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'TECH IS PERFECT FOR MUMS WHO WANT TO WORK FLEXIBLY' - INTERVIEW WITH THE FOUNDER OF MUMS IN TECH

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June Angelides talks to Lisa Williams about setting up coding courses for mothers...

June Angelides set up Mums in Tech in 2015, as a way to give women both the digital skills and the confidence to build a career in tech. Her courses provide on-site nannies to help with childcare while the women learn, and have been hosted by organisations including Moo, Marks and Spencer and the Ministry of Justice. This year Computer Weekly named her one of the 100 most influential women in tech, and she was also picked to be a face of a Lancome campaign, under the slogan, ‘My secret power is coding’. She has two children: Adam, 5, and Ivy, 2, and is expecting a third next year.

What made you want to set up Mums in Tech?

It stemmed from my own frustrations with trying to work with a developer. When I was on maternity leave with Ivy, I wanted to build an app, and I thought it would be simple to hire a developer and tell him my vision. But I didn’t understand the terms the dev was using, I couldn’t communicate what I wanted effectively, and that really frustrated me.

I didn’t want it to feel as if technology was beyond me, so I started looking online at ways to build apps. I did some training online but it wasn’t right for me, I wanted a classroom environment, with a teacher, and I wanted it to be social. Ivy was small, so I needed to have her with me, but there was nothing out there to solve that problem, and that’s how the idea came about. I put a call-out on social media for other mothers who wanted to upskill, and within a week I had had 100 women sign up. Coding was just coming up in school curriculums so the timing was right.

What is your vision for Mums in Tech?

I want women to feel that they can get involved in the tech world. I want them to feel empowered and not that tech is a man’s world. Our courses help them visualise themselves in tech, and we do it in a very fun, relaxed environment, with other women doing the same thing and supporting each other.

How did the first Mums in Tech course come about?

I had no resources. I was on statutory maternity pay at that point so I didn’t have heaps of money for anything glamorous, I knew it would be scrappy. I did a lot of research during night feeds with Ivy. I started reaching out to people on LinkedIn and asking them if they’d be willing to help. I came across Code First: Girls and contacted the CEO, Amali de Alwis, and told her about my idea. She spent a lot of time with me, crafting a curriculum, and introduced me to Thoughtworks, where the first course took place. They were excited about the concept and about having babies on board. They gave us space for four hours a week for eight weeks, and food and drink. My employer at the time, Silicon Valley Bank, sponsored the nannies, so the women could have some hands-free time learning. The BBC hosted us for a field trip. People were willing to open their doors and share knowledge. It made me realise how many really cool tech companies are willing to do what it takes to get women back into work. It was amazing.

How has your finance background helped you with it so far?

It made me aware of the struggles that I should expect in the early days of starting a business. I had worked with some early-stage tech companies and knew cashflow might be an issue, so I wasn’t surprised when it was slow. The bank also gave me an invaluable network of people to host our courses and our graduation ceremonies.

How have business reacted to you?

Other businesses have been very supportive, even those who may be supposed competitors. I have always asked people in my field for advice, and organisations such as Makers’ Academy, General Assembly and Digital Mums have been so helpful. There’s no reason why you can’t be friends with people in your field, there is always scope for collaboration.

And overall the larger corporates have been brilliant too. It was really surprising how much they were willing to take a chance on me as an early start-up, but I had Microsoft and M&S Digital involved early on, and giving up a lot of their time preparing and hosting our courses and providing the students with support during and after the course. If these organisations can work with people as tiny as me, think of the possibilities. Be honest about where you are: if you’re scrappy, tell them, and they’ll get it.

Do businesses take the women seriously, or do you think there's a degree of 'aw, mums and babies'?

They’re 100% genuine. They have wanted us there. It’s hard work having us around but they have given the programme 110% rather than using it as a box-ticking exercise. That’s what makes me believe that companies do want to do more when it comes to the individuals who work there. Getting to the people at the top and getting them to change their hiring and management processes is more difficult.

How employable does the course make you if you're looking to change career?

The signature seven-week course is about dipping your toes in the water. You can’t get a job as junior developer at the end, but you get a sense of all the different employment options in a tech-heavy organisation. You’re building an app, you’re finding out what someone in UX (user experience) does, what a developer and an agile coach does. You can ask all the questions to help you make up your mind, and then go on to the right further training, such as a web development boot camp, if that’s what you decide.

Do you have any success stories so far?

Many women have gone on to careers in tech. As an example, Sara Tateno, one of our grads, went on to learn how to code at Makers’ Academy and now she’s built her app (family activity finder Happity) and has fundraised. These are the stories we love. Many grads have moved in to tech companies because they love the environment. After doing our course they understand how the lines are dotted up. They are forward-thinking, creative, and employers love how they’ve done something amazing in their own time.

Do you think there's too much pressure on women to set up their own businesses after having children?

Yes, I think more and more when I hear people saying they want to start up a business, what they’re saying is they want flexibility and, if employers were more flexible, we would see fewer businesses popping up. There’s that stifling feeling of returning to work, faced with unrealistic hours to fit around childcare, but if you want to chase your dream of career progression, many women need to do it on their own terms. But often setting up your own business is not really what is promised. It’s hard work, it’s an emotional rollercoaster, it’s hard to balance when you’ve got kids to look after,  and there’s lots of financial insecurity that can be more stressful than going back to work.

How flexible can careers in tech be? Do you know of any good flexi employers?

It’s easy to work flexibly in the tech world, especially in start-ups and mid-sized companies. First of all, it saves costs on the overheads. Once you’ve got good systems in place for communication, such as Trello or Slack, everyone can say where they’re at with a project. I saw at M&S Digital that employees could be anywhere, they didn’t need to be in the office, they were able to work with their teams on projects and keep them updated. If you have that trust and transparency about what you’re doing and you stick to deadlines, it can work. Businesses need to give it a go and see how it works rather than coming up with potential problems.

What do you think would help combat maternity discrimination and encourage employers to allow for flexible working?

It’s very easy when we request flexible working to just accept the first decision if they come back with a no. We need to push back and have a creative discussion with line managers about actually trying out your suggestions before they say no. We need to talk about the value added, about our career dreams, and if we’ve upskilled during maternity leave we should tell them about it. It’s also important to point out that the kids will grow up soon and we don’t want to stall our careers for the sake of a few years. Businesses should also be willing to at least try out new arrangements before they shut it down. Try a three-month trial with a new arrangement and see for themselves how everyone copes, and what the impact is on the team, let the team decide whether they can cope with this arrangement, rather than just the manager..

What are the next steps for Mums in Tech?

We create courses as needed. We listen to our audience and provide them with what they need. We’re working on remote courses so we can reach a wider audience but we’ll only launch it when we’re sure it can have the same impact as our in-person courses. The relationships and community have been very key to what we built so, until we’re sure that every grad will have that feeling, we won’t go live.

:: The next Mums in Tech course is being hosted by Huckletree West in Shepherds Bush, London, in October. They are also hosting an event about careers in tech and fashion at Matches Fashion in October.

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