Women With Awesome Jobs: Amali de Alwis, CEO of Code First: Girls

£5m of tech education given away for free. Here's how she does it.

Code First: Girls is one of our very favourite organisations. Why? Because they’re actively working to increase the number of women in tech, and absolutely smashing it.

Over the last three years, Code First: Girls has delivered over five million pounds’ worth of free tech education, and taught more than 8,000 women how to code for free.

We chatted to CEO and all-round superwoman Amali de Alwis to find out how she made that happen.

Hey, Amali! Those are some incredible numbers you’ve achieved so far with Code First: Girls. Can you tell us how you got there?

Our combination of dedicated instructors across the country, incredibly supportive partners, and our overall motivation to make these figures into a reality have all been key.

Our mission has also been supported by increased public awareness of the need for a more gender-balanced tech workforce. Last year, we saw incredible kickback across a host of industries with the #PayMeToo movement, and we’re proud of how Code First: Girls has been able to contribute to improving diversity and inclusion in the tech workforce.

We’ve all heard about the ‘Confidence Gap’: the idea that women are held back in the workplace by a lack of confidence in their own abilities. Is that something you relate to?

Having self-doubt or questioning your abilities is something that transcends industries and can apply to both men and women. However, in the tech environment, I feel it is exacerbated by the fact that on a physical level, there are many instances where women can find themselves grossly outnumbered by men in a team or meeting.

Literally being the only woman in the room can naturally be a bit daunting, especially if you start to go down a path of comparison or feeling the need to conform.

Code First: Girls at Microsoft Reactor

Diversity isn’t just about making a company look good. In your experience, how do companies benefit from diverse hiring?

Where do I begin! There is so much value in having diverse teams in tech. As the situation currently stands, the majority of the software and tech products being designed are made by men, when for many products, at least half of their users are women.

Having a team that is gender diverse opens up a whole other spectrum of thinking and problem solving, insights that may have never entered the discourse otherwise. The same can be said for having cultural and other types of diversity in the tech workforce.

“Our students don’t need any previous qualifications”

Having a pool of people with different views, backgrounds, and upbringings means you have whole new skillsets being applied to problem-solving.

Thankfully, I think many tech companies are now beginning to see the kind of competitive edge having internal diversity can bring, and are starting to work to try and improve.

In the UK, Code First: Girls teaches more women to code than universities do. Why do you think that is?

As an organisation that sits outside of the traditional education system, we had a blank slate to design training programmes that met needs that weren’t being fulfilled, without the pre-existing limitations that a traditional university might face.

Courses are taught in the evenings to fit around people’s existing lives

For example, our students don’t need any previous qualifications, and the courses are coursework rather than exam based. Additionally, courses are taught in the evenings to fit around people’s existing lives, and are delivered by passionate individuals with a practical focus. And of course one of the biggest advantages – the community courses are free!

That combined with the amazing support that we get from our volunteers, instructors and partners like Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Trainline, Goldman Sachs, OVH and KKR, means that we’ve reduced a lot of the barriers that would traditionally exist for young women who want to learn to code, and we can deliver courses that are practical and informed by businesses who actually hire tech talent.

Are you planning to expand to other countries?

It’s definitely something we’re thinking about, but for right now for our free coding courses only operate in the UK and Ireland. Especially with the significant growth of courses related to our 2020 campaign, we will be focusing our community-side activities on the campaign in the coming 12 months before thinking about any further expansion, including geographic.

We do however work with some great companies on global commercial projects. For example, we recently wrapped up the first year of the fantastic Code Like a Girl ‘train the trainer’ programme with Vodafone, which helped Vodafone run coding courses for girls aged 14-18 across 24 countries. Those types of projects are really exciting, and we hope to do more like that in the coming year.

Amali shows off the new BT programme she’s been working on

Sounds like you’ve had a terrific year. What’s next?

We already have so many exciting things lined up! We will be continuing to run hundreds of free coding courses for young women across the UK as part of our 2020 campaign. Additionally, we’re just finishing off an amazing programme with BT, which sees us training 30 women of all ages for free, with BT guaranteeing all women who successfully complete the programme a job offer.

I am also one of London Tech Week’s ambassadors this year, and we’ll be helping them to think about how London can continue to be a global leader in tech, and do so in a way that supports the amazing diversity and abilities we have here.

And of course, we’ll have our Annual Conference, Northern conference, ‘Hack your career events’, ‘Ones to Watch’ list and our Fintech mentoring programme which we run with Bank of America Merrill Lynch, as well as all our commercial work with companies to help train their staff and create more diverse tech workforces.

So lots keeping us busy, and plenty of ways for people to get involved, whatever their interest in us.

Want to hear more? Here’s Code First: Girls’ website, and you can follow Amali on Twitter here

Holly Brockwell
About Holly Brockwell 288 Articles
Tech addict Holly founded Gadgette in 2015, and won Woman of the Year for it. She's firmly #TeamAndroid, has ambitions to become a robot, and beat all other Hollies to her awesome Twitter handle.