CodeSpace is a South African organization, based in Cape Town, providing young people with the skills to excel in technology careers. We caught up with the founder Emma Dicks to find out about its work – specifically how it is giving young people in Cape Town the skills to "be more powerful."
"Learning to code for me is like giving somebody Lego bricks... it lets someone start building the technology they can imagine and bring their ideas into reality," Emma says.
While Cape Town is a bustling home to globally renowned technology companies, there is still vast youth unemployment in the city.
"The education system doesn't currently prepare all young people to work in these super-exciting tech companies," Emma explains. "The legacy of apartheid education means that most black youth are excluded from the opportunities our tech industry holds."
Six years ago, inspired by this need to support the Mother City's youth and tackle the lack of diversity in the city’s boardrooms, she started a single coding class that has since grown into an organization leading the way to more tech education for the country.
"The people making big decisions about the technology being built, those people aren't black people; those people aren't women. It just seems we're missing out on a vast potential of our nation's talent," she explains.
She believes the "fourth industrial revolution" needs both a broad base of people who can leverage technology effectively to augment their skills, as well as expert software developers.
Building the leaders of the future
CodeSpace founder Emma Dicks.
The CodeSpace Trust
runs various programs to get young people from school to employment. A specific interest is investing in talented young women, in particular young black women, during critical career positioning times.
Across the city, CodeSpace works with school teachers, equipping them to bring coding into the curriculum.
"This year the President [of South Africa] mandated schools to start teaching coding. We are able to support this initiative with our years of experience teaching coding."
The organization identifies young women who show exceptional talent and invests specifically in nurturing their coding ability and interest in pursuing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) studies at a tertiary level.
From there, the Student Tech Leaders program helps young women apply to STEM study paths at university and connects them to financing. As Emma notes, somebody can want a STEM career path, but without the right financial support, the gender gap will remain.
It also offers opportunities to those not looking to attend university. The Young Professional track offers the opportunity to fast track into the tech industry. Here, someone can do an intensive half-year training course before starting work as a junior web developer. CodeSpace foots the upfront cost of the training and connects them into employment.
"This is a very compelling alternative to university that we have created. Whether you spend three years completing an undergrad [degree], or three years following this route, you end up at the same earning potential after three years," says Emma.
Last year, more than half of the teaching team were once students in their classes. Now working as developers and teaching the next generation, CodeSpace is a community – it's about those relationships and giving back.
Emma has also noticed an exciting change among the communities CodeSpace works with. Six years ago, the invitation for young women to attend coding classes would need to be framed in an entirely different way – "become leaders" or "learn about technology." Today she finds that most young people and their parents are enthused about the notion of learning to code. There is a real shift in the understanding of the value of coding as a key tool to tackle some of South Africa’s biggest challenges.
Not only does CodeSpace allow young women to excel in career paths, but it also helps them gain the skills "to be even more powerful" and build real value in society.
Shaping corporate ways of being
CodeSpace is helping the youth of Cape Town to learn the skills needed to excel in technology careers.
The question so often asked on panels regarding growing diverse talent is: "How do you find talented people and provide the right environment to keep them?"
"There really needs to be this conversation between education organizations and the companies themselves," Emma believes.
While CodeSpace is hugely successful in training young people, Emma emphasized there remains a critical role for technology companies to play. She's seeing a huge shift in companies no longer expecting "shiny finished products" from universities.
This is significant as hiring young people is a large investment, requiring a budget, further training and sometimes entire restructuring. Right now, following COVID-19 and an increase in remote working and more flexible hours, Emma suggests there's a great opportunity for companies to consider how they restructure the workplace.
CodeSpace founder Emma Dicks with her students.
Could you help bring your own experiences and expertise to support their pipeline of talent they're trying to create? You could offer employment opportunities, invest in bursaries for young talent, or impact education at a school level.
For more information sign up to the CodeSpace general mailing list or find specific information on job opportunities and bursaries.
AfricaCom is proud to partner with CodeSpace Trust for 2020.
Go to the AfricaCom website to pre-register for the 2020 event.
— Emily Parrett, Digital Content Marketer, Informa Tech