Diversity, equity and inclusion is a key commitment of Red Hat. We aim to reflect it in our people and also want to help improve representation and inclusivity in the tech industry for women, people of color, and other marginalized groups. More diversity produces a broader spectrum of ideas, and ensures everyone progresses further, faster. So given the opportunity to support a new coding movement for girls, we jumped at the chance. What’s extraordinary about this movement is that it’s being led by a London schoolgirl.
When Avye Couloute started attending coding workshops, aged just seven, she was struck by two things: how much she loved them, and how few girls there were. She wasted no time putting the latter right. Since launching her Girls Into Coding (GIC) movement in 2018, the London schoolgirl has shared her knowledge and passion with more than 900 girls. “I just want to give other girls the chance to feel the way that I do about this stuff,” she says.
That “stuff” is more than just coding on a screen. Her workshop events (she’s hosted 30 of them so far) teach girls how to design, build and program robots among other tech-based activities. They also develop core skills such as teamwork, problem-solving and resilience. “With robotics, you learn quickly that things don’t always work the first time. You need to keep going. That’s a good lesson for life.”
A shared vision
It speaks to Avye’s grand vision for what GIC can achieve. “Women continue to be underrepresented in the technology industry, and especially in engineering roles. I want to show girls that they are just as capable.”
It’s the sort of message of empowerment and diversity you may expect from a seasoned executive; not someone only in their third year of high school. But Avye is in no mood to wait. “I know how daunting it is to be the only girl in the room. The more girls who get involved now, the more will join in. Then they go on to inspire the next generation, and the cycle goes on.”
Red Hat is delighted to be supporting Avye and GIC with funding for new events and access to our experts. Sarah Weldon-Gamble, Red Hat’s Director of PR & Brand Experience in EMEA, has been key to the partnership.
She says: “I first met Avye at Co.Lab, Red Hat’s education experience in London in 2019, when she and a group of peers mentored school children on how to use open source principles for problem solving, and again at Young Coders MeetUps which we ran within our London Open Innovation Lab. Avye’s energy, confidence and leadership abilities are impressive, as is her ability to make her mark on the world. Through Girls Into Coding she is making tech a more inclusive place for future generations of girls.”
Starting young, growing fast
Avye’s own start came aged seven, when she signed-up for a coding workshop at her local CoderDojo. But she reflects that the spark was already there. “I’ve always loved building and bringing things to life. I used to be really into LEGO, and creating things out of cardboard and old cereal boxes.”
Becoming a regular at these workshops—”and the person who was always asking all the questions,”—Avye found herself taking more of a leading role, before being invited to mentor new participants. She was immediately struck by the sense of purpose it provided. “I loved seeing girls achieve things. I knew that’s how I wanted to channel my passion.”
With a crowdfunded budget of £1,000, she set up her first workshop at her local library. “I thought a few mates might turn up. But we had around 20 girls. I knew we were onto something.”
Time to get organized. Venues were sourced, course packs were created, and a sponsor found in the shape of Microsoft. Five more events were hosted, and momentum was building. Then came COVID. “I felt we were back to square one. It was so frustrating.”
But leaders are resilient and imaginative people, and Avye moved GIC online. She has now hosted 25 virtual workshops. It has not been without its challenges. Core to GIC workshops is a focus on practical learning, which meant Avye needed to create and send out packs in advance. A nicer problem to have was where she had to send them, with girls from the U.S, Canada, India, South Africa and Denmark joining.
When restrictions were lifted in the UK, Avye was able to host her first physical event since the pandemic struck and is hoping to be able to run more in-person sessions, but either way will continue running events online to welcome an international audience.
Red Hat is sponsoring four of these events, in which 130 girls are due to participate, ensuring GIC remains free to attend, and is also contributing equipment and Red Hat speakers. Avye is looking forward to seeing some familiar faces. “We get girls who have been coming since our first events. It’s amazing to see their knowledge and passion grow.”
It is telling that, when asked about the future—her own and GIC’s—Avye is noncommittal. “I don’t really like questions like that. I’m more interested in getting things done today.” That includes building out GIC’s curriculum. She’s currently researching IoT and AI, to develop courses on those.
She also wants to use GIC as a launchpad for forcing the tech industry to face issues of gender diversity with more honesty and urgency. You get the sense that, when given the chance, she’s unlikely to hold back. “I really respect women who talk openly about problems and challenges. Now I am building my platform, I intend to use it.