When I think back to 18 year old me, it’s pretty embarrassing. And I’m not talking about the unruly hair or terrible dress sense (although that’s pretty embarrassing), I’m talking about my total ignorance about technology and computer science. It’s not even that I had made a decision not to be interested in it. It just had never come up. I went to an all girls’ school, and no one I knew was interested in computers (apart from my brother, who I was at loggerheads with as a teenager).
I know that this hasn’t really changed much in the last 10 years for young women. I was the exception to the rule when, early in my career as a management consultant, I had the opportunity to work with technology businesses. It was then that I realised how tech was fundamentally changing the way we work, live and play. I knew I wanted to be a part of that world.
I left my job and built the first UK-wide startup accelerator for graduates, Entrepreneur First. We take very talented graduates straight out of university and spend a year with them building their own tech startups. We’re doing well, but what frustrates me is that I see the same kinds of faces all the time. I was patted on the back for getting 10% women on Entrepreneur First, which didn't feel like it deserved applause to me.
I didn’t think this was good enough. Thinking back to 18-year-old me, I thought it was time to do something about it. I needed to learn to code.
I knew that leaning in to coding would help me to do my job effectively and credibly. Still, I had a huge mental barrier to this. I had dropped all maths and science subjects when I was 16, and I had always thought that programming “wasn’t for me.” But I knew it was time to go for it.
Over a summer, I went through an intensive coding programme. It was hard. Really hard. But there was something about solving a problem and creating something of my own that was totally addictive.
I used this experience to create Code First: Girls – a course introducing young women to web programming and startups. We have seen fantastic results in a short space of time, with girls going on to become software developers and building their own tech startups.
I am so glad I decided to take the plunge to learn how to code. Three years ago I would have screeched at Python and bought a day return for Ruby on Rails. Now I know that these are some of the fundamental building blocks of the web products we use every day. That knowledge has been so empowering in my own life. Now, I am working hard to make sure other young women have the opportunity to learn it too.