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Where are the female coders?

Last year, rapper and singer Will.i.am declared coders the new rock stars. It was a remarkable endorsement of a type of career that still conjures images of anaemic young men in dark rooms, hunched over rows of glowing computer screens. 

This stereotype has been around for many years and is a reason we still don’t see enough young women getting into coding. Other common misconceptions are that coding isn’t for creative people and certainly not for social people.

Well, let me bust some myths right here. Coding is challenging, fascinating, creative and hugely addictive. Seeing people take delight in what I’ve created, or benefit from something I’ve done, is enormously satisfying.

At Powershop I work across teams to help design and build our website and mobile apps. As they go through the complex development process, it’s my job to ensure the experience of using them remains fun, engaging and awesome.

I think it’s a real shame just a small percentage of Kiwi developers are female and the dropout rates for females studying computer science are much higher than for males. It’s also an issue because the technology sector is increasingly influential. For systems to work for everyone, there needs to be diversity among the people who build them.

If any particular group is under-represented, then a whole bunch of problems aren’t being solved. And let’s not forget that developers are in high demand and well paid. New Zealand currently has a serious shortage of software developers, with estimates that 10,000 new roles will need to be filled over the next three years.

Unlike many jobs, developers can work from anywhere in the world, with many companies open to remote working. I wanted to challenge some of these assumptions with the work I do, so I started the Wellington chapter of Rails Girls. It’s a completely different event from your traditional ‘pub style’ programmer meetup.

It provides a fun, creative space for newbies to learn and work on projects alongside more senior members of the coding community.

There are a range of women coming to Rails Girls. Around half are already employed in technical roles and want to upskill or move from front end development into back end programming.

We have IT project managers, creative directors and even a high school teacher who wants to take information back to her class. We have a young girl whose dad has been teaching her python and another girl who wants to get into game development. Learning to code is becoming a critical part of our education.

Just as you would learn another language, we need to learn the language of computers.

The technology sector is becoming increasingly influential and for systems to work for everyone, there needs to be diversity in the people who build them. Being part of this is critical to us having a say in our future.

Kelly Cheesman is an interaction designer and developer at online electricity retailer Powershop and is the founder of Rails Girls in Wellington, an event and network for women interested in coding. 

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