Five reasons to become a coder in your 30s

Wild Code School_remote learning, woman learning to code

The opportunities and benefits within the tech industry have long been a draw to job seekers.

Indeed, the ONS reported in 2019 that the tech industry had amongst the highest number of job vacancies, increasing salaries and attractive flexible working benefits. And as a largely digitised industry it is no surprise that it has fared relatively well in lockdown with a high proportion of employees able to work from home.

But if you ever thought coding was a young person’s game and not for you, think again. Coding attracts recruits from far outside traditional STEM-based careers and education. In fact, students from Wild Code School, a web development and coding school, are upskilling and career changing from diverse backgrounds that range from dance and textile design to chemical engineering, gaming and communications.

And it’s not just school leavers or people early in their careers – in fact it’s people in their 30s who are leading the charge.

Anna Stepanoff, CEO and Founder of Wild Code School, explains the five reasons people in their 30s are turning to coding:

  • It’s not rocket science – there is an increasing awareness that you don’t have to be a Matrix-inspired hyper-brain to work in tech, and as 30-somethings have inevitably come into contact with the digital world in their existing careers – they’re wanting to get involved and understand how it works.
  • Coding is creative – while the initial draw might be the competitive salaries, we find what keeps people interested is the realisation that coding is a highly-creative industry that allows a person to problem solve and bring their own ideas to fruition.
  • Autonomy and Flexibility – people in their 30s who no longer want to work for someone else are realising that the tech industry provides options to go freelance, to choose their own clients and the flexibility to work from where they want.
  • Being a part of what happens next – from the way we consume music and media, eat out, work from home, communicate and stay fit, the tech industry is changing the way we live, and touches all aspects of our lives. Being a part of that is exciting.
  • In-demand skills – there is a widely-discussed skills gap in the tech industry, and we work with employers to understand what they are looking for and how to ensure training is commercially relevant. They are skills sought by a diverse range of companies and will become increasingly important.

“It’s a myth that if you didn’t get into coding at school, then it’s already too late,” Anna says. “If you’ve got the creativity and the drive, then we’ve got the school to help you realise your ambition.”

During the month of August 2020, anyone curious about tech, passionate about learning or considering a new professional career can register to Wild Code Summer School. Week after week, it is offering a month-long programme dedicated to discovering the tech world.

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Why now is the perfect time to learn to code…

codingThe COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll on businesses and people across the globe. People are working from home, have been furloughed or have lost their jobs, which, for some, has led to more free time than ever before.

Although this is an incredibly challenging time, it provides the opportunity to learn new skills, which can help provide a sense of empowerment, build confidence, and can set you up for future success.

Coding is an especially great skill to work on at home – whether you are starting from scratch or want to advance in your current role.  Coding is the way in which you give instructions to a computer to get it to perform one or more tasks. Just in the same way that you can use French or Spanish to communicate directions to people from either country, there are different coding languages suited to different applications, such as JavaScript (website generation), C# (computer games development) and Python (data mining/machine learning).

My career in coding

I first got into coding in my early 20’s, as a master’s student in Bioinformatics. During those times, it was a rarity to see women in coding, the overwhelming majority of people on my course were men. Although there are more female coders today than twenty years ago, the field of coding desperately needs more girls and women – they are half of all tech users and make 85 per cent of shopping decisions.

Throughout my career, I have used coding to solve problems that would be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve without it. In the biomedical sector, I have used it to predict which molecules would make the best candidates for a drug development program, to automatically identify and characterise tumours from nuclear medicine imaging. I get a real buzz from translating my ideas into code which helps solve a real-world problem.

Being a female coder

As a woman in working in science, technology, engineering, and manufacturing (STEM) for over 20 years, I have rarely experienced negative attitudes towards female coders. From my perspective, it has become an inclusive industry that understands the need for a diverse range of people to help prevent issues like implicit bias in coding and foster innovation and empathy in artificial intelligence and machine-learning. Although I do remember one person telling me at a business conference that he “didn’t know that blonde girls could code.” But times are changing…

I joined leading med-tech company, Perspectum, in 2014, to help develop a prototype for a new liver imaging technology. Women make up 56 per cent of the workforce at Perspectum which, for a med-tech firm, is ahead of the curve. However, that percentage drops within the software engineering team to 24 per cent which, despite being in line with the number of applicants who come to interview, highlights that there’s still a lot to be done to encourage women into the field.

Speaking to my coding friends in other sectors, I have heard of women feeling side-lined in software teams comprised predominantly of testosterone-fuelled ‘brogrammers,’ but I think that attitudes are changing for the better, and more and more women are pursuing careers in coding.

There is no time like the present

I would advise women who are deciding whether or not to start a career in coding to just do it – don’t wait, start today even! The good news is that there are plenty of varied – and even free – options for learning the basics online, using sites such as Code Academy or Treehouse. There are also many friendly forums (some women-only) where you can share ideas and ask for help from the coding community. If you have been thinking about taking the plunge, take advantage of the free time you may have at the moment as a result of the pandemic, and start developing the foundational coding skills you need to build websites, programmes, or even medical diagnostic devices like me!

About the author

Dr Cat Kelly is the Director of Clinical Informatics and Services, and co-leads Perspectum’s Clinical Services Business Unit.

Cat has 20 years of industrial and academic experience in the biomedical space. Joining Perspectum in 2014, Cat developed Perspectum’s flagship product LiverMultiScan, before founding the Quantitative Analysis Service. Prior to Perspectum, she developed imaging methods to quantify drug-induced changes in tumours at the University of Oxford and served as Associate Director of the Life Sciences Interface Doctoral Training Centre. Cat holds degrees in Biology and Bioinformatics from the University of York and obtained her DPhil in Medical Imaging from the Department of Engineering at the University of Oxford.

