Teach your sisters to code

Putting on my brother’s coding hat

At a speech at a coding conference on how to hire people who aren’t like you, Koshin Mariano told my brother: “teach your sisters to code”.

There are far fewer female computer programmers than male counterparts.

This is a problem because the world needs more coders and some argue that those that are under-represented in the making of products will be under-represented in the consumption of them.

My brother took Koshin’s call literally and started teaching me.

I’m lucky.

But it leads me to this question: Why can my brother code and I can’t?

My brother and I talked about this, trying to work out the points in our lives when things changed.

It wasn’t access to the computer in the home: The Amiga 5000, complete with the New Zealand Story, was in a room which was meant to be for the three girls.

Years later, when I was around 14 years old, I watched the internet fire up for the first time on my dad’s computer. I’d go downstairs late at night and chat to strangers on AOL chat. Lucky escape that one.

But, the point is, I had access to computers from a young age, as did my brother.

The difference wasn’t at school either. Neither of us learnt to code at school.

Something happened when we both left university.

Neither of our undergraduate degrees led naturally on to a career. Mine was in conflict resolution and his was in European business.

My brother started a job in project management in The City. Until one day he made a product that started his road into being a developer.

So the answer is this: My brother can code and I can’t because he learnt to code in his job.

I went on to enroll in a post-graduate diploma in broadcast journalism and later got a job at BBC.

I went into journalism to meet people I wouldn’t otherwise meet and go places I wouldn’t otherwise go. I chose that over money and control over my career. I have given a name to this trade off: it’s my Interesting Tax.

Did I make that decision because I’m a woman? I’m not sure.

While he was pulled into an area where there was demand for labour, I pushed myself into an industry where there are more skilled people than there are jobs.

I made an ill-informed choice and I didn’t realise the consequences.

Just how oversubscribed my company is, is perfectly illustrated in a term they use when you don’t get a job at BBC. It’s called “also suitable”.

This is a recognition that, while you didn’t get the job, you are perfectly capable of doing the job it’s just someone else, who is better than you, got it.

Compare this to my brother’s company: right now they have eight developer vacancies they just can’t fill.

So what is happening?

Why am I in an industry where they could do without me and meanwhile my brother is in an industry where they are crying out for people?

My brother and I tried to work out why we made these career decisions and if it had anything to do with him being a man and me being a woman.

Is it to do with role models, we asked.

I’m not Meg Ryan, my brother is not Tom Hanks and the whole role model argument is flimsy

In romcoms the female lead, more often than not, is a journalist.

Not least Meg Ryan’s character, the Baltimore Sun reporter Annie Reed, in Sleepless in Seattle.

But, by this logic, my brother pointed out that he should be an architect, like Tom Hanks’ character in the same film.

And then that would make me Meg Ryan and my brother Tom Hanks and that is wrong.

So no, we don’t have an answer.

Regardless of the reason why, I am trying to catch up and learn to code now.

So recently I applied for a program which sends journalists to coding school. I thought this was a neat way to level out the supply and demand of labour.

When I was told I didn’t get in, the interviewer mentioned that it would be good to have more female coders.

It would be, wouldn’t it.

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