Anna StepanoffI am married with three children and the CEO of Wild Code School, a technology educator with the goal of nurturing today’s digital talent.

I founded the School in 2013 and with more than 20 campuses across Europe, and my role is in the global management and strategy of the business, helping to ensure we have the best teachers, technology and culture to attract and further tech talent. Our latest courses (the next starting on June 22nd) are fully remote as a result of the global lockdown so we have all been working hard to ensure students have the best remote experience.

My education has included a Bachelor of Arts at Harvard University in social sciences, after which I moved to Paris to do a PhD at La Sorbonne on the History of museums, where I also taught for three years. During this time, I was also working as a consultant at the Management Consultancy, McKinsey.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No. And I would never have imagined I would be where I am today! Even five years ago I couldn’t have known where my interests in education and technology would have taken me, and indeed how Wild Code School has developed.

I was once given what I have found to be very valuable advice. If you want to hit a target, you should shoot first and then decide your target. Being too precise too early limits your understanding of potential opportunities and can stop you from discovering the exact area that interests and motivates you.

I used this thinking when I realised while doing my PhD that I was not meant to be a researcher or a professor as I had previously felt was my direction. I wanted to do something more entrepreneurial and felt that educational environments and approaches to learning needed re-thinking. I also realised in my professional work that the biggest issue facing businesses today is a lack of talent, and this is most pronounced in technology.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

I have and continue to do so. At university I sincerely thought I would become a professor but had to accept I was not happy and this direction was not right for me. I knew I wanted to work in education so had to re-think how I could achieve this goal outside of the existing educational structures and hierarchies.

I began by creating a summer school and organising international conferences – which is where I found the meaning of what I intended to do. There were important technological advancements being made in education, and I believed that technology needed to be coupled with a new approach that inspired and engaged students, and that was more aligned to the needs of companies and the commercial world.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

It has to be Wild Code School. It now employs over 100 people and we have more than 1,000 students every year. I believe it has had a positive impact on, not just the students, but also the educational system in general, demonstrating alternative teaching approaches, the inclusivity of the tech industry and the need to make further education more aligned to the needs of business.

What motivates me is that technology talent is all around us, but it needs to be nurtured and encouraged in order for businesses and society to access to that talent.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

Timing. Quite simply, I embarked on the Wild Code School project at the right time. At the time I was also interested in other projects around childcare, but did not pursue them as I realised I was too late and the innovations had already happened. Technological advancements were new and ready for me to take advantage of in 2013 in the field of further education.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Be comfortable with uncertainty and understand you can never know everything, because the tech world changes continuously. Some of our students struggle with this, especially when they have come from other fields that are more settled. It’s important for them to understand early on that being comfortable with uncertainty is a fundamental requirement of working in tech.

Do you believe there are still barriers to success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Yes, there are certainly still barriers for women working in tech and I have been lucky that I have not been confronted with these too directly or harshly. The main barrier, and this is not specific to the tech world, is in having children and raising a family.

There is no simple answer to overcoming the fact that many women bear the brunt of the physical and mental responsibilities of looking after children. With three children, juggling responsibilities can of course be challenging and it is about managing stress as well as possible. I completely understand women deciding not having children, in favour of pursuing a career, but moving forward there has to be a stronger cultural change in men and women sharing the responsibilities of childcare. While there is some bias towards careers that men and women are drawn to, I very much believe that women can achieve the same things that men do.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

The most important thing is to ensure that there is a good percentage of women in any team or company. If percentages are low, there is a risk that women will be less comfortable and less likely to succeed. It is a question of making a conscious effort to address, and where necessary, adapt work cultures to ensure there are successful female role models in any business.

There is currently only 17% of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

It would be to increase the number and visibility of role models of women working in important positions and to be better at promoting tech as a creative and diverse career option. For us at Wild Code School we can do this by supporting women and developing stories about students that succeed. However, the promotion of tech as an attractive career path needs to start much earlier; with changes in the curriculum that will help to inspire teenage women.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

At Wild Code School we offer a number of free preparatory courses to introduce people to the world of technology. We make these accessible for people of all educational and career backgrounds; teaching students how to create memes, for example, knowing they are a popular piece of tech that most people are familiar with, but might not realise are created through coding. We also use storytelling to demonstrate our approach to learning; for instance, using ancient Greek mythology and the story of the Argonauts as a useful analogy to the basics of software development.

Our paid data analyst, web development and front-end web development courses take five months and are full- or part-time depending on the course. Under lockdown we shifted our courses to be fully remote and are extremely pleased with how little we need to rely on face-to-face interactions to maintain the energy and fun that our course supervisors inject into learning. Our students come from a diverse set of backgrounds, from finance and engineering to design and even dance, and for our next June course, we are all very excited to see both men and women embrace technology and realise its career opportunities.

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