Conjure the image of a coder and, right or wrongly, many of us will picture a man. Probably white. If he’s from Brighton – most likely hirsute. You could be forgiven for doing so as, sadly, the tech industry is outrageously skewed towards caucasian blokes who may or may not have beards.
This imbalance makes even less sense when you consider the first coders were actually women and that IBM had its first female vice-president in 1943. Trying to dissect the myriad societal reasons why the tech industry is unable to sort out its diversity problem – despite everyone in tech knowing it has a diversity problem – is an essay for another day but for now we’re just so pleased that codebar Brighton exist.
Codebar run free programming workshops for underrepresented groups in tech. They’re taught by pros who care passionately about growing a diverse tech community and believe in the power of coders to change the world (which, FYI, they totally can). We caught up with Cassie Evans, one of codebar Brighton’s core organizers, to chat programming, pipelines, and toys for boys.
PLATF9RM : Hey Cassie! How did codebar Brighton start?
Cassie: codebar Brighton was started shortly after codebar in London was set up. The first London codebar was started by Despo Pantera when she realised that as a female web developer, she was in the minority. About seven months later Rosa Emerald and Tom Ashworth threw the first codebar Brighton at Clearleft. It’s been running for four years now, we’re now one of the most active chapters, and Clearleft still host us regularly.
How many people have taken a Codebar Brighton session since you started?
A lot! We throw workshops every Tuesday evening with about 20 students coming along. We also organise occasional weekend workshops with even more student spaces. It’s hard to put an exact number but definitely over 800.
That’s amazing! What personally drives you to be involved?
The initial drive was so I would still have a place to learn! Before becoming an organiser, I was coming along as a student. The previous organisers started moving away from Brighton with their careers, and I was determined to keep the community together. Having people to encourage you and help when you get stuck is so important when you’re learning to code. I also feel strongly about contributing towards a more diverse tech scene. Technology is woven into everything around us and a huge part of our future. We need diverse representation to ensure that technological advances support everyone..
Amen. Why does the tech industry have a diversity problem?
It’s difficult to give a blanket answer as the struggles of each group are different. It’s also a reflection of a bigger societal issue. But a large part of it is to do with the “male computer geek” stereotype. In the 80s, computers were marketed quite heavily as gaming toys for boys and somehow that cultural stigma’s still pretty ingrained. Representation is important. People are less likely to be drawn to an industry that doesn’t appear to include them, and those biases affect decisions when it comes to hiring too. It’s not just tech savvy white men who have a knack for coding. In fact, in the 60’s, programming was a mainly female profession.
Can Brighton, with its community of progressive organisations like codebar Brighton and Brighton Digital Women, play a role in changing this?
I really hope so. One of the main excuses you hear from large tech companies is that diversity is a “pipeline” problem. They say: “There simply just aren't enough properly skilled members of under represented groups for hire.” Whether this holds any actual weight is debatable, but codebar’s definitely helping to fill that pipeline. There’s also a lot of amazing companies in brighton that really support what we’re doing. So the future feels positive!
Do you think there needs to a better approach to teaching coding in schools to encourage diversity?
I personally think the focus needs to be at a higher level. Coding and programming logic is being taught to kids in both primary and secondary school in the UK now. The focus needs to be on hiring and nurturing the careers of underrepresented groups within the industry.
Have you had any particular success stories?
Tons of success stories! Last year we had eight students go from no knowledge of coding into their first development jobs. In fact the current organisers of codebar Brighton – Zara, Alice and I – are all previous codebar students.