Norwich has a well established tech scene which continues to blossom, creating new jobs in the local economy and putting the East on the map of tech innovation outside London. However, look in any of these businesses and it’s likely you’ll find a fairly homogeneous group responsible for coding tomorrow’s tech.
It’s the same throughout the industry, with women holding less than 25% of jobs in the technology sector despite making up half of the overall workforce. Alarmingly there are more men named Dave leading FTSE 100 companies than there are women and ethnic minorities. This is the stark status quo Codebar exists to challenge. And if that rallying cry doesn’t spur you into action, there’s pizza!
Codebar is an international non-profit organisation that seeks to facilitate the growth of a diverse tech community by running regular programming workshops. The Norwich arm of the initiative is run by Holly Allen and Rose Bonner, who coordinate the monthly meet-ups to support under-represented groups get into tech.
The initiative, which has been running since 2018, is back after a brief hiatus and Holly and Rose are excited at the prospect of a busy 2020. The workshops are predominantly aimed at providing women and people from BAME and LGTBQI+ communities the opportunity to learn and practice coding.
Why does it matter? A lack of workforce diversity means a lack in diversity of thought. Not only is this a real blow to innovation, it leaves huge swathes of society under-served or excluded from the social and economic benefits new technologies bring. In some instances, it can even be downright dangerous.
A 2019 study identified racial bias in the technology powering self-driving cars. It found vehicle sensors were less likely to pick up on darker skin tones putting non-white pedestrians at risk. Had the team programming those sensors been more diverse, it’s likely this issue would have been raised long before production. This shocking example reveals just how important diversity is and how far we are from achieving it.
The group welcomes mentees of all ages and skills levels, offering engaging e-learning modules and help from industry professionals. Whether you’re a complete beginner, or would appreciate some input on an existing project, you can be paired up with an experienced developer who can help you achieve your goals.
“It’s quite an informal set up, so there’s never any pressure.” says workshop organiser, Holly. “We welcome people to drop in from 6pm. You can have a drink and a chat while we match you to a suitable mentor, if you want to learn a specific coding language for example. All you need is a laptop and an interest in software development.”
Digital staffing start-up, Pickr, are the first to host for 2020 and their Senior Developer, Simon Rogers, has signed up to be a mentor. “Learning to code is essentially learning a new language and I can understand how that might be intimidating. Once you’ve mastered the basics you’ve got freedom to be really creative and build whatever you want. I want to help people get as excited about coding as I am.”
According to Tech Nation’s latest Report, Tech businesses in the East turned over £8.33bn in 2019, making it the third most productive region in the country. This is one of the fastest growing sectors, with exciting job opportunities being created every year. Learning to code could be the start of a new and lucrative career, or even just a fun hobby.
The next workshop kicks off on January 28th at 6pm. If you, or someone you know is interested in attending, please sign up and reserve your spot. All the details can be found ttps://codebar.io/norwich