Girls in Tech: how did we get here?

We’re kicking off a series to accompany a new three-year project supported by Comic Relief, which aims to challenge sexism in the digital sector. Here Max Baczynski from the Apps for Good Business Development team examines the history of some of the issues facing girls in tech. Later blogs will focus on what we’re doing to try to improve diversity in the tech sector as part of the project, and, in true Apps for Good style, where we’re succeeding and where we’re failing.

We all know that women are terribly underrepresented in tech, with only 17% of positions in the UK tech industry filled by women. The real question is why? What happened to women in computer science?

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The ups and downs of a young woman in tech

In the latest blog in our TechFuture Women series, Sian Davies an Apps for Good Expert shares her experiences of being a young woman in tech.

Looking out from our stand at my first technology expo I could see I was in a distinct minority – of the approximately 6000 delegates, sponsors and exhibitors wandering the floor at the huge glass and steel exhibition centre I could spot a female face for about every 40 or 50 men filing past. It was unnerving to realise that so few women were at an event where I was representing my company as a technical consultant. Every software pitch I did that day was to a man or group of men, moreover I noticed that a number of women hovering on the outskirts of their exhibitor’s stands were dressed in matching outfits and stilettoes, handing out branded freebies, and were evidently not being called upon to contribute their technical expertise.

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‘Being a young woman making her way in the tech industry is challenging’ . Sian Davies

By the time I returned to the same event the following year, the balance had changed; not only had my small company hired another female consultant, there were also noticeably more women in attendance. Suddenly it felt like women were everywhere; on the stands delivering demos, in the classrooms leading workshops, walking round in delegations looking for their next piece of kit, holding conference with other delegates in cosy corners. I certainly wasn’t looking at a 50:50 mix, but something closer to 60:40 had found its way into the hall.

Emboldened by witnessing the speed of such a positive change at the expo, I returned to London ready to get stuck in to my next two projects. The first, had me walking into an 8-strong IT team, all men, who regarded me with the same expression I think they would greet a martian who walked in off the street to tell them how to configure their servers best for analytics. The second, a pre-sales demonstration in the West Country, during which the rep frustratingly referred to me as “poppet” in front of the client, invited a reaction from me following that meeting that I’m not altogether proud of. Neither project went smoothly for me and I found myself dispirited, feeling I was lacking support from within my team and enthusiasm for being a trailblazer diminishing.

And that’s the core challenge of being a young woman making her way in the tech industry, it is a challenging experience marked by ups and downs. This is a world that moves rapidly, at almost breath-taking speed sometimes, and is therefore primed for diversity in greater proportion than other industries. But at the same time, while that diversity remains a work in progress, we find ourselves without a support network or role model to guide us on how to best handle the hostile native IT team, the sexist salesman, or our own impatience for progress. This is why initiatives like The TechFuture Women’s Network are so important to help mentor young girls and to ensure that both young boys and girls understand that women have a role to play in the world of tech.

Are you a woman in tech looking to inspire young people and help them discover the opportunities of the tech world? Join the TechFuture Women’s Network now, the first mentoring opportunity available is to become an Apps for Good Expert and help guide young people as they develop their own problem-solving apps.

Women should look towards a career in technology from an early age

In the latest blog in our TechFuture Women series, Apps for Good Expert Dianna Yau shares her journey to become a woman in tech.

My journey to become a women in tech was more or less accidental. It started with an internship at IBM, one of the largest, global technology companies where I was exposed to technology transforming enterprises. I wanted to work there because they offered one of the most competitive internships at my university. The following semester, I interned at Google, where my motivation was to work for one of the coolest companies in the world, not mainly because it was in tech. Then I plunged into the startup ecosystem, which is inherently technology driven but that was more because I was attracted to the entrepreneurial, go-getter energy and personas surrounding startups.

I feel lucky that I literally fell into technology because now my life mission and vision is intricately tied to tech. My mission is to leverage technology as the driver of solutions in education, poverty, and healthcare in our global society. However, more women should from an early age intentionally consider technology as a path. Early on I shied away from engineering and tech because it was a “manly” field and I just didn’t “get it”. We fear what we don’t know.