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woman coding on laptop, Code First Girls

“The boys don’t talk to me”

woman coding on laptop, Code First Girls

There once was a little girl who learned to code. She read her father’s textbooks, and was delighted when the computer greeted her with “Hello, World!”.

At primary school, when the first computer arrived, she was given a day off from lessons to show her teachers how to use it. Then she went to high school. The only children who used computers were boys. They played fantasy role-play games and didn’t speak to her. The girls gathered in groups and talked about boys. She didn’t belong in the boys’ world, and she didn’t fit in with the girls. So she stopped learning to code.

Tech Women UK (2015) reports that girls often succumb to ‘strong social pressures … to veer away from technology as a subject choice despite them being interested in science and maths’, citing ‘fear of being seen as a social outsider’ as a key factor.

At school, she loved science, and excelled in maths. At sixteen, she transferred to a new school. The other pupils had taken GCSE maths a year early. For the first time she found herself behind and struggling. She asked for help, then she asked again. “Don’t feel bad,” her teacher told her. “Everyone has a limit in maths, and girls do reach it earlier than boys. Have you thought about taking a different subject?” She was seventeen and listened to him. She gave up maths.

Despite girls achieving overall ‘higher or equal’ results than boys in STEM subjects at GCSE (age 16), the proportion of girls taking these subjects at A-level (age 18) drops off sharply, with only 39% of mathematics and just 21% of physics entrants being female. By the time they reach university, only around 15% of students taking computer science or engineering and technology courses are women (WISE UK Statistics, 2014).

The Women In Tech Report (PwC, 2017) points out that girls are less likely to be encouraged to take technology-related subjects when receiving careers advice, or to have a career in technology recommended to them, and suggests that the stereotype of such career paths being ‘for boys only’ is pervasive amongst teachers.

Three decades, three degrees, two children, and several unsatisfying false-start-careers later, she wondered, could I? She read conflicting opinions about which language, framework, and paradigm to learn. She followed some online tutorials. It was difficult and confusing. She persevered. She looked at photographs from tech conferences: rooms full of men. She wondered what it would be like to walk into those rooms, and if the men in them would speak to her. She decided to do it anyway.

Tech Women UK refers to an ‘androcentric working environment’ in the technology sector, identifying a culture of ‘brogrammers’ as a key factor in why women frequently feel uncomfortable or unwelcome in these industries. Currently, just 19% of jobs in the technology sector in the UK are held by women, with the lowest proportions being in engineering and operations roles (Tech Talent Charter Diversity Report 2020).

She found other women who were doing the same thing. Then she met some who had already done it. Finally, she saw people who looked like her, whose lives looked like her life, writing code and working in technology. She learned to make a website. She learned to build a server. She held her breath and applied for a job. On her first day she sat in a room full of men. “Hello,” she said. “I work here. I’m a software engineer.” They smiled back: “Hello. Welcome.”

Several sources point to the importance of visible female role models in encouraging women into the technology sector. As the Tech Women UK report puts it: ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’. Mentoring programmes and encouraging companies to provide options for flexible working are also identified as significant elements in increasing gender diversity in the tech workplace (e.g. Tech Talent Charter, 2020).

My story is an individual one, but it is by no means unique. On a daily basis I encounter women who were discouraged and excluded from pursuing careers in STEM generally, and technology in particular, from an early age. Some of these women found the means, as I did, to return to these interests later in life. Many more did not. I’m telling my story and I’m reaching out to them to say: it is possible, it can be done, there is a place for us.

Linzi CarlinAbout the author

Linzi Carlin learned to code in her forties. She had no technical background beyond some early experiments with Basic. She has combined parenting and home-schooling two children – one with additional needs – during lockdown, with learning the skills needed to find a job in the industry. Linzi was helped along the way by Sky via its Get Into Tech programme, and Infinity Works’ marvellous Academy. Linzi is now work as an Associate Consultant at Infinity Works. She is a software engineer.


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Deloitte seeks untapped tech talent with new programme for returners


Deloitte are searching for untapped tech talent to take part in its new digital skills retraining programme for people returning to work after a career break.

Building on the success of its award-winning return to work programme, and in response to a growing demand for coding skills, Deloitte is launching a pilot return to work retraining programme, where returners will learn valuable coding and software development skills. As with the firm’s return to work programme, while the retraining programme is designed with women in mind but open to all.

The retraining programme comprises a 12 month Software Developer Apprenticeship, beginning with a three month upfront training course with Makers Academy in London, with successful participants joining Deloitte in permanent roles and qualifying for a Software Developer Level Four Apprenticeship.

The programme is designed specifically for returners without any previous software experience, who are looking to learn new technology skills - including key coding and software developer topics such as databases, coding languages, deployment processes and tools - following a career break of two or more years. The course offers participants the opportunity to retrain, whilst receiving a salary.

Emma Codd, managing partner for talent at Deloitte, said, “This retraining programme is a new and exciting way of bringing talented individuals back to work and filling the growing skills shortage in software development."

"We want to provide the opportunity for people who have had time away from work, whether for family or any other reasons, to learn new, in-demand skills."

“Across the technology industry, women are vastly underrepresented, meaning businesses, and the economy as a whole, are missing out on a hugely valuable pool of potential talent."

"I believe this programme, which is primarily aimed at women but open to all, will create new opportunities and support our commitment to improving the diversity of our workforce."

"We’re looking for people from a range of backgrounds and with different experiences.”

Evgeny Shadchnev, CEO at Makers Academy, added, “From our experiences of training top tech talent, we know that it is never too late to learn to code and consider a career switch."

"Diversity cannot be an afterthought in the digital economy, especially for companies who wish to remain globally competitive."

"We need more diverse talent training as software developers and we are excited to be partnering with Deloitte to make this happen.”