Kate Kirwin: Why I #ChoosetoChallenge the tech industry

Kate Kirwin, She Codes Founder

On International Women's Day 2021, the Robert Walters Group and She Codes were proud to launch the #IWDCodingChallenge, a global virtual coding challenge designed to give women without coding experience a taste for a technical career. 

We caught up with Kate Kirwin, She Codes founder and recent winner of the West Australian Rising Star and Business News 40under40 awards to talk about the #IWDCodingChallenge, how she's overcome challenges in her career and why she's on a mission to tackle tech's gender gap. 

Tell us about  She Codes

At She Codes we are trying to radically change what diversity in tech looks like by providing education opportunities for women to upskill and move into tech careers. We also want to tear down the stereotypes around tech and give a more realistic view of what a technical career looks like. 
To do this we have created a pipeline of programs, so women can start by dipping their toes in the water with a one-day workshop (or fun online tutorial) through to a 6-month part-time program, balanced around work and other life commitments to become job ready.  
What makes She Codes different is that we partner with the Australian Government and the tech industry to provide these programs for free. We know that diversity offers a lot of great benefits to businesses - it makes teams happier, more innovative and productive. There's so much research that evidences how good diversity is for businesses - we want to help employers leverage those opportunities whilst also making it more accessible for a wide range of women to gain the skills and connections they need to enter a technical career.

How did  She Codes start?  

I’m not a developer, I don’t have a background in tech. I got curious about tech and coding after joining Spacecubed, an organisation that provides co-working spaces and support for start-ups, as an events coordinator. I started going to tech meetups and events and I noticed that these were heavily male dominated and more advanced than I needed at the time. All the acronyms went way over my head! At a similar time, a member of the coworking community invited me to collaborate with him on an event for women. We ran more events and, after he relocated, I decided to just keep growing what we'd started. 

What makes you so passionate about women in tech? 

There are many benefits to having a diverse workforce - from productivity to cultural, yet women currently hold just 29% of tech jobs in Australia. A recent study has also shown that we need 200,000 more people in tech in Australia by 2025 to stay globally competitive. These stats show that there's a lot of opportunity in the industry that needs to be leveraged. 

The tech industry is also a relatively high paying industry which, combined with its inherent adaptability to flexible working, offers huge benefits to women. As we know, women are more likely to flex their work around caring responsibilities, and therefore being able to work anywhere that has a computer and internet means more women can access wider career progression and development opportunities than they would in a more traditional industry. I truly believe that if we could solve diversity in tech, we could solve a lot of other social and economic problems that women face.

How have you overcome the challenges you have faced in your career and with  She Codes? 

There are always challenges. Plenty of things haven’t gone to plan in the creation of She Codes - from small tech issues to the global pandemic that we have all lived through this past year. The things that keep me going are: 

  1. The vision - we are fighting a good fight, and that makes it all worth it.  
  2. People - the She Codes community and the tech community at large are so welcoming, and always willing to jump in and help. I have an amazing team around me, and plenty of wonderful role models and mentors.
  3. Learning and experimenting - I think you have to go into challenges with a growth mindset - How can I experiment? What can I learn? and be ok with the fact that your experiments might fail.

In your opinion, how can our individual actions, conversations, behaviours and mindsets have an impact to challenge inequality? 

In my experience, the single most important thing we can do is offer an invitation. We know women are more likely to apply for a promotion or new role if they are recommended by a friend or colleague. Even something as simple as tagging someone in a post on LinkedIn can be the catalyst for change for that person. I would like to challenge everyone out there to think about one action they could take, right now, to support the women in their lives. 

I also think that we need to tear down stereotypes. If the media could stop portraying coding as a guy wearing a hoodie sitting in a basement with lines of code washing over him while he hacks a bank, that would be wonderful. 

I think these unhelpful and unrealistic stereotypes pose a major barrier to women entering tech careers as they think tech and coding isn’t for ‘people like them’. Through our #IWDCodingChallenge initiative with Robert Walters Group, we’re offering women who have never coded before a chance to try our Cupcake Smash mini-game tutorial. I hope this initiative will help more women to see that coding can be simple, fun, creative and accessible. No hoodie required!

What advice do you have for women that are looking to start a career in tech? 

Reach out to your local tech recruitment team at Robert Walters on how you can use your existing skills in tech careers, you’d be surprised by how many skills can be transferable. Secondly, find your community - go along to meetups, meet other women who are in the industry, ask them about their careers. I believe that there’s no force on earth stronger than women helping women.

Curious about coding? Try the #IWDCodingChallenge, a fun, free virtual coding challenge for complete coding beginners. Join in before 29 March 2021 for a chance to win a tech prize bundle. Find out how to take part here