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‘Women should from an early age consider technology as a career path.’ Dianna Yau

I look back now and wish technology had a clearer path for my younger self. If I had a woman mentor early on who served as an example and dispelling the various myths, perhaps I would have discovered my passion for technology earlier on. But rather than just wishing what could have or should have been, let’s start paving the pathway to technology for our future generation of girls and boys through exposure, mentorship, and education. This means having women tech leaders championing efforts to get more girls and boys into tech early on, even from primary school. Another is to dissolve the gender stereotype that tech is a male dominated field and females are not welcome. This can only happen if there is a more equal split between the number of men and women in the tech world – we only believe what we can see. Lastly it’s important to integrate technology into the education system to help young people see that it’s as much a necessity today to learn digital skills as it is to learn how to type.

Are you a woman in tech? Would you like to help inspire girls and boys about the role women can play in the tech industry? Join the TechFuture Women’s Network now! The first mentoring opportunity available is to become an Apps for Good Expert and help guide young people as they develop their own problem-solving apps.

‘I have yet to speak to a student who wasn’t enthusiastic about their idea’

In October 2015 Apps for Good, Capgemini and the Tech Partnership launched the TechFuture Women’s Network. The Network invites women working in digital and technology roles to join a community of professionals taking part in programmes that promote technology in schools. The first opportunity available to women joining the Network is to become an Apps for Good Expert. In this blog Adele Every who joined the TechFuture Network shares her experience.

Absolutely awestruck, that was feeling I had when I stepped out of my last Apps for Good session. During the 40 minute Skype session, I’d been listening to app ideas from a group of students in Bolton. Their ideas ranged from an app which challenged classmates to compete with one another to finish homework on time, to a heart-warming self-help app for children with mental health problems.

I signed up to be an expert for Apps for Good, via the TechFuture Women’s Network last year after there was an internal news story explaining how people could get engaged. I was instantly keen to get involved and I quickly signed up to be an Expert ticking off the appropriate areas where I felt I could add most value (ideation and screening, marketing, career conversations). I felt so excited to be getting engaged in a programme that helps teach digital skills to the next generation!  After several sessions I even started talking to my clients about Apps for Good and many were eager to become Experts too. This really demonstrates how important it was to pretty much everyone I spoke to in the private and public sector to teach digital skills to our children in order to widen their career prospects.


‘Digital skills are no longer a nice to have,’ Adele Every, Capgemini.

84% of employers in the UK believe it is important for young people to have digital skills, which really highlights the importance of helping young people build these skills. Worryingly a gender imbalance still exists with only 17% of women choosing to follow careers in IT. The facts speak for themselves, digital skills are no longer a nice to have, they are a necessity for both men and women, no matter what industry or career path they choose, and businesses of all sizes all around the country will look for and value those skills.

So how can we encourage all kids, girls and boys, to develop digital skills? I believe it’s about making tech fun and inclusive; gone are the days of the reclusive techy, sporting sandals and overgrown facial hair… today tech leaders are collaborators, communicators, visionaries and women (!!!). I try to bring out these messages, sharing my experiences and perspectives in the sessions with the students.

I have yet to speak to a student on the Apps for Good programme who wasn’t enthusiastic about their idea, who didn’t think it was fun. All of the students have been able to coherently discuss the idea with me, as well as openly and confidently asking for help and and taking on suggestions to grow their ideas. In learning how to develop their own apps, these young people are developing much wider skills than simply coding. They have become more connected to their fellow students collaborating on ideas passionately seeking to solve the problems they perceive in their own environment with a belief that they can and will make a difference.

Are you a woman in tech looking to inspire young people and help them discover the opportunities of the tech world? Join the TechFuture Women’s Network now, the first mentoring opportunity available is to become an Apps for Good Expert and help guide young people as they develop their own problem-solving apps.

UX for Change: Taking the plunge as an Apps for Good Dragon!

