“The software world has a view of a ‘typical’ developer, and whether we like it or not, that is subconsciously someone who comes from affluence,” says Cara Turner, CEO of software academy codeX.
codeX - which offers a full time, one-year coding programme in Cape Town - is making progress in addressing tech's diversity problem.
Over the past four years, codeX has trained more than 80 predominantly black coders from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Students are recruited through various NGOs and outreach partners across Cape Town, and are granted a monthly stipend to cover living expenses, which is sourced from corporate and private donations. Former FNB CEO Michael Jordaan, one of the main investors in codeX, serves on its board.
The training programme has been shaped to get the best results from participants. Instead of teachers, students have mentors; instead of classes, students take part in self-paced programmes; and instead of competition, students collaborate.
“Traditional schooling has been shown over and over to only benefit the few: those who were off to the best start when they began their schooling - and that in itself is pretty complex,” Turner says.
"We see learning as a lifelong activity, and focus on providing the skills to take continuous learning into the workplace and beyond."
“It’s important to us that we have people from all walks of life collaborating and learning together - it’s a significant part of developing the social intelligence required for working on teams."
While more than 80% of the graduates have found work (including at Allan Gray and Pick n Pay), Turner says there remain some prejudices in the industry.
“Although the tech scene identifies as being ‘trendy’, many companies don’t have a structure for nurturing new talent from different backgrounds,” she says.
“There’s also a hiring bias for graduates with degrees even though the tech industry prefers coders with practical experience.”
“We can’t change the past, but our actions and choices every day allow us to create a new future, and for codeX – and South Africa - that is one that is inclusive."
“Where a new generation of coders are able to apply their skills to their own circumstances, and design entirely new technical solutions, that truly serve the majority of our population.”