Our Data Design Manager Lucy Cousins is one of those 10,000, and she interviewed their CEO, Amali de Alwis MBE.

Having recently announced that she was stepping down from Code First: Girls, I spoke to Amali de Alwis (pictured, above) about what she’s achieved while running the company, and on her next steps. On a personal level I was so excited to talk to such an inspiring leader, someone who was responsible for getting so many women like me interested and engaged in the tech sector.

My first questions for Amali though, was why is it an exciting time for women in the tech industry?

“Tech is such an exciting part of all of our lives. Tech Nation shows that by economic growth tech is the fastest growing sector, and it’s better paid than the national average by 30%. These opportunities are the ones which are really exciting, and not just tech companies. Something I say on a daily basis is that there’s no such thing as a non-tech business, there are opportunities in any company has some sort of tech element to it. So that for me is really exciting. For women, men or anyone, why would you not want to be part of that?

“The fact that we don’t have women represented in a representative way, 50-50 balance, it’s kind of saying that women aren’t part of that conversation; not part of the fast growth, part of the well-paid jobs that are really exciting in the industries that are changing the ways that we live our lives. That’s why we’d say to any woman looking to get involved, this is where the action is. Trying to support people to get their little share of that is where we come in.

I wanted to know how one goes from working in the tech sector to becoming a mentor, a leader, and making a difference? How she became the influential leader she is today? Just as with coding, she told me to start small…

How do you build something which is amazing? Don’t look at the amazing things. Look at the really simple things. Even when we teach our coding courses, I show people a mockup of the original webpage that Tim Berners Lee created, the first webpage on a green on black, nothing fancy super simple. I talk to people and say when you’re thinking about building websites, don’t think of the ones you go and see now – see this one. This is where it started. It’s really around start with that basics and then build and build. There’s no magic to it. You just have to start and keep moving forward. And that’s pretty much it.”

“Support the young women who are coming through – support the young men who are coming through. The young men need to see female business leaders too. Helping those young men understand who are business leaders who add value to a business so they reposition what their vision of a tech leader is. That’s as critical as supporting the women as well.”

So Code First: Girls has done and is doing a fantastic job of getting women coding and starting a conversation, but what else needs to be done before there’ll be no need for companies like CFG anymore? 

There’s more to be done. Code First: Girls is a partner to the Institute of Coding, which is very much looking at how to deliver tech and digital education with more of a focus on learning holistically across the UK. And that’s not just higher education or further education institutions – that’s companies, third sector institution like ourselves. We all have a part to play. I think that view about education being more than just what happens in schools is a really important part of that.

And when it comes to universities, a lot of people are opting for alternative education such as Code First: Girls and other coding bootcamps. There’s a lot of talk at the moment around the question of whether universities and schools are sufficiently preparing students for real life work. The argument is that for the pace that the tech industry moves, it takes too long for a university course to be produced, tested and taught for the output to still be relevant to employers. This might be where organisations like Code First: Girls and others are better suited, to the flexibility and adaptability the job markets requires.

If you’re talking about software development, it’s not about taking exams – it’s about building things. So how can we in our education systems actually fairly represent the types of experiences that people really do in a workplace in that education model. That I think is a point of contrast between our current school education system, which is very much focused on exams and a certain way of teaching, and education that is fit for actual work purpose. That is something that needs more time and development.

The most important thing I learnt from my course with Code First: Girls, and from Amali, was that whatever challenge I face, I can overcome it, and even if I get stuck there are resources available to help. Code First: Girls was what pushed me to pursue a career in tech. Beyond the coding skills you learn, the connections I made at CFG helped me find a job as soon as the course was finished, and continued to offer support and options throughout my journey. 

Overall, I quite frankly wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for Code First: Girls.

Community, Talent & Skills, Women in tech, Aspiring, Early Stage