In conversation with Emma Dicks, founder of AfricaCom charity partner, CodeSpace Trust
AfricaCom is proud to partner with CodeSpace Trust for 2020.
CodeSpace is a South African organisation, based in Cape Town, providing young people with the skills to excel in technology careers. We caught up with the founder Emma Dicks to find out about their work - specifically how they’re giving young people in Cape Town the skills to ‘be more powerful’.
“Learning to code for me is like giving somebody LEGO bricks... it lets someone start building the technology they can imagine and bring their ideas into reality”.
While Cape Town is a bustling home of globally renowned technology companies, there is vast youth unemployment. “The education system doesn’t currently prepare all young people to work in these super exciting tech companies”, Emma said. “The legacy of apartheid education means that most black youth are excluded from the opportunities our tech industry holds”. 6 years ago, inspired by this need to support the city’s youth and tackle the lack of diversity in the city’s boardrooms, she started a single coding class that has since grown into an organisation leading the way in bringing tech education to the country.
“The people making big decisions about the technology being built, those people aren’t black people; those people aren’t women. It just seems we’re missing out on a vast potential of our nation’s talent”.
The fourth industrial revolution needs both a broad base of people who can leverage technology effectively to augment their skills, as well as expert software developers.
Building the leaders of the future
The CodeSpace Trust runs various programmes to get young people from school to employment. A specific interest is investing in talented young women, in particular young black women, during critical career positioning times.
Across the city, they work with school teachers, equipping them to bring coding into the curriculum. “This year the President mandated schools to start teaching coding. We are able to support this initiative with our years of experience teaching coding”.
They identify young women who show exceptional talent and invest specifically in nurturing their coding ability and interest in pursuing STEM studies at a tertiary level.
From there, the “Student Tech Leaders” programme helps young women apply to STEM study paths at university and connects them to financing. As Emma notes, somebody can want a STEM career path, but without the right financial support, the gender gap will remain.
They also offer opportunities to those not looking to attend university. The Young Professional track offers the opportunity to fast track into the tech industry. Here, someone can do an intensive half year training course before starting work as a junior web developer.
CodeSpace foots the upfront cost of the training and connects them into employment. “This is a very compelling alternative to university that we have created. Whether you spend 3 years completing an undergrad, or 3 years following this route, you end up at the same earning potential after 3 years””, says Emma.
Last year, more than half of the teaching team were once students in their classes. Now working as developers and teaching the next generation, CodeSpace is a community, it’s about those relationships and giving back.
There has been an exciting change among the communities they work with. 6 years ago, the invitation for young women to attend coding classes would need to be framed in an entirely different way - ‘become leaders’ or ‘learn about technology’. Today, most young people and their parents are enthused about the notion of learning to code. There is a real shift in the understanding of the value of coding as a key tool to tackle some of South Africa’s biggest challenges.
Not only does CodeSpace allow young women to excel in career paths, but it also helps them gain the skills “to be even more powerful” and build real value in society.
Shaping corporate ways of being
The question so often asked on panels regarding growing diverse talent is "how do you find talented people and provide the right environment to keep them"?
“There really needs to be this conversation between education organisations and the companies themselves”.
While CodeSpace is hugely successful in training young people, there remains a critical role for technology companies to play. We're seeing a huge shift in companies no longer expecting ‘shiny finished products’ from universities. Hiring young people is a large investment, requiring a budget, further training, and sometimes entire restructuring. Right now, following COVID-19 with an increase in remote working and more flexible hours, there’s great opportunity for companies to consider how they re-structure the workplace.
A Queen’s Young Leader and a pioneer in South African education
Emma is recognised globally by “Fortune Most Powerful Women” for her work in social entrepreneurship. She has also been honoured a Queen’s Young Leader Award. For Emma, walking through the gates of Buckingham Palace was a tangible representation of what she wants to offer young black women: A breaking down of barriers,, “ you really go in and bring about the change you wish to see”.