Causes Week 2017: Code for success: Getting women to be techies

Project aims to get women, especially those from minority groups, to embrace technology

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Nurul Jihadah Hussain, 30, founded The Codette Project in 2015 to get minority women into Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields.
From left: Ms Nurul Jihadah Hussain, founder of The Codette Project, trainer Nurhuda Rafi Ang and course participants.
From left: Ms Nurul Jihadah Hussain, founder of The Codette Project, trainer Nurhuda Rafi Ang and course participants. ST PHOTO: MOHD KHALID BABA

Inspired by a movement in the US, Ms Nurul Jihadah Hussain started The Codette Project, in 2015, hoping that under-represented women will become a common sight in the computer coding industry.

The 30-year-old wants to see more representation from minority groups - such as Malay-Muslim women, women of mixed race and single mothers - in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (Stem) fields.

"I was inspired by similar organisations in the United States like Black Girls Code," she said. Black Girls Code provides opportunities for African-American women to learn about Stem subjects so they can enter such professions.

She added: "I personally did not know any minority women in tech when I started The Codette Project. In Singapore, only 30 per cent of the tech workforce is female, and fewer than 5 per cent of start-up founders are women, and some minorities, like the Malay-Muslim minority, are practically invisible."

With a core team of about six women, the project has been holding free coding classes at Myspace in Arab Street, equipping mothers and even their daughters with basic skills.

These range from actual coding to other skills such as Web design and social media navigation.

The classes are targeted not just at women who want to enter Stem fields, but also those who want to use technology more effectively in their daily lives.

"We have had women come to our classes wanting to learn skills for school and home and work and everything in between. We don't think tech is just limited to the workplace. Tech is everywhere, and using it more effectively will help all of us get to where we want to be," said Ms Nurul, who engages volunteers to train the women.

The courses offered include designing for social media, Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) and social media and branding.

There are also a #HeforShe panel discussion, done in collaboration with the Singapore Committee for UN Women, and a workshop to teach women how to excel in the workplace.

As for the targeted numbers they hope to reach out to, Ms Nurul said: "My measure of impact is simple - one person. As long as one woman feels like she has benefited from our workshops or our events, then that to me is a measure of success."

She added: "The benefit is in the long term. For The Codette Project, we want to see more alternative narratives of success for minority women, by minority women, and for this to be present across industries including tech."

Their coding session on Dec 2, which taught mothers and daughters to appreciate technology alongside each other, drew eight adults and 11 children.

Ms Sameera Begum, 20, an SIM Global student, took her younger cousin to the session. She said: "I believe it's important to learn how to code regardless of gender... However, there is a gender bias in this field. It's a male-dominated industry and I hope in the future, we have more females working and succeeding in the IT industry."

Her cousin, 10-year-old primary school pupil Nur Fahima, said: "The session was very fun for me. The best part of the session was making my very own animation clip."

Ms Sarah Bagharib, 26, who helped set up The Codette Project, said they hope to have bigger sessions in the future, with more participants each time.

"Our workshops are limited by rental costs constraints," she explained.

"We have an agreement with the Muslim Youth Forum to use their premises for a reduced rate. This space holds about 15 to 20 people, and we have reached ticket capacity for all our workshops. Our larger-scale one-off events like networking sessions have been held at spaces like Google, and we have had 50 to 60 people."

The Codette Project has drawn more than 800 followers on Facebook and about 350 on Instagram.

•Those who are interested in their courses can visit their website at thecodetteproject/

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 10, 2017, with the headline Code for success: Getting women to be techies. Subscribe