Making coding cool at school

I’ll admit it, when I was growing up, coding wasn’t the coolest subject to take at school but that’s all changing - I think coding is the new cool.

We all use apps, websites, or digital games – and we wouldn’t be able to use any of them without an army of coders in the background.  While there are loads of boys in our schools excited by what a future in coding could look like, there are still a really small number of girls who are interested in one of the fastest growing and highest paying career paths out there. So my question is why should the boys get all the fun jobs?!

I have always worked in data and have made a career in using data and mathematics to predict how likely things are to happen in the future.  Over the last few years what I do has evolved into Data Science.  These days I code in R and I get to try out lots of open-source algorithms to improve our pricing or to gain knowledge and insights from structured and unstructured data.  Coding is a key part of my day job and the lack of girls learning to code means fewer women are entering Data Science which I think needs to change.

Coding is a creative outlet

To address this, some female colleagues and I have been working with Millais, a school near our Horsham site, and now lead an after-school Coding Club for girls at the school. The girls are aged between 11 and 14 so we have a really broad range of interested and highly inquisitive potential future coders. It makes me wish I had had a similar push in this direction when I was their age!

My colleagues and I are supported by RSA’s Data Science & Technical Pricing teams. These are the people who work out all the nitty gritty calculations which go into working out insurance premiums – from everyday car or home insurance, right up to really complicated international commercial risks. Using their combined expertise, we created a project which taught the girls some basic coding and helped them programme a series of LED lights. We were trying to show how coding is also a creative outlet, and the girls particularly enjoyed experimenting with different colours and patterns.

Diversity brings a wider range of ideas and perspectives

The various restrictions around Covid-19 have meant that we’ve taken Code Club one step further into the digital realm, and are now running the classes virtually. And we’ve moved on from LEDs to creating websites. So far the girls have created tutorials that teach someone how to do something like making cookies or knitting a scarf and the girls are currently creating a Christmas memory book.  As we work alongside the Digital Technologies lead at Millais we can ensure that our teaching complements the school curriculum.  The hope is that many of our coders will go on to take GSCE computer science.

It’s really important to me that the employee pipeline of the future is as diverse as possible, as diversity brings a wider range of ideas and perspectives. So by role-modelling and showing that coding can be fun and a great creative outlet, I’m really confident that for the girls at Millais School at least we can break the stereotype that this is a boys’ club!