Claire Unwin, Systems Analyst at Atos, shares her experience of taking the plunge and becoming an Apps for Good Expert. 

On the upper floor of a lively pub near Moorgate, I attended the inaugural Meetup of UX for Change. Sandra Gonzalez, who I’d met through the Axure London Meetups, had a vision to shape the next generation of UX Designers. We’d all heard about the government initiatives to get children coding, but what about getting children learning thoughtful, user centred design skills?

It was an enthralling and energising evening for me. Sandra had assembled a fantastic group of UX panellists, able to share their experience of the industry and their vision for the future. One key speaker, Debbie Forster, CEO of Apps for Good told the story of how the initiative “Where young people learn to create apps that change their world” had grown 400% in the last 2 years. Supported by a network of ‘experts’ in the field and industry, schools sign up to a program of taking a mobile app from concept to coding to launch. I have over 20 years’ experience in software delivery including mobile but always in a commercial, profit driven environment. Here was my chance to share experience and be part of something really good!

So the next day, I checked out the Apps for Good website, read anecdotes from other industry experts, watched the videos of their experience giving Skype calls with school groups for Ideas Screening or UX Design modules and then eventually, (yes I know – far too cautious!), I took the plunge.

Registered as an ‘expert’, I chose the modules where I felt I could add value and waited to see what happened. An email arrived inviting volunteers to support Skype sessions with schools. I booked a session with a primary school for the following Thursday, in my lunch hour. When Thursday came, I booked a meeting room at work and then sat nervously waiting for the school to contact me on Skype. The children were great – very engaged, equally nervous and despite the technology failing a couple of times in the 40 minutes, the teacher was on hand to get us re-connected, as he put one group in front of the camera at a time.

Nerves out of the way, I now try and do a session a month to fit in with the day job and I was thrilled to be asked to be a ‘Dragon’ at an in school pitch event being run at Denbigh High  in Luton last month.


‘I was thrilled to be asked to be a ‘Dragon’ at an in school pitch event’ 

Keeping up the UX for Change momentum, I most recently supported the initiative to design Lean Personas for a Humanitarian cause which tested our ability to imagine what needs, fears and motivations a young, vulnerable, pregnant refugee may have for a mobile app.  For me, in exchange for a small amount of time or the crowdfunding donation of the Meetup ticket, UX for Change and Apps for Good provide an opportunity to grow and learn. So I’m very glad I went to that noisy pub in Moorgate last year.

International Women’s Day: Don’t be afraid to discover new things

Katie is a member of the Apps for Good Fellowship and co-creator of Apps for Good Awards winning app, I’m Okay. Ahead of International Women’s Day Katie, and other girls from the Apps for Good Fellowship,  joined us for a Discover Careers in Tech session with Apps for Good Expert Jenny Fallover.  

Last Wednesday I was lucky enough to join an online session with the Fellowship and Jenny Fallover from Thomson Reuters to learn what it is like to work in tech, what skills we need to be successful and how to get into the tech industry. Here are my key takeaways from the session:

Nobody should feel they cannot do something because of who they are
I quickly learnt that Jenny didn’t initially plan to work in the tech industry and saw computing as a hobby, mainly because it was seen as a male dominated profession and, arguably, still is. Jenny made it very clear that there is no such thing as a male or female job and consolidated the idea that nobody should feel that they cannot do something because of who they are.

Discover what is out there and what you enjoy doing

There are many different kinds of career opportunities in tech, ranging from project manager to technical writer or software engineer. Jenny advised us to research and try out different opportunities, writing down what we like doing, what we would like in a future job and what our strengths are. 

Jenny reinforced the idea that we shouldn’t pigeonhole ourselves and I really agree with her; the tech industry is always changing and there are so many different opportunities in tech that we should try to not pass up an offer that could spark a path for our future. Jenny also suggested we seek opportunities to work with diverse teams, which can spark a variety of different ideas and inspire us to be creative!

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Katie with her I’m Okay teammates.

When seeking opportunities, it never hurts to ask!

