We must banish myths, cliches and stereotypes that say ‘this is not for girls’, insists the co-founder of Decoded
Say the word code and it immediately conjures images of boys in hoodies in basements listening to loud music and shooting nerf guns. But the future is being written in lines of code. I passionately believe that. And I want women to be part of that future.
Decoded began in 2011; we wanted to create a technology education experience that could demystify the dark arts of “digital” for anyone and everyone. We wanted to be able to teach someone code in a day. It was a mission impossible we set ourselves over a whiskey sour in Shoreditch, with nothing more than a credit card loan and a huge amount of hope and belief.
Technology is impacting everything and everyone. Yet how many people can confidently say that they understand the technologies behind the screen? Or that they feel like an active participant in the digital world, rather than a passive observer? I think about 1%. That feels wrong. Especially considering recent research estimating that up to 47% of roles can be easily replaced by machines in the next 10 years.
That whiskey sour in Shoreditch was the moment I fell down the rabbit hole and the beginning of Decoded.
Fast forward to 2016 and we are one of the biggest technology educators in the world working with boards and leadership teams across every single industry, sector and government recently launching our offices in New York, Sydney and Amsterdam. We have achieved the mission impossible and it has resonated beyond our wildest dreams. With a mere marketing budget of £27 to promote ourselves (wastefully spent on “Geek” T-shirts), over 3,000 different businesses across over 50 different cities around the world have since experienced our work.
We’ve moved beyond code to decoding the dark arts of data, hacking and cyber security, machine learning and more. We campaigned for code on the UK national curriculum which was successfully introduced in September 2014 – a worldwide first.
I think that, in the right hands, technology can be an incredible force for good. It feels like this is just the beginning. I am very excited about the journey but I also think the destination is another 10 years away.
The team inspires me daily and has taught me a lot. I have to pinch myself to think that constantly pushing the limits of what we can learn and do in the realms of technology and then decoding that for the rest of the world to understand is actually our job!
In the last few months alone Denise (a mathematical genetics graduate) turned a room of 100 people into a neural network, Olly (still only 24, a self-taught coder from the age of six and philosophy graduate) taught the boards of one of the largest entertainment companies in the world about the power of APIs, and Alex (ex-security white hat hacker) created a simulated game to replicate a real hack on a bank.
They are individuals with incredible technical capabilities, but also human beings with brilliant communication and empathy skills. People often ask me a lot about what it is like to be “the boss”. It just does not feel like that. Decoded is not very hierarchical, it is very trusting and everyone is very empowered. The structure is less like an organisational triangle. And more like a network. A bit like the web really.
Most of the time my days are really very random and fun; I could be suddenly on a plane to San Francisco, conference calling with Australia at midnight or heading to a meeting at Number 10 to discuss how to help start-up businesses grown in the UK.
I am really passionate about creating an environment where anyone with an idea can have the opportunity to create a business, equipping the next generation with the technology skills they need and championing women in technology.
It means that I am out most evenings and at the weekends I am mentoring start-ups, getting involved in roundtables on cyber security, speaking at events at schools, holding networking events for women in business or advising government groups to help make the UK a great place for business.
The worst part of my job is constantly being connected. I don’t think I am alone in finding it sometimes totally overwhelming. We were not created to be always on. Technology should enable us to be better, not control us. I completely switched off my emails last year and focused on the team. I am back on email, but in a more conscious way.
Some of the earliest pioneers in computer science were women. Yet, today women are opting out of STEM at school level and technology at career level in their droves.
We have to banish the myths, cliches and stereotypes that have evolved which say “this is not for girls”. It is. Why can’t the next billion-dollar tech company be led by a woman? And why aren’t there more technology products created for and by women? I want to change that.
It’s why I am such a big advocate for women in tech and business, ensuring that there is visibility, opportunity, education and mentorship. But much more is needed, specifically financing. I have a cunning idea up my sleeve and it’s something I want to take on in 2016, so watch this space.