We must dispel the image of a male coder sitting in a dark room all night

17 Jan 2022, 6:00

A career in tech isn’t all about coding – there are multiple other roles for young people too, writes Sukvinder Kathuria

I am proud to say that I teach a diverse group of skilled people. Among my college students are young adults who are also holding down jobs, who are carers, young mothers and adults who may think mainstream education is not for them. 

But there is still lots more to be done to get more women and people from minority backgrounds into careers in technology, my specialist area of expertise. This issue is especially relevant, with the announcement just before Christmas of new skills bootcamps, many of which focus on digital skills.  

On December 22 we were told four new areas will have access to the bootcamps: Lancashire, Hull and East Yorkshire, Tees Valley and North of Tyne. The prime minister has previously said the bootcamps are “where you can learn IT, whatever your age”. 

However, we also know from FE Week’s reporting a year ago that many of the skills bootcamps were dominated by men, and the government’s equalities impact assessment had lots of recommendations to bring in more female and minority ethnic learners. 

So how can the gender imbalance be changed?  

Well, we must first dispel the idea of what a career in digital looks like. You don’t need to sit in a dark room all night every night coding, be male, and wear glasses, a checked shirt and jeans in order to work in technology. People in tech come from all walks of life.  

One student I worked with even changed her A-levels to STEM subjects after being inspired to follow a career in tech and is currently completing an apprenticeship in a well-known multinational professional services company.

We also need to challenge the perception that tech is just about coding. I would argue that isn’t true: there are many roles in tech that don’t require coding as a skill. This includes helping with digital transformation within a company, product design and project management roles. Junior level salaries within these roles can reach close to £30,000.

Instead, we need to make it clear to students that projects start at a conceptual level, and that this requires creative thinking, teamwork, the ability to meet deadlines and other transferable skills.

The tech industry is a fast-moving and exciting place to be, where your thinking skills are as important – if not more important – as your technical skills at the outset.

Your thinking skills are as important – if not more – than your technical skills

Just like any other industry, if you are committed, you can succeed in this space.  

To increase the number of women entering the industry, we cannot wait for people to come to us. Community within the industry is vitally important.

For those who have been successful in the industry, it is so important that they help those just starting out. I can say first-hand that companies are reaching out to diversify and support women and girls to begin their journey and stay in the technology pipeline.

Meanwhile, colleges like ours must continue making a concerted effort to engage people in all communities to give them opportunities in technology. The college prides itself on engaging people from under-represented and diverse backgrounds. The companies we work with share our mission to improve representation within tech roles.

To those who think it always will be like this, think of pioneers such as English mathematician Ada Lovelace, and computer and rocket scientist Annie Easley.

Or electrical engineer Kimberly Bryant, founder of Black Girls CODE; Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code; and finally Liane Agbi, CEO and founder of lifestyle website BAUCE.

They each took the opportunity to work in technology and flourished. There are more to come, and I cannot wait to add more names to this list.

There is a talent pool of diverse young digital-savvy individuals out there. If they cannot make it in technology, we as a sector have failed them.

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