When giving advice about finding work experience, Jenny emphasised that we should never be afraid to ask. Effective ways to gain work experience include sending letters and emails or walking into an office to ask. Employers are desperate for people in tech; Jenny recalled having three interviews and being offered a job in all three!

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

When I asked which programming language would be the most useful to learn for a job, Jenny replied that it mostly depended on the type of job. However Java, python and HTML are very widely used.

I also learned that if you do have an idea don’t be afraid to use open source code or to ask for help, as there are many people who will be happy to review your code or check for bugs. GitHub is one website where you can easily find inspiration and collaborate on projects.

I really enjoyed this Fellows hangout session, it felt great to celebrate International Women’s Day by discussing the tech world with other girls and getting such great insights from Jenny.

Do you want to join in our next Fellows Hangout? Apps for Good students can join The Fellowship to discover future hangouts and many more opportunities.

Want to hear Jenny’s take on the session click here to read her blog.

International Women’s Day: celebrate what makes you unique for a career in tech

Jenny Fallover is Project Manager at Thomson Reuters and is a member of our Expert Community.  Ahead of International Women’s Day 2016 Jenny shared her expertise with a group of  girls from the Apps for Good Fellowship for our Discover Careers in Tech session.

I became an Apps for Good Expert, and haven’t looked back since.

I first got involved with Apps for Good when the wonderful Bob Schukai MBE, Head of Applied Innovation at Thomson Reuters asked me if I wanted to co-mentor the award winning app I’m Okay, which supports LGBTQI young people and is available on the Google Play store.

I jumped at the chance and enjoyed the experience so much that I became regular Apps for Good Expert and haven’t looked back since. One of the things that struck me about Apps for Good was the equal participation of male and female pupils. Having worked in technology since the 1990’s I have always felt like a minority in the industry and unfortunately the number of females in technology seems to be dropping. Encouraging young females into careers in STEM starts at school, and Apps for Good does such a fantastic job of harnessing their creativity and enthusiasm and teaching them real world business and technology skills.

The team behind I'm Okay

I’m Okay were the first Apps for Good team that Jenny worked with

My career path could have been very different.

During the online session with the girls, I spoke about my journey into technology and how it was a hobby for me from a young age. I never imagined it could be a career for me until a male manager spotted me giving colleagues technical help and proposed that I was sent on a day release to study business information technology. If it hadn’t been for him my career path could have been very different.

Technology changes rapidly, so it’s important to listen and learn.

We discussed my experience of how the technology landscape has changed over the years, what skills are core to any role in the field (for example, being a strong communicator, creative and open-minded, and a good problem solver). We discussed how young people can think about what their strengths are, and do their research to find a role that makes the most of these. We also talked about sticking to a five year plan, since technology changes so rapidly and so do the roles. It’s important to develop your listening and learning skills.

Celebrate what makes you unique.

One of the other key topics we spoke about was how diversity is good for business. Many case studies have shown that when people collaborate in teams across different backgrounds, it makes for a more creative and successful workforce. I encouraged the Fellows to embrace and celebrate any differences they have, rather than hide them, as by being different they are bringing something special to the table.

We also discussed not pigeon-holing yourself and never assuming a role has a gender. If you are capable and are excited to pursue something then stay determined, never give up and never be afraid to ask for help to reach your goals.

Creating opportunities to support young technologists.

Finally, we spoke about work experience and internships.  The fellows expressed that finding these positions at companies was challenging.  This is where Apps for Good and companies that are interested in the next generation of tech talent can help.  If your company isn’t partnering with organisations like Apps for Good to provide positions to students like the Fellows, then they should be- as they are missing out on a very keen and talented pipeline.

I look forward to being involved in further events like this, as it’s exciting to think that the future of technology is in the hands of these bright and talented individuals, thanks to Apps for Good.

Are you a woman in tech? Would you like to help inspire girls and boys about the role women can play in the tech industry? Join the TechFuture Women’s Network now to become an Apps for Good Expert and to avail of other mentoring opportunities. 

Click here to see what Katie, one of our Apps for Good Fellows, thought of the session.