Women Taking Over Tech in Johannesburg
International Women’s Day feels like both a victory and a defeat. While it’s wonderful to have a day to mark the contributions and importance of women in history and society, it’s a bit sad that we still have to have it.
I think that’s why I was so happy to see us start our celebrations early this year, as we hosted Django Girls free coding workshop in our Johannesburg home base this past Saturday. With fifty women spending their weekend learning to code, one would never have imagined the tech industry to be wanting of women.
This is not new for us. Supporting women in tech is a part of what we do and how we work. We’ve previously hosted the workshop twice in our Cape Town office, inspiring our colleagues Mitso Qalaba and Thania Abrahams to plan one for Johannesburg.
Coding is a language just like any other, and its importance in the field of technology can’t be overstated. “You do not have to be a programmer or love programming to be in tech. But you do need programming skills.” Belinda Lewis, product owner at Praekelt.com, conveyed to the audience.
Just as the knowledge of French can be helpful for fields as diverse as diplomacy to wines, coding is useful for everything from social media to graphic design. Estee Liebenberg, Service Designer at Praekelt.org, often writes scopes of work for engineers who build projects with Django. “In order to communicate better and design better solutions that can be met in the strict timelines, I want to speak the engineers’ language and to get into their shoes.” Ayanda Nkuna, senior graphic designer, shared her journey. “When I studied there were only four girls in my multimedia graphic design class. Although coding isn’t new to me. Coding from scratch is very new. ”
Like language, learning how to code is one thing, but having the confidence to apply it is another. Creating community is a crucial component of the workshop. Applicants share stories, engage in movement exercises and meditate together. Abrahams and Qalaba created a Slack group for applicants and mentors to continue support post-workshop.
The shared mission of the importance of women to be more represented in technology was palpable. “Coding is a male dominated industry, and I wanted to be part of the females in this workshop,” Yanga Fesi from Gauteng’s Dept. of Education added. “These skills are invaluable. I hope when I have perfected coding to give back to society by joining an NGO and teach other girls on how to code and hopefully they can join the industry.” The ladies were on a mission. Abrahams joked that one of their challenges was getting them to take breaks: “they were all in the coding zone!”
The buzz word in the current gender movement is intersectionality, and holding the workshop for the first time in Johannesburg, diversity was also top of mind. Nyari Samushonga, Managing Director at Thoughtworks, spoke on this aspect “just because we are the same gender or race doesn’t always mean we are the same.” Nyari talked about often being the only black female in boardroom meetings. Nyari’s success was an inspiration to many who attended. “I’m literally trying to change my life. I want to use coding to be like Nyari,” Mantikana Manthata, a student said.
This International Women’s Day as people come together to promote gender equity, let’s remember that we are all working towards a world where women have the right to self-determination and self-expression — and that they are given the access, skills, and support to shape their own lives for this to be a reality.
As Nkuna states: “Why did I come? I want to be a woman who codes and develops.”
Written by Ambika Samarthya, Head of Communications, Praekelt.org with contributions from #DjangoGirlsJHB
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