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Digital Inclusion

Accelerating women in STEM: In conversation with GirlCode's Tinyiko Simbine

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Tinyiko Simbine, co-founder and CFO of GirlCode and a Mail and Guardian Top 200 Young South Africans 2020 awardee, has been part of GirlCode's executive team for seven years.

What started as a hackathon to get more girls excited about tech has grown into a national non-profit organization impacting hundreds of young girls through various initiatives.

In the run-up to International Women's Day 2021, Africa Tech Festival's Emily Parrett sat down with Simbine to hear about her personal journey as a woman in the tech industry.

This is an extract from the Closing the Gap: Accelerating Women in STEM eBook from Africa Tech Festival and accelerateHER Africa.

Emily Parrett (EP): How old were you when you were first introduced to coding?

Tinyiko Simbine (TS): This is a bit of a funny story. I first got introduced to coding when I was 16 years old in Grade 10 when I was still in high school. Funnily enough I didn't like it much, so much that I even dropped IT as a subject and took up Science instead.

I didn't give coding much of a chance at the time and had very little understanding of it and the possibilities it could bring. Fast forward a few years and I ended up studying Accounting Sciences and getting into the Finance field. I later got back into coding when two of my best friends and I decided to turn our passion into a business.

My inspiration came from my need to always help people who were less fortunate than me and when I got into the tech space, my passion was ignited when I noticed the gender gap within the ICT space through one of my best friends.

After working for a tech company, the gender gap became even more evident for me and I saw the need to address this gender gap problem while also bridging the digital divide that is causing the less fortunate to get left behind in this fast-paced technology driven reality that we are currently faced with.

EP: What excites you in the field?

TS: Hearing from our beneficiaries excites me, seeing them thrive in this industry excites me. When you educate a woman, you educate a nation. When girls are educated, their countries become stronger and more prosperous. At GirlCode alone, with the programs we provide, we can easily change someone's life, taking their salary from R2,000 ($129) to R20,000 ($1,290) a month.

In March 2019, we partnered with American Express in the UK and hosted a hackathon, where eight of our girls were permanently employed and are currently living in the UK. Some of them had never had the opportunity to travel abroad before. Proof that the future is indeed female, and at GirlCode we live for these moments, empowering females in tech through tech.

EP: Why do you think there are so few girls coding compared to males and why does this matter?

TS: Maths and science were always considered subjects for boys and historically girls were raised to believe that their place was in the kitchen and to raise kids, they were conditioned to believe that they were not good enough for anything else.

Girls were never actually afforded the same opportunities as their male counterparts. This matters because as a young girl or woman, it is important for you to have role models who look just like you to give you that extra push. When you have people, who look just like you, to look up to your ability to thrive and succeed increases.

Our vision is to create a network of women who are highly skilled in software development and leadership skills who will contribute towards an inclusive and innovative technology industry.

EP: What's the biggest challenge you've had to overcome in your journey?

TS: Being a non-technical person, in a technical world whilst also being an entrepreneur, we all know that you can't really study to be and entrepreneur you learn with time and you learn on the fly. Basically, it's adapt or die.

Being a female in a male dominated industry adds more pressure and you also get to experience not-so-fun things such as imposter syndrome and it's something you battle with a lot. Especially being a female and being non-technical.

How I overcame this challenge is by constantly challenging myself. I constantly upskill myself and ensure that I don't stop evolving in order to thrive in this sector. One of the amazing things about the tech space is that the possibilities are endless. I am also a firm believer that you need to be the change you want to see.

So, I use my passion as a driving force in pursuing my dream because not only do I get to do what I love but I also get to change lives while doing it and for me there isn't a better feeling than knowing that I contributed towards changing someone's life, forever.

EP: What role can corporations play in getting girls into coding?

TS: The use of digital skills has become part of our lives, with many activities facilitated by and through the use of technology. Corporates need to give more South Africans access to these skills that they need not only to survive but to thrive in this digitally advanced world that we are currently living in.

Technology needs girls to help invent the future. Especially in a country where there are millions of unemployed young people, it's important to break the existing stereotypes that technology careers are "too hard" for girls.

EP: Should you spend more time building your network or more time understanding business, as well as being a good programmer?

TS: You need to actually find a balance between taking time to better understand all three as they are connected and essentially the one requires the other one in order for you as an individual to be the best version of yourself in this space.

You do need to be well-rounded in order to be successful, just being a good programmer is not enough. It's the same as being qualified for any job, the technical skills aren't sufficient, you do need some soft skills too.

EP: What mark do you want to leave on the world?

TS: I would like to see an African "Silicon Valley" where women take up the space and leverage their skills to better African countries.

I want to create a community, a safe space for young girls and women to thrive and survive as well as learn from each other and pay it forward from one generation to another.

—To find out more, get your free copy of the Africa Tech Festival and accelerateHER eBook here.

Related posts:

*Top image is of Tinyiko Simbine, co-founder and CFO of GirlCode. (Source: supplied ).

— Emily Parrett, Associate Marketing Manager, Prospects, Africa Tech Festival

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