The time is now for a career in tech. In Scotland the average salary for a Software Engineer is £46,209 and every year there are over 11,000 vacancies in the digital tech sector. This will only continue grow. Yet, women make up only 23% of tech roles and although this has increased by 5% in 2012, progress is slow. How can we bridge the digital skills gap while also addressing the gender imbalance?
We sat down with Melinda Matthews Clarkson CEO of CodeClan, Scotland’s first digital coding academy, to discuss how anyone can train to be a professional Software Developer in 16 weeks and why women should consider a career in coding. Melinda tells us how they are embedding the principles of diversity, inclusion and wellness into the fabric of CodeClan – from the physical environment to the mentoring provided for students.
Code Clan was established for career changers, so we are looking for people who want to change direction, are passionate about tech or want to solve a problem using digital.
Tell me a little bit about CodeClan and what you are trying to achieve?
M: Every year in Scotland there are around 11,000 open vacancies in tech, and we simply do not have enough people to fill these roles. CodeClan was established three years ago as Scotland’s first digital skills academy, and its goal is to bridge the digital skills gap. We want to ensure that Scotland is harvesting its own talent, but we also make it our mission to help students find jobs that are right for them. You come in to learn software development, but over the four months we also work with our students to develop confidence, help them understand the digital technology market and ensure they are job ready when they leave.
How important is diversity & inclusion to CodeClan?
M: Diversity in gender and gender identification are also extremely important to us. We have found that when the student cohorts have a better gender balance, they learn more, they are happier and they are placed in roles faster after they graduate.
Since I have started working here, I have made a conscious effort to ensure the physical environment is inclusive for women. When I arrived, the energy was all wrong – what I can only describe as a teenage boy’s basement, so I introduced plants and tablecloths and took away sexist computing games. Of course students can play these games if they wish, but they are no longer visible in our learning and working environment. Changing the physical environment has had a positive impact: when I arrived 20% of our students were female, and now it sits at around 32 – 35%. I do believe that a lot of companies don’t recognise how impactful the physical environment is on culture.
We have a very diverse model at CodeClan. 50% of our students are Scottish and 50% are international, and being so culturally diverse is amazing! When you are in tech, what you want to do is think like users of technology; that is why cultural diversity is very important. We are fortunate that has naturally happened here.
We have found that when the student cohorts have a better gender balance, they learn more, they are happier and they are placed in roles faster after they graduate.
For women who are interested in getting into tech but aren’t 100% certain what advice would you give to them?
M: We have an information session and we have 50% women show up, which is great, but we don’t get a 50% conversion into it. I think women are much more risk averse. You do have to quit your job and become a full-time student for 16 weeks – it is not easy. So, we talk about overcoming that risk and share stories about people who have done it. One woman was an Event Manager who realised after covering maternity leave for her boss that a career path in Events was not for her. She took a risk, knowing she wasn’t going to have the same salary as she currently had. But she had two children and she wanted a job that could accommodate a better work life balance. She wanted to work four days a week as well as the option to work from home. After the 16 weeks she was able to come out of CodeClan with the salary she expected and was able to work one day a week from home. The quality of the life you can have from a tech job is what you make it and the work can be very flexible. When women join CodeClan we ask them what they want, and we help them build that into their job search, personal statement and interview skills. If you want work life balance, ask for it! See what you can get. The confidence that CodeClan builds is transformational, and typically women are more likely to secure roles before they graduate than men.
When women join CodeClan we ask them what they want, and we help them build that into their job search, personal statement and interview skills.
What type of roles can people expect after CodeClan?
M: There are many jobs you can go into after training with us. You could be a programmer or tester or you could be managing operational aspects of development. Some people get roles as what I like to call ‘digital translators’ where they work between the client and those who develop the technology. Women usually have a high level of emotional intelligence with the ability to read faces and attitudes, which is important for client facing roles. Coming to CodeClan they gain the technical knowledge and are able speak to the development team.
What types of skills and experience are you looking for in a student?
M: You don’t have to have any substantial coding experience, but at the interview process you will get asked what you know about code. There will be a logic test including puzzles and diagramming which is really important. But we also ask why you want to come to Code Clan. Code Clan was established for career changers, so we are looking for people who want to change direction, are passionate about tech or want to solve a problem using digital.
We had a woman who worked in retail and she wanted to make it easier to find sizes in other stores without having to phone each store individually. So, when she came to us, she built the application to make the retail experience better for customers. That is the kind of passion is what we are looking for.