Next up in our series of conversations with friends of Cambridge Wireless, we hand the reins to Tolulope Ogunremi, founder of diversity in tech group Coders of Colour. The organisation were winners of the ‘Greatest impact on Diversity and Inclusion in Technology’ award at this year’s CWIC event, and Tolulope talks about how this year has been and how, even in lockdown, they continued to help the next generation of coders to be inspired through their work.
Coders of Colour is a not-for-profit aimed at getting the next generation of underrepresented people of colour into tech, mainly through free coding workshops, upskilling programmes and one-off training events.
It is important for young people of colour to have role models – slightly older young people who are already in tech. It's key to show that there are people that look like them in the industry, in tech, something to aspire to.
I unfortunately didn’t have the chance to study computer science at school; it wasn’t seen as 'a real subject'.
I ended up teaching myself to code at 13, and was the only person who looked like me when I began to attend events. I thought "maybe it's an age thing", as I was mixing with people a little older. At under 18 events, there were about 1,000 kids and only a handful of black people. It still is a problem, but something we’re all working on.
I founded Coders of Colour in 2016 to be a platform, giving those who may not currently have the opportunity to become coders in the future. I guess it is 'my baby', but it's steadily getting to the point where it feels more and more like an established organisation, driving real change through a network of partners and supporters.
Coding challenges now
We're lucky that computer science is now more integrated into the curriculum – it is being taught in schools, put into GCSEs, and so on. However, the challenge now is that there are teachers who are stumbling, not given the skills themselves or without industry experience and – unfortunately – in some schools it is probably not taught too well.
During lockdown, those with a higher socio-economic background have a better chance of having a computer at home they can use, especially a laptop.
To give an example, around a quarter of the young people we dealt with pre-pandemic borrowed laptops from us. They'd turn up to our events – which took place in school holidays – and we'd loan them the laptops to work and learn on.
We also provided a decent meal when in-person events were on. For some of these young people it was the only square meal they got in the summer. It's been really great to see Marcus Rashford take a stand in the way he has done.
These are challenging aspects, but we are aware of them, and working hard with partners and supporters to change them for the better.
The future is bright
We got great feedback from our 2019 programme to build mobile apps – companies and young coders working together and gaining more confidence. The word is spreading about the impact this is having and we are hopeful that this will continue, regardless of the pandemic.
Yey, it could take a while to see real change. For instance, if we met a 14 year old now, it could take a couple of years to build their skillset and confidence, and then a uni application process or straight into a job, so we may not see that change for another 2-3 years.
That said, it's been an exciting year. The first lockdown cancelled everything in-person, but our online networking and courses have been going down really well, after a little adjustment time.
The range of programmes we're now running is great too. Everything from UX/UI design, to Twilio, an introduction to Wagtail and coding languages such as Java and Python. And now we're online, we're able to reach even further than the UK – having young people join us from America, Bahrain and Nigeria, teaching them to code and make websites, linking up with charities.
Want to know more about supporting or partnering with Coders of Colour and the mix of one-off events, series and school holiday programmes? Visit the website here, or follow them on Twitter and Instagram.