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Chatting to Elizabeth Gould at Workshop17

Workshop17 is a funky co-op space that has been developed in the V&A Waterfront. It is designed to offer various businesses an innovation hub that promotes technology development in Cape Town – a city that is quickly beginning to stamp itself as the spot for growing innovation in South Africa. Elizabeth Gould was at the opening of this new space and we had a chance to chat to her.

Gould is the co-founder and CEO of codeX which is an organisation that finds the best young African coders and trains them up doing real projects with other companies. She’s been in the tech space for some time. She was a tech journalist and executive producer for many years focusing on entrepreneur and tech innovation stories in Africa. As you can imagine, she is one of my many inspirations and a woman I look up to. I asked her a few questions about the tech space.

The jump from media to technology is an interesting one – what made you decide to go the route of founding codeX?

I don’t really see it as a far jump. I was a technology journalist in the US and here in Africa and also studied economic development in Africa. When I saw that nearly every African now has a mobile phone, it flipped the switch for me that technology can be used to drive economic development on the continent, with the smartphone as the platform to both connect and create. But one of my main jobs as CEO of codeX is to tell the story of what our amazing coders are building across all media, so I still use those skills nearly every day.

As a female in the technology sector, have you ever felt discriminated against based on your gender or felt that being a woman hampered you in any way?

I rarely feel discriminated against, but I also have had many years of working in a male-dominated corporate culture to develop the confidence not to let any discrimination touch me. As a child, I was quite good at math and science, but never really felt encouraged to pursue that, and ended up pursuing social sciences and humanities in university and post-grad. If anything, being a woman in tech is a help, because you tend to bring a different perspective in a group of men. And women tend to be more active users of social media and also make most buying decisions in households, so women are huge consumers of technology. It helps producers of technology to have some women around to better understand their female users.

Elizabeth Gould iphone

Have you experienced sexism in the technology sector?

Only very rarely, and I’ve learned to welcome it when people under-estimate me, because then they don’t know what’s coming! I do know that women often feel unwelcome in engineering environments, whether through open discrimination or more subtle cultural cues. At codeX, we are 36% women coders and more than half the staff is female, and we hope to be a vehicle for bringing more women into tech, especially the more “hard-core” development work, as well as to grow more female entrepreneurs.

Something I’m rather passionate about is getting more girls excited about development and coding. How do we get more women in technology and encourage more girls to study STEM subjects?

I think we need to encourage young girls to be builders and tinkerers. I don’t think we are going to erase the cultural imprint of marketing pink and princesses to young girls anytime soon, so whether that’s with pink Lego, or Minecraft princesses, we need to encourage young girls to create and build solutions to problems they see in the world around them from early childhood. As we do to young boys, honestly. And we need to educate teachers to help combat cultural stereotypes that say girls aren’t good at maths. Way too many young women I’ve met have said their own school teachers told them to take “maths literacy” instead of proper maths because girls could never be good at it, which then makes it harder to pursue computer science later. That’s just plain ridiculous, and it needs to stop. And the more women there are in tech, the more role models young girls will see, and be able to picture themselves as developers and entrepreneurs, and so it will start a virtuous cycle.

Elizabeth Gould handbag

Have you seen an increase in female developers through codeX ? 

In our pilot programme, we had 10% women. In the first term of 2015, we went to 25%, and now we are at 36%. We are on the right track.

In your opinion, what is the one thing the human race hasn’t invented yet, but desperately needs to?

Low data video so even people with limited budgets can broadcast their ideas to the world.

You can find out more about codeX here. Header image supplied by the V & A Waterfront. 

 

I'd love to chat to you some more.

 

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