Educating women in tech: Q&A with Anna Brailsford

Grace Macej 15 Mar 2021

The CEO of Code First Girls explains how her organization trains, empowers, and networks female researchers in the world of tech

“The time for talk is over – at Code First Girls, we are on a mission to help women rewrite their future. Through the power of community, change can and will happen.” 

So reads the About section on the Code First Girls website. Short and sweet, it’s also a perfect example of the organization’s commitment to action over words. In its first six years, the UK-based company has already given free coding lessons to over 20,000 women and connected them with more than 50 top employers. It not only educates and motivates women in tech, but also teaches them to network. 

Avast software engineer Janine Luk noticed the wonderful progress Code First Girls (CFG) was making, and she brought it to our attention at Avast. "After having witnessed the incredible work the CFG team was doing and having heard positive feedback from several women-in-tech communities, as well as close friends, I knew Avast had to establish a partnership with CFG,” she said. And she was absolutely right. Avast is now a proud partner of CFG’s, and we look forward to continued collaboration. “It is the first step towards something much greater,” commented Janine. “Our ultimate goal is to balance the playing field by supporting underrepresented individuals in tech, and we will not stop until we get there."  

To that end, we asked Code First Girls CEO Anna Brailsford to tell us a little more about CFG, and how Avast and other members of the tech community can help champion the mission. In our Q&A, Anna talks about the current state of women in tech and provides valuable tips for women who want to break into the field. 


Anna Brailsford, CEO at Code First Girls

Avast: What is the Code First Girls mission and how did it get its start?

AB: CFG was started in 2015 by founders of Entrepreneur First, who were seeing a disparity in applications to their talent accelerator. It started with a few free coding classes at a couple of universities and has grown massively since then! CFG’s mission is to teach women coding skills for free and help them launch careers in tech, whether it’s within start-ups or big corporations. Over the years we’ve grown into an amazing community of female coders and last year reached a big milestone of teaching 20,000 women!   

Avast: How can Avast and other tech companies help with the CFG mission?

AB: CFG wouldn't have been able to achieve its growth and offer support to women without our corporate partnerships such as the one we have with Avast. By collaborating with you, we are not only able to teach coding skills, but also to connect women with the industry, which requires invaluable employability skills, leverages networks, and widens our reach to more communities. 

At the same time, our work helps organizations select, train, and hire amazingly diverse talent. By connecting brands with the CFG community through targeted events, sponsorship, and employee engagement initiatives, companies are able to improve their employer brand among women and give back to the community. 

We also work with companies through dedicated courses to help empower their teams to build websites, create apps, come to grips with data, and develop mentorships for women in the workplace. We are facing an urgent IT skills shortage in the UK, and with the ongoing effects of the pandemic, upskilling women in teams will be one of the most effective ways to tackle this.

Avast: How has the pandemic impacted operations?

AB: Up until March last year we’ve generally delivered our courses in person. Due to Covid-19, we had to very quickly adapt our courses for online delivery, which for a small nonprofit is no small feat! We’ve successfully pivoted to provide all of our courses online through video chat platforms and remote teaching techniques. 

Since the pandemic began, we have been working hard to help women who have been displaced by Covid-19 redundancies or who are entering a tough graduate market to reskill and find employment in the booming tech sector. Our priority has been to help women find exciting jobs that they love at a time of deep economic and social uncertainty. Covid-19 has accelerated the appetite for coding education, as we saw an unprecedented 800% growth in registrations for our virtual classes during lockdown. Coding education is important, now more than ever, and women are keen to learn.

Avast: What is the success rate of CFG graduates, and what skills would you say are particularly valuable to female jobseekers?

AB: On average, 90% of women are successfully placed in partner organizations. We partner with over 50 universities and 65 businesses – notably Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, KKR, OVHcloud, Trainline, and Rolls Royce. As part of a new strategy, we are working with more UK employers than ever before, across a range of industries.

At CFG, we are committed to actively investing in the development of community networks and mentorship programs to build confidence and facilitate career paths, targeting “imposter syndrome” (feeling like a fraud). This is fundamental to supporting women beyond the hiring stage, as it’s estimated 90% of women in the UK experience imposter syndrome at work.

Passion and knowledge should be the key drivers when starting a career in technology. It’s a broad and varied industry, so graduates should focus on an area where their strengths lie and own it. Be open to taking advice, upskilling, and learning from others.

Avast: How experienced do your students need to be to join CFG?

AB: The majority of our community is beginner level, as we primarily focus on helping women take their first steps towards a career in tech. 

Avast: What advice do you have for women contemplating a career change in the direction of IT?

AB: Take the plunge! In the booming tech sector there is space for everyone, so step out of your comfort zone and face your doubts head-on. 

Find a mentor. Whether you’re looking to transition into a tech-based career or have worked in the industry for years, mentors are an invaluable source of wisdom, experience, and relationships.

Be mindful of yourself and others. Building confidence and learning is about self-empowerment, not “winning over” others. There is no need to compare and compete with coworkers, so celebrate your strengths and champion your coworkers too, while working to address the things you find challenging.

Don’t accept less, ever. You have earned your place, now show the world you deserve just as much as your male counterparts. She who dares, wins! 

Believe in yourself. Seek out a paid or free training opportunity that aligns you with a great opportunity to build your career.

Last but not least, check us out to see how we can help you!

Avast: What do you look forward to in 2021? 

AB: While 2020 has been our biggest year so far, we are just getting started, with plans to double our community of women in technology in 2021. We're launching a new strategy and urging businesses to help close the gender gap further by investing in female talent looking for a career in tech. In 2021, CFG is offering mentorship and upskilling programs, developing a 12-week “nanodegree” program, and offering free coding courses above and beyond our historic offerings. Avast is supporting this mission by sponsoring our online courses, including the advanced nanodegree in software development – we’re very excited about where this partnership will take us!

Indeed, we at Avast are excited too. Our volunteers are about to become CFG instructors. “We will be receiving instructor training this week,” Janine informed us, “and in March, the first two programs focused on Python will commence – starting with Bath Spa University and the University of East Anglia. This year we will be sponsoring 200 places for MOOCs [massive open online courses], 70 places for classes, and 5 places for a nanodegree. Our volunteers from Avast will coach the CFG students through MOOCs and Classes, and the CFG instructors will provide coaching for the nanodegree, as it is a lot more in-depth and time-consuming.”

Is all of this worth it?

This one testimony from a CFG graduate says it all. 

“I just wanted to thank CFG because as of this week I have accepted a new role as “bioinformatician / python developer” and there is no way I could have gotten here without CFG. And if ever any of the team want to feel like they are making a difference – CFG has changed my career trajectory 100%!

In a nutshell – I was googling and came across CFG back in July 2018. I had just finished an MSc and was being told by everyone I knew that I needed to get a PhD to work in the industry I wanted to get into (medical tech). But I was 4 months pregnant and knew that this was not an option for me. However I emailed CFG and got a fantastic email back detailing lots of options. 

In February of 2019, with my son only four weeks old, I left the house with my laptop and embarked on a web dev CFG course which was very accessible. This course led to a data science internship, and then a data analyst job at a different company. Then I was furloughed during Covid and decided to embark on teaching SQL for CFG and do the fellowship, which AGAIN helped me gain so much confidence and new skills. After quite a few applications and coding tests I have finally secured a position. In a weird turn of events, I was asked at the interview to do a last minute presentation – and I chose to present my love of CFG! I think my passion for debunking the myth that tech is for men was extremely helpful in getting me the role. Anyway, I just wanted to say thank you to the whole team…I am an example of CFG changing lives!”

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