Meet the woman teaching girls to code in Kazakhstan

We always love meeting amazing women in tech, so we were pretty excited when Dina Mukasheva came to visit us on her recent trip to the UK.

Dina is the co-founder of Love to code, a coding school based in Kazakhstan for children aged 8–13 years old. The school encourages children to become interested in tech by teaching them how to create games and build different animations. Alongside this Dina is a mentor for the Technovation Challenge, a 4-month programme which teaches young girls a range of tech skills and to build a product which is tackling a social problem.

Over a cuppa and some gifted chocolate from Kazakhstan (lucky us!), we spoke to Dina about coding, role models and her plans for the future.

Why do you think it’s important that young girls are exposed to tech and learn to code from a young age?

Growing up, there were only 5 girls in my mathematical/ electrical classes and the rest were all guys. I think lots of girls believe that subjects like I.T are just too hard or they can’t imagine themselves working in these industries.

Girls are smart and do really well at school in subjects like programming but after they finish studying they don’t want to pursue this as a career. The girls need to been shown that they can do this and build lots of different things. Especially as a lot of young girls lack confidence -for example, if a teacher asked a question they would feel too shy to put their hand up and answer in case they might be wrong. What we do with our coding programme is show girls that they are able to learn new skills and that it’s fine to make mistakes.

What are some barriers for women/ young girls entering the tech industry in Kazakhstan?

From a young age, women are told that you have to be a good wife rather than pursue a career such as programming. A lot of girls get scholarships so they learn I.T skills and complete university, but after graduating they don’t work in IT as they don’t think it’s for them. To help prevent this, I think when teaching girls I.T or tech they need to be building products that they’re interested in — I don’t mean something ‘girly’, just something they find exciting.

Role models play a big part — we recently put up a chart which showed different women in IT. There are a lot of women who work in tech but don’t speak about it. As in Kazhastan, we don’t really have a ‘women’s empowerment’ movement like you currently have in the UK- it isn’t really a thing yet. There are more women working in tech, but it’s been happening in the background and isn’t spoken about too much. I often get asked do you know any women in tech who could be on panels -but I don’t know who to suggest.*

Another problem is that there aren’t enough people who can teach coding-when we were travelling around Kazakhstan to teach children how to code I realised there weren’t enough good teachers. Plus a lot of children don’t know about the opportunities that are available to them -even though they have access to the internet they don’t know about the tools that are available to them to learn how to code.

*(After this we told Dina about some networks she could join to learn about more women in tech).

Dina and Anisah hanging with Lady Grey.

Who is one of your role models?

I’m really into music and creativity so really admire Alicia Keys — I think she’s just a brilliant person and singer. I love how she takes one song and then completely rearranges it into something new. I admire the causes she’s fighting for, for example telling women that they don’t have to wear makeup or look a certain way.

What kind of products do the girls build in the Tech Innovation Challenge?

The group which recently won the grand prize created and launched an SOS button, which sends a message to the local police station and your family and friends if you think you’re in danger. Another group created an app which connects volunteers and organisations that are in need of volunteers. When the girls are creating products like this, they become more confident and feel really happy that they’re creating change.

Dina with some of the girls taking part in the Tech Innovation Challenge. Look at that girl power!

What are the biggest changes you see in the girls who complete the programme?

A huge rise in confidence- especially with those who are very engaged in the programme. For example, some girls do the programme and love it so much that they change their speciality to I.T. Others start gaining confidence to enter tech competitions and hackathons or volunteer in other programmes. It’s like they’ve lost their fear and found their voice.

Another change is that girls realise that they can start things and become initiators- either this being planning their own event or speaking to someone new. They start realising that they can change the system that they’re part of.

With the experience they gain on the programme, the girls realise that tech isn’t that scary and that you can make mistakes and when they need advice they’ve got a team and older mentor to speak to and feel supported by.

What are your plans for the future?

I will create a platform which will have lots of educational resources from around the world on but will be translated to both Russian and Kazakh. I’ll then deliver master classes to children around Kazhastan about how to use the platform and help them learn to code.

You can find out more about Dina and her brilliant coding school here.