The women who left their jobs to code

A woman's face is lit up with strings of codeGetty Images

“I never considered myself as someone who could work in tech,” says teacher-turned-coder Jessica Gilbert.

It is sentiment that many women identify with – and something backed up by statistics.

There is a major skills gap in the tech sector and, as things stand, there will be only one qualified woman for every 115 tech roles by 2025.

Studies show that women are less likely to work in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) than men.

However, some are beginning to buck the trend and kickstart a new career path.

According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2021 there were 15,000 more women working as programmers and software developers in the UK than in the previous year. The number of women working as web designers increased by almost 10,000.

But even with these gains, women currently only make up 25% of coding jobs, according to SheCodes.

‘Tough but worth it’

Jessica, from Glasgow, was a primary school teacher in Renfrewshire who had reached the point of burnout after being in the classroom for five years.

Jessica Gilbert

She says she was spending evenings and weekends preparing lessons, forking out her own money on resources for the children or asking family and friends to borrow things she could use in the class.

“I could never unwind from it,” she says.

The 28-year old says she “had no idea” about jobs in tech until she saw an Instagram advert by Code First Girls offering a free eight week course on coding.

“I didn’t have science or maths at school so I didn’t think I could manage to code – I thought that those doors in STEM were closed,” she said. “To be honest I didn’t even really know what a software engineer was.

“I assumed it was a geeky, guys job – I certainly didn’t know any other women in these roles that I could look at as a role model or inspiration.”

After the initial course, Jessica went on to do further studies in coding in the evenings while still teaching, which she says was “tough but worth it”.

Now she works as a junior software engineer at Sky Betting & Gaming, and says she is much happier in the role despite not earning as much money as she was when teaching.

Jessica was part of a group on Facebook called “Life after teaching” and after sharing her story there she said her inbox was “flooded with other teachers saying they are also looking to change careers”.

She then decided to set up an Instagram page called @teacher2coder to tell other women about what a tech job involves.

“I previously discounted coding as something for computer scientists or geniuses. But if you are good at communicating and problem solving – a job in tech can be for you.”

Untapped talent

Thaslima Ferdous, 25, studied biomedical science at university and had the intention of becoming a doctor one day, so was working as a healthcare assistant in the NHS in London.

Thaslima Ferdous

“The NHS was really struggling and I felt unappreciated,” she says.

After reading a story about a young woman who had become a coder, she began to wonder if she could switch careers but was sceptical about working in tech when she had a pure science background.

“I began to think ‘what do I have to lose?’ So decided to do a 14 week coding bootcamp which taught me the foundations of python and SQL.”

“My team is entirely male but this is the start,” she adds.

“I don’t think career changing is as daunting as it used to be. If you’re willing to work hard and put in the hours, there’s no reason why a tech job isn’t for you.”

ONS labour force survey data from June 2022 showed that while there were 512,900 men working as programmers, software development professionals, web design professionals and data analysts, there were only 113,900 women doing these jobs – just 18.17%.

Female-founded Code First Girls provides free coding courses to women, helping companies recruit by connecting them with newly trained female developers.

Anna Brailsford, chief executive of the social enterprise, says women need to be given the chance to change their minds about the stereotypes surrounding careers in STEM.

“There is a whole pool of untapped talent amongst those who started out in different fields of study and in different careers,” she says.

“These are candidates who may have never considered a STEM career before, convinced it was a career just for men, or that they didn’t have the right skills. But they come with a wealth of experience to change things in technology for the better.”

Follow Shiona McCallum on Twitter @shionamc

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