Last Tuesday, thirty-five students and tutors were welcomed into Net Natives' HQ as we hosted Codebar's free weekly workshop, set up for under-represented groups to learn skills in coding.
Our very own Digital Artworker, Cassie Evans, hosted the event. In her words, here's how the evening ran:
"As a female coder, the current imbalance in representation within the workforce is a subject very close to my heart, so I was thrilled when Steve (CEO of Net Natives) agreed to host and sponsor Codebar at Net Natives HQ for an evening of pizza, networking, and learning.
I had a fantastic time being a host for the night at our HQ, and it was rewarding to watch other natives learning, tutoring, and getting into the spirit of things.
Since the event we have received excellent feedback. I had a blast, and I hope we will get the opportunity to do it again soon."
Cassie has also written a brief history of women-representation in coding for us. We hope you find it as interesting as we all did!
During the 1960’s, despite being largely under-represented in the workforce, women held almost half of the programming jobs. Today women occupy only nineteen percent of the jobs in tech.
In the decade that would usher in the first moon landing, programming was a new field and seen as a low-skill clerical post. An easy progression from secretarial work.
Everyone assumed that the real advancements lay in hardware development, so whilst men set about building the machines, women, many of whom history has all but forgotten, rolled up their sleeves and started inventing the foundations of modern software.
Coding was hardly glamorous work. NASA’s “Keypunch girls” would work in cramped rows translating programming instructions onto paper pads, whilst the machine operators would sit in comfort, feeding the code decks through card readers and enjoying the esteem of the end result (I imagine it a bit like Mad Men, but with more sexism and astronauts).
Interest and investment in emerging technologies meant that the commercial computer industry was taking off, and as more jobs started to evolve, female high school graduates began to flock to their local Art Colleges to enrol in the newly established computer courses.
"When I first got into it, nobody knew what it was that we were doing. It was like the Wild West." Margaret Hamilton
It was not long before the work of women, such as Margaret Hamilton, started to change the perception of coding. By the time Hamilton's code had landed men on the moon, men had also started to take over the world of programming.
As the field gained more prestige, programmers began working to elevate their career out of the badly paid "women's work" category. Professional associations were created that actively discouraged the hiring of women. Aptitude tests set up to decipher "the ideal programming type" were focused on advanced mathematics, a skillset more widely held by men. Even the supplementary personality tests unintentionally favoured traits which were less common in women. Nevertheless, until the early 1980s, the amount of women studying computer science remained on the rise. Along with the proliferation of personal computing came the commercially favourable stereotype of male "computer geeks". Computers were marketed as gaming machines for boys, further increasing the distance between women and the world of programming.
The systematic ejection of women from the world of computer science has had a lasting impact on the sector. Through UCAS last year there were thirteen-thousand two-hundred and ninety more men than women accepted* onto computer science related courses. That figure equates to eighty-four percent of the spaces being awarded to men.
The demand for people with coding skills is constantly increasing. To meet the current demand for tech talent we will need another one-million two-hundred-thousand code savvy people in the workforce by 2022. Tech is our future, and men and women should be playing an equal part.
Frustrated by the lack of diversity in the industry, Despo Pentara set up Codebar as a non-profit organisation, in October 2013. Pentara saw Codebar as a way of encouraging women and supporting their professional development. Experienced developers volunteer their time to help students go through tutorials or build their own projects. The expertise of the volunteers can be potentially life changing for those who access Codebar; without the help and support of people at Codebar I doubt I would have my job at Net Natives today.
Codebar now has fourteen chapters scattered all over the UK, the two busiest being London and Brighton. Their workshops and events are made possible by a range of very generous sponsors, with local companies in the digital sector hosting their weekly meet-ups
If you are interested in finding out more about the diversity gap in programming and the history of women in code, I recommend watching the documentary CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap.
For further reading, here are some resources you might find interesting:
The Computer Boys Take Over by Nathan L. Esmenger
*Acceptance is defined as an applicant who has been placed for entry into higher education through UCAS