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Empowering Young Girls in Tech: The Inspiring Journey of Zandile Mkwanazi and GirlCode ZA

Updated: Dec 5, 2023

In a world where the gender gap in technology persists, Zandile Mkwanazi, founder of GirlCode ZA, has taken a stand to address this challenge head-on. With a personal story of her own, Zandile was inspired to create an organization focused on teaching young girls how to code. GirlCode ZA aims to bridge the gender gap, empower young girls, and create a supportive community where they can explore technology and coding with confidence. Through coding workshops, mentorship programs, and innovative initiatives, GirlCode ZA is making a significant impact in the tech industry, paving the way for a more inclusive and diverse future.

We asked Zandile a series of questions, and her responses shed light on how GirlCode ZA bridges the gender gap, empowers young girls to explore technology and coding with confidence, and provides them with the necessary resources and support to thrive in the tech world.

1. Can you start by sharing the story behind GirlCode ZA and what inspired you to create this organization focused on teaching young girls how to code?

The story behind GirlCode is deeply personal and rooted in my own experiences as a woman in the tech industry. After graduating from university, I was working for a tech company, and that’s when I noticed a significant gender disparity, with very few women developers in the company and even fewer at tech events and hackathons I attended at the time. This was disheartening, and I felt a strong desire to do something about it.

I approached my boss, who was the Managing Director of the company, and proposed the idea of hosting a women-only hackathon within the company. He readily agreed, and that was the inception of GirlCode. This experience served as a catalyst for me to create an organization that would empower and inspire young girls to pursue careers in software development. I wanted to provide them with the opportunities, resources, and support that I wished I had when I was starting my journey in tech.

The underrepresentation of women in technology is a global issue, and I was particularly motivated to address this challenge in South Africa. By founding GirlCode, I aimed to bridge the gender gap in tech and foster a community of strong, confident, and skilled female developers who could contribute to the industry's growth and innovation. Our organization's mission is to teach young girls how to code, offer mentorship, and create a supportive network to help them thrive in the tech world. We believe that every girl should have the opportunity to pursue a career in technology, and GirlCode is our way of making that vision a reality.

2. Coding and tech education have become essential skills in today's world. How does GirlCode ZA bridge the gender gap and empower young girls to explore technology and coding with confidence?

GirlCode is committed to bridging the gender gap in technology and empowering young girls to explore coding and tech with confidence through several key initiatives:

Coding Workshops and Training: We offer coding workshops and training programs tailored to girls and young women. These workshops cover a wide range of programming languages and technology topics, ensuring that participants gain practical skills and knowledge to excel in the tech industry.

Community Building: GirlCode fosters a strong sense of community among its members. By participating in our events, hackathons, and meetups, young girls can network, share experiences, and build valuable relationships with like-minded individuals who share their passion for technology.

Visibility and Representation: We strive to increase the visibility of women in tech by highlighting the achievements of female tech professionals through our programs and events. By showcasing successful role models, we inspire young girls to see themselves as future leaders in the field.

Through these initiatives, GirlCode empowers young girls to explore technology and coding with confidence. We believe that by providing the necessary skills, support, and a strong community, we can help girls break down barriers, challenge stereotypes, and pursue successful careers in the tech world.

3. Can you tell us about some of the programs and initiatives that GirlCode ZA offers to help young girls learn to code and develop their tech skills?

GirlCoder Club: The GirlCoder club is a nationwide network of volunteer-led, after school online coding clubs designed for primary and high school girls to get them interested in pursuing STEM related careers. The primary students will be learning coding through Scratch and the High school students will be learning Html, CSS and Javascript. They will learn how to create their own interactive stories, games, and animations and use code to create innovative solutions.

Learnership: The Systems Development Learnership (NQF Level 5) is a 12 month training program, The first 6 months focus on technical training and the last 6 months on Work placement. The Learnership prepares young women for entry into the workplace, providing them with the knowledge needed to succeed in the area of systems (software) development.

Online Bootcamp: An intensive 3 month accredited Skills program that prepares people with I.T related degrees/diplomas or those with non-IT backgrounds with the relevant skills to work as junior developers. The Bootcamp offers training in Python, AWS Cloud Practitioner and JAVA.

During the course of the bootcamp, students receive additional workshops and mentorship sessions geared towards providing them with the best career guidance to position themselves as great candidates. Workshop sessions range from CV preparations, Social Media Etiquette, Work Etiquette, Soft Skills etc.

4. What are some of the key challenges and barriers that young girls face when entering the tech and coding world, and how does GirlCode ZA address and overcome these challenges?

Young girls entering the tech and coding world often face several key challenges and barriers, including society's persistent gender stereotypes which can deter girls from pursuing tech careers. They may be discouraged from showing interest in technology, coding, or computer science due to the misconception that these fields are more suitable for boys. GirlCode challenges these stereotypes by providing a supportive and empowering environment where girls can thrive and be themselves. We offer female role models and mentors to help girls envision themselves as successful tech professionals.

Secondly is the lack of Access to Resources, many girls, especially in underserved communities, lack access to the resources and opportunities needed to develop their tech skills. This includes data to do online learning as well as laptops. GirlCode addresses this by offering data on some of our coding workshops and providing access to second hand computers from our corporate partners. We also partner with schools and organizations to reach girls who may not have access to tech education otherwise, leveling the playing field and ensuring that economic disparities do not hinder their progress.

5. Mentorship and support are often vital components in encouraging young girls to pursue tech careers. How does GirlCode ZA provide mentorship opportunities and create a supportive community for its participants?

