women in tech

Karen Scott and how to get involved with coding

"...when I talk about joining our programme to develop useful projects and to learn to code while doing so, girls are more interested. When I talk about learning to code and creating an app while doing so, we tend to get less girls. I think, as a girl myself, that girls are drawn towards more purposeful activities."

Karen Scott set up futureCodersSe in 2017 to provide opportunities for young people to learn to code and accelerate their learning through a variety of projects.

FutureCodersSe mission is to offer young people a place where they could learn, improve their skills and help them land their dream job doing what they love.

Karen talk about her current role and the path that took her where she is now:

Karen Scott Co-founder of FuterCodersSe, software developer
Karen Scott

“I run the community interest company, futureCodersSE, which I set up in 2017 to provide opportunities for young people to learn to code and to accelerate their learning by working on app development projects.  I started my career as a software developer in 1988 when I worked on 3D interior design software for Apple Mac computers.  I had a Higher National Diploma in Computer Studies which, at the time, was a brilliant course, allowing me to experience a range of programming languages, including Ada, Fortran, Prolog and assembly language.  Through the course I gained a good, all-round understanding of computer science concepts, which has been invaluable throughout my career.  There were many opportunities to try different roles and I wrote technical manuals and some small articles for magazines.

I spent many years teaching teenagers, specialising in the teaching of programming, software development, website development, games development and networking.  Further opportunities came up for me to become an A Level examiner, to write education materials, to contribute to books and to develop new learning programmes.  I have also grabbed opportunities to volunteer and I am a STEM Ambassador, a digital T Level Ambassador, a MozFest volunteer, a Crisis at Christmas volunteer and a YHA volunteer manager.  It has always been important to me not to waste an opportunity and I have been lucky enough to meet a large number of really interesting people and to experience a range of interesting roles.

I now work half the week as a Software Developer for Navigator Productions, the company behind the Learning Lounge eLearning platform.  My role there is to work on new features and to support a move from a single programmer situation to a team project with cloud hosting.  Eventually, we want the team to be set up so that new developers can be onboarded easily and procedures are in place to facilitate effective team working.

I work the other half of the week as director of futureCodersSE.  Our 3-month work experience programme helps young people to build coding skills, technical knowledge, confidence and experience of working in a software development team.  We have run the programme six times now and young people have been offered apprenticeships or further work experience as a result of experience on the programme.  My ambition is to expand the programme into a full training programme and to use it to support learning on an apprenticeship programme.

I have had so many opportunities in my life and believe strongly that always being open to opportunities has been beneficial to keeping my career interesting and rewarding.   I want to create as many opportunities for others, especially those just starting on their own career paths, as I can.”

What do you love about technology, coding and the job you currently have?

“My whole career has been in roles closely connected with technology.  I love to problem solve and I love to be creative.  Coding and software development allow me to do both, finding new solutions and improving existing solutions.  I love to learn and there is always a need to learn new technologies, new platforms and even new languages.  During my long teaching career I had to learn new languages, techniques and software at least every other year and always had to be really creative to come up with interesting learning activities.  Technology presents endless opportunities to be creative and this, for me, is by far its most important feature. 

I have only recently joined Navigator Productions and I am really excited about my role.  The opportunity to create an environment that is more ready to provide opportunities for young programmers is really exciting.

FutureCodersSE has already run six work experience programmes.  Our model is to take a requirement for a small app (always web-based), then to recruit four or five young people (between 16 and 24).”

Why do you think tech roles are not as appealing for girls as they are for boys? Or are they becoming more popular?

One team of futureCodders at Work with Karen
One team of futureCodders at Work with Karen

“We are finding it less difficult to find girls who are interested in joining our work experience programme as time goes on.  I don’t have any specific evidence in terms of interest from girls but my gut instinct is that there are a significant number of girls out there with a natural interest in coding but who haven’t had an opportunity to learn and who aren’t likely to be identified, or encouraged, by a teacher or parent as having that natural interest.  I do know that when I talk about joining our programme to develop useful projects and to learn to code while doing so, girls are more interested.  When I talk about learning to code and creating an app while doing so, we tend to get less girls.  I think, as a girl myself, that girls are drawn towards more purposeful activities.  I think that if we want more girls to be involved, then ensuring that all children have the opportunity to learn, so that it is mainstream, will be really effective.”

Can you tell us about any exciting projects you are doing at the moment?

“We have just released the prototype for an exciting app, developed by our young development team, which was supported by two amazing volunteers, Maggy Burns (front-end developer at Space Between) and Josh Thompson-Smith (full-stack developer).

Our app ArtWorkingWords facilitates a ‘conversation’ between an artist and viewers of artwork in a gallery.  The app is a web-based mobile app which allows you to scan a QR code associated with a picture or sculpture.  This will bring information to the app which includes a sound clip from the artist.  The artist talks about the piece of artwork, what it represents, the thought processes, etc.  The viewer can then use the app to record a short response to the artist which is uploaded to a database.

Each artist has a login to the artist area of the app’s back office, where he/she can listen to all the responses and can run them all together through an analyser to identify key words or phrases and get an overall picture of what people are thinking in response to the artwork.  It has been popular with artists, who are able to hear the sort of things people say in a gallery (which they wouldn’t have access to otherwise).  People who are in the gallery love being able to hear the artist’s voice and to hear about the artwork.

We are really excited about the app and now need to start to talk about it widely and try to take it forward.  If it can become commercially viable it could, potentially, fund future work experience programmes as well as providing a continuing set of interesting projects.

ArtWorkingWords was written as a suite of functioning parts.  The app itself is written in Javascript using the React framework.  The back office is written in Python, using the Django framework and connected to a Postgres database.  The app connects to the same database through a set of APIs written in Python and running through an API gateway service provided by AWS.  We use Gitlab repositories and AWS services to host all parts of the app.  Our young developers focus on either Javascript or Python and all contribute functionality.  We ask all to learn enough HTML and CSS to support the rest of their programming in a web-based environment.”

How can people get involved with futureCodersSE ?

“We are taking applications for the next work experience programme now, to start during November.  We are looking for young people with an interest in coding.  Some may only just be starting to learn, others might already be writing some great programs.  We have some exciting projects coming up.

We are always on the lookout for volunteers.  We have a range of roles, including supporting a development project, leading coding workshops, offering a work experience placement within your company, starting the process of setting up an apprenticeship opportunity.  We are particularly interested in partnering with companies and/or individuals who may have the capacity to support the organisation of networking events and hackathon type events, especially where they will appeal to young people.

You can find information about the work experience programme on our website and can email karen@futurecoders.org.uk with any questions.  We run workshops to help beginners to start their learning journeys and will be opening up opportunities on traineeship and apprenticeship programmes in the near future.”

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