Africa, Tech and Girls: Social Coding SA

Social Coding’s Thembisa Magajane was interviewed by GirlCode and here’s how it went:

1. Tell us more about yourself and how you got into tech?

It’s actually a funny story because unlike a lot of people who are in the tech industry, I didn’t follow a traditional path. I come from an accounting background and the only time tech and what I did intersect was when I was updating excel spreadsheets. One day I came across an article about a nine-year-old in the United States who developed an app that could warn parents when their child was suffering an asthma attack and I remember thinking how cool it was a girl did that and then it lead me into researching more about app development and the girls/women who were driving the change in such an innovative Industry

2. Now, Social Coding, tell us more about it and how it started?

Social Coding was born out of the disbelief I experienced when all the initial research I did into the technology industry showed VERY little results in terms of young black women leading innovation in tech. I remember on November 21, 2016, I wept for an hour because I had googled “black women in tech” and the first page only showed four or five women making headlines and none of them were black. Or African.

The next day my tears turned to rage and then to strategy. It became my mission to change the girl child narrative. To raise up a generation of creators instead of just consumers. And the more I started thinking about what it was I wanted to do, the more I realized that it wasn’t going to be enough to teach girls just how to code. I needed to teach them how to be community conscious problem solvers, that’s why we incorporate a step by step program that gets the girls involved in active community service as well as teach them the skills they need to BUILD tech start-ups. We do this by challenging the girls to create businesses geared at solving social problems. Once they have the idea, workshops are held that teach them how to draw up business plans and how to fundraise and then the actual coding comes into play when we teach them how to design websites for the businesses they’ve drawn up and code their own mobile applications.

3. Do you find that it is more difficult to encourage young girls to explore the world of tech?

The difficulty I face is the initial explaining of what exactly the technology industry is and why it’s so important to be a creator instead of a just a consumer. Many of these girls come from backgrounds where computer engineering is a “boring, boys industry”. With only a handful of role models to point to (like African American Ursula Burns or Kimberly Bryant of Black Girls Code), it’s sometimes tough to convince them that this is an industry that females can actually do ground-breaking work. Once the initial misconception is dispelled and we show (not just tell) them how cool and important coding is, it’s all uphill from there.

4. What are some of the challenges or stereotypes you have to debunk while running the initiative?

That NPO’s such as GirlCode and Social Coding are not worth fully investing in. Many people assume the worlds most precious and scarce resource is monetary capital. In my opinion, I think that it’s actually human capital. If we’re going to speed up the progress and go even faster on the set of millennium goals that we have set as a country, as a world, we have to learn from the innovators. And I believe that 60% of those innovators are young black girls that are yet to be taught how to code. Teach one girl to code and she’ll teach 22 more because women are by nature change agents, and by doing so, we’ll solidify the economy of our nation for years to come.

5. What does Social Coding look like in 20, 60 or even 100 years?

An ongoing movement of young women who are initiators, conceptualists, shapers and the drivers of innovative and strategic problem-solving.

This article was originally published on the GirlCode website.

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