Mentorship is a fundamental part of our approach. We connect young girls with experienced female tech professionals who can provide guidance, advice, and support as they navigate their tech journeys. These mentors serve as role models, helping girls build confidence in their abilities and make informed career decisions. We also fosters a strong sense of community among its members. By participating in our events, hackathons, and meetups, young girls can network, share experiences, and build valuable relationships with like-minded individuals who share their passion for technology.

6. The tech industry is known for its fast-paced and ever-changing nature. How does GirlCode ZA stay up-to-date with the latest technologies and trends, ensuring that the curriculum remains relevant and cutting-edge?

We recognize the importance of staying up-to-date with the latest technologies and trends in the fast-paced tech industry to ensure that our curriculum remains relevant and cutting-edge. One of the key strategies we employ to achieve this is by establishing partnerships and collaborations with tech companies, startups, and industry professionals. These partnerships provide insights into the latest trends, tools, and technologies. Industry experts often contribute to our programs, offering real-world knowledge and expertise.

7. Diversity and inclusion are important aspects of the tech industry. How does GirlCode ZA work to create a diverse and inclusive environment for young girls interested in coding and technology?

Diversity and inclusion are core principles of GirlCode ZA, and we are committed to creating a welcoming and supportive environment for young girls interested in coding and technology. e design our programs to be inclusive and accessible to girls from diverse backgrounds. We welcome participants of all ages, races, socioeconomic statuses, and abilities. Our goal is to ensure that no one is excluded from the opportunity to learn and excel in tech.

Our organization's leadership and mentorship network reflect the diversity we aim to promote. We actively seek mentors and role models from various ethnicities, backgrounds, and experiences to inspire and guide our participants. While our primary focus is on supporting girls and women, we recognize the importance of allies in promoting diversity and inclusion. We welcome individuals of all genders who share our commitment to gender equality in tech.

By implementing these strategies, GirlCode works to create an inclusive and diverse environment where young girls interested in coding and technology can feel empowered, supported, and encouraged to pursue their aspirations in the tech industry.

8. Are there any success stories or notable achievements from young girls who have participated in GirlCode ZA programs that you'd like to share to inspire others?

Absolutely, there are many success stories and notable achievements from young girls who have participated in GirlCode programs. Just this year we have secured Jobs for over 100 beneficiaries through our various tech partners and have even assisted 8 beneficiaries in the past with International Job opportunities.

Many of our beneficiaries come from previously disadvantaged communities and despite having graduated from universities, they still struggle to get their foot in the door and through our programs we are quite intentional in terms of getting them access to job opportunities by partnering directly with hiring managers in corporate.

Let me share the inspiring story of one of our beneficiaries, Ogorogile, a determined young woman who has been part of our community for a number of years now. She grew up in a previously disadvantaged community and faced many challenges on her path to a career in technology. She had graduated from university but found it incredibly challenging to break into the tech industry. Like many others in her situation, she faced barriers that seemed insurmountable. That's when she discovered GirlCode.

Through the various programs and support offered by GirlCode, she not only gained technical skills but also developed a newfound sense of confidence and empowerment. She participated in coding workshops, mentorship programs, and career development initiatives that helped her hone her skills and network with like-minded individuals.

This year, she received a job offer in Cape Town, which marked a significant turning point in her life. The prospect of relocating to a different province was initially daunting, and she hesitated before accepting the offer. But with the resilience and determination she had developed, she took the leap.

Today, she is excelling in her new role in Cape Town. She's found her place in the tech world, and her career is flourishing. She's not only using the technical skills she acquired through GirlCode but also drawing on the strength and self-assuredness that she gained from the supportive community of like-minded women.

Her journey is a testament to the long-term empowerment that GirlCode provides. The organization not only helps young women secure job opportunities but also equips them with the confidence and skills to thrive in the tech industry. This success story is just one of many, and it's a powerful example of how GirlCode is shaping the future of aspiring female technologists.

9. It's clear that GirlCode ZA is making a significant impact. Can you provide insights into the future goals and expansion plans for the organization and the impact you hope to make in the tech industry?

Our overarching goal is to make a significant and lasting impact by increasing the number of women in tech, fostering diversity, and promoting an inclusive tech ecosystem across the African continent. By expanding our reach and enhancing our programs, GirlCode is dedicated to creating a brighter future for girls and women in the tech industry and, in turn, advancing the technology landscape as a whole.

We are committed to taking the success of GirlCode beyond South Africa's borders. Expanding our programs and initiatives to other African countries is a crucial part of our long-term plan. We have a goal of reaching 10 million women and girls by 2023.

10. Finally, what advice would you offer to young girls and their parents who are interested in getting involved with GirlCode ZA or encouraging a passion for coding and technology?

For young Girls my advice would be to embrace curiosity. Don't be afraid to explore technology and coding and remember that it's okay to make mistakes and learn from them.

Secondly, believe in Yourself: You have the ability to excel in tech, just like anyone else. Believe in your potential and have confidence in your skills. And I think the most important part is to enjoy the process and find joy in building, creating, and problem-solving.

For Parents, I believe that it is important to encourage and support your child's interests in technology and coding. Be open to their passions and help them explore these fields. Look for programs like GirlCode that provide educational opportunities. These programs can help your child gain skills and confidence. Teach your child that it's okay to make mistakes and that learning from them is part of the journey. Promote a growth mindset that fosters resilience.

And an important aspect is to celebrate your child's achievements in tech, no matter how small. Recognizing their successes will boost their confidence and motivation.

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