The clean cut world of tech provides exciting opportunities for people looking to be at the vanguard of development.
However, the issue of diversity is often overlooked. The industry is male dominated, predominantly white and chronically short on people from underprivileged backgrounds.
That’s something that Kirsty Devlin, chief operating officer of the recently launched Leeds Codes, is eager to change.
Leeds Codes is run by the same people who established Manchester Codes on the other side of the Pennines.
Ms Devlin was the key driving force behind bringing the coding school over here to Yorkshire.
“We’ve always wanted to come to Leeds,” she says. “There’s a number of things that I think Leeds has.”
One of them is a geographical advantage with Manchester being more dispersed than Leeds, with the city having a “richness to its identity”. Then, of course, is the strength of the region’s tech sector.
Ms Devlin said: “The tech sector is really starting to take off here. It’s often been overlooked as a city in the North and Manchester gets a lot of the attention, just because Manchester does shout the loudest.
“Whereas there are some really incredible companies coming out of Leeds at the minute. There’s really interesting clusters around data, which I find exciting, and actually some really strong women that lead businesses here.”
Business leaders such as Zandra Moore, CEO of software firm Panintelligence, and Anna Sutton, CEO of The Data Shed, inspired Ms Devlin.
“It made me feel that if they can do it, I can do it,” she said. “I don’t think there’s that same community vibe in Manchester.”
Despite this, Ms Devlin believes that there is a lack of diversity in the tech sector that goes beyond just gender.
In fact, the whole raison d’etre for Manchester Codes and Leeds Codes is to open up opportunities to those that may not have been given previously. It hopes to do this by offering affordable part-time coding classes. Ms Devlin said: “It’s really hard for working class communities to access careers in technology.”
Apprenticeships in the sector haven’t yielded the desired outcome with many from working class backgrounds not seeing it as a viable option. There has also been a drop off in the number of apprenticeships being offered, according to Ms Devlin.
The chief operating officer also says that there are few people of colour in the tech industry. Lack of access to hardware and networks in the industry could be barriers for them.
Ms Devlin said: “I realised that once I widened my network the opportunities widened as well.
“If your family is from a low income background, which is predominantly the case for most people of colour, then you don’t have that network.”
It’s also about educating parents, she says, with many families from ethnic minority backgrounds putting a high premium on traditional roles such as that of a doctor, lawyer or accountant.
“There needs to be a whole pivot towards reeducating parents and getting them to encourage children down different pathways, it’s not about pushing children just to university but realising that there are alternative routes,” Ms Devlin said.
She personally has a similar experience with Ms Devlin’s parents putting an emphasis on her and her sisters going to university.
Ms Devlin said: “I went to university. I wish I hadn’t. I think a lot of people do it because their parents didn’t go to university so there’s that pressure.”
She studied business, management and accounting at university. Her own journey into tech wasn’t down a technical path.
“I was a community manager for a start-up space in Manchester and it had all of these budding entrepreneurs,” Ms Devlin said. “They would all whip out their Macbooks and go through lines of code. I knew what lines of code were but I just thought it was magic.”
From there she went to work for an artificial intelligence company doing marketing. Then in 2017 Joe Stephens set up Manchester Codes. A year later Ms Devlin joined the organisation and became a shareholder.
The organisation’s move mirrors that of competitor Northcoders, which also began life in Manchester before launching a campus in Leeds. Although Ms Devlin believes there’s a gap in the market with its affordable courses.
Leeds Codes will initially be running sessions online but the plan is to start hosting classes at Duke Studios in the city next year.
“It’s the perfect location and the perfect kind of community that we want to be a part of,” Ms Devlin added.
Leeds Codes has already seen interest from potential employers in the region’s tech sector, especially for entry level talent.
“People do want more readily available talent,” Ms Devlin said. “I spoke to Transition Partners, who were really positive about this move mainly because they’ve got so many different roles that they can’t fill at entry level.”
She wants to communicate opportunities across the whole of the Leeds city region, especially areas that feel a sense of disconnect from the tech industry. Ultimately, Ms Devlin wants to offer people a choice.
“I’d like for people in the region to have a different option,” she says. “For working people not to feel like they are trapped.”
CV: Kirsty Devlin
Date of birth: 11/03/1992
Education: Business and Management Degree at Edgehill University
Last book read: Malcolm Gladwell, Tipping Point
Favourite Film: The Pursuit of Happiness
Favourite Musical Artist: Peggy Gou
Ideal holiday destination: Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
Ideal day off work: Grabbing a coffee with loved ones, rambling in the Peak District and finishing the day with a huge roast dinner and a pint
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