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An Interview with Kathryn Parson from Decoded

Kathryn Parson.png "we realised so few people really truly understood the technologies impacting all our lives, jobs and increasingly the economy"

On five years of Women in Tech, Decoded and change...

Five years ago, we hadn't even launched properly. We were sitting at a kitchen table in Shoreditch trying to teach 10 people at a time Code in a Day. The ambition was to take people from zero knowledge and confidence to coding an app from scratch themselves.

We realised so few people really truly understood the technologies impacting all our lives, jobs and increasingly the economy. What was the Internet, how it is different to the web; who wrote the first line of code; what is an API?

So we wanted to decode it, by teaching you how to do it yourself. We wanted to create an immersive and most importantly fun-learning experience, designed to take away all the jargon and fear and transform people into digitally literate and active participants in the world of technology...which is increasingly just 'the world'.

It was an interesting time. "Tech City" had yet to be christened, the community was very small, tight-knit and grassroots and very few people had ever even heard of the word "code" let alone were interested in learning about it.

That all changed as Google, Apple and Facebook grew and grew and start-ups like Uber, WhatsApp and Snapchat out of nowhere emerged to disrupt entire industries. Suddenly people wanted to learn about the ingredients, cultures, languages and tools of the digital world and put their hand through the screen.

Since then we have taught tens of thousands of people face-to-face and many more online ranging from the boards of FTSE 100s, 19 year olds looking to start-up rather than go to university, retired 70 year olds, school teachers, project managers from fashion to finance across 65 different cities across the world.

This month alone we are working on digital transformation programmes with businesses in Rio, Moscow, Washington, Paris and Montenegro. Code on Tour!

Code really is a leveller, the world has changed so fast in the past 5 to 10 years, but humans have not. How many of us learnt these skills in school? I estimate that only 1% of the world understand the codes behind the screen.

And that has changed very little in the last 5 years even though the code zeitgeist has boomed.

On success and Women in Tech...

Tim Berners Lee said that 'Technology is for Everyone'. And he was right. It is potentially one of the most democratic tools which has ever existed.
Yet it suffers from a real lack of diversity. Both geographically and socio-economically thanks to a lack of access and education. But also for more invisible reasons, which are seeing women opt out of technology in their droves both at school and career level.

Most of the digital products impacting our lives, jobs and economies are written in lines of code created by men, founded by men and funded by men. I want women to be a part of the next age of technology. I don't think we even know what our digital futures would look like if women were more involved.

In terms of education, over 50% of the individuals we have taught have been female (which stands in contrast to many of the other statistics about women in technology). We capture a lot of data about the learning experience which allows us to scale high quality learning globally.

There is zero difference between a man and a woman's ability to computationally think. But women enter the technology education experience up to 30% less confident that they will succeed. In a workplace where digital skills and especially confidence are paramount, how can we shift the clichés and stereotypes telling women that technology is somehow not for them?

Increasing education, mentorship, sponsorship, funding and visibility of women in technology are all positive steps we can make towards changing the ratio. In the past five years we have seen the profile of women succeeding in the world of technology and addressing these issues soar. Sarah Wood at Unruly, Nicola Mendelsohn at Facebook, Baroness Martha Lane Fox, Justine Roberts at Mumsnet, Baroness Shields, Alice Bentinck at Entrepreneur First, Eileen Burbidge at Passion Capital...the list goes on and on, from start-up to IPO.

On the next generation...

We should be very proud that the UK made coding a mandatory on the national curriculum in September 2014. As well as the proliferation of informal learning clubs such as Code Club, Coder Dojo, Girls who Code, Google Mums and beyond.

But we must also admit that there is still so much more to do.

Empowering teachers and code clubs with the inspiration, investment and tools they need to bring technology alive in the classroom across all subjects. And also empowering parents with an understanding of technology so that they can take an active role in this agenda within their schools, learning alongside their children and knowing how to protect them too.

The world of work is changing and government, business and academia need to collaborate to create an education that prepares people for a world where automation is a reality and the roles of the future have yet to be created.

On tech disruption, upskilling and training...

In the past year we have noticed a very clear move towards digital up-skilling and innovation within the retail and finance industries. There is a clear desire to build up digital capability and skills within the entire workforce, to foster a more innovative mind-set, to supercharge their skills with code and data and to be truly agile and lean. There is incredible talent waiting to be unleashed and identified within organisations which doesn't necessarily fit the traditional triangular hierarchical model of corporate business. Your best technologist may be working at the tills at one of your branches, not sitting on the board.

The most pioneering CEO's we have come across have a passion for learning and an appetite for change. They understand that changing an entire business culture not only requires commitment from the board but is something which involves everyone within a business, not just the leadership.

In terms of technology disruption in the next 1-2 years, I think one of the most exciting industries about to undergo this transition will be healthcare and specifically in the UK the NHS.

On "talk" and progress...

Over the last 5 years, the Women in Technology network has truly become a powerful business network. And one which I hope will continue to grow.

Talk can often be undermined. Talk is essential as it highlights the issues which need addressing and let's us share common insights to help us solve them. I've mentioned I feel this falls into categories such as education, mentorship, sponsorship, visibility and funding.

Investing in women is important in both a hard and soft sense. Soft in terms of conscious diversity and tackling unconscious bias, this is relevant across promotions, pay and advancement - they're all the same thing! Hard in terms of fiscal. How can it be that millions of women may have ideas but few want to fund them?

So please keep talking, keep holding your round tables. Your work with ComputerWeekly is part of an amazing movement for women in technology which is only just starting. Here's to the next five years and dreaming about what success might look like in 2021.

Download the 2016 Women in Technology publication here.

Interview conducted in 2016 for our Women in Technology Survey, 2016 campaign.