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  • Tue, 15, Mar, 2016 - 5:00:AM

Pearl Robin: Why women should learn to code

Image: Pearl Robin / Guy Ryan

Pearl Robin got a rude wake-up call when she graduated from uni. The first in her family of six kids to get a degree, she was understandably pretty proud of her newly-minted Bachelor of Commerce. She was going to get a sweet job, probably as an accountant, she thought.

Then a lecturer laughed and told her, “Good luck doing anything with that”.

Wow. It really stung, but Pearl eventually came to learn that her degree hadn’t been worth quite as much as she’d thought it was. She’d learned a lot of “soft” skills, but not hard ones she could make money with. She’d learned to think, but not do. So Pearl wound up in HR, a job she hated.

Being bored and restless at work led her to stumble across the “hard” skills she had always been looking for - ones that could actually make her money: the art of coding.

After a friend hit her up for help with a website, Pearl taught herself how to code, with the help of some online courses. Teaching herself this “hard” skill is pretty damn impressive, but Pearl says that once she was hooked on technology, she couldn’t get enough, utilising all the online information that is freely available to those who are passionate and persistent enough to find it.

But she knows not everyone has the resources, time, or knowledge to seek out the means to teach themselves tech and coding skills.

For Pearl, the newfound knowledge changed her life. She ditched her job, took a leap, and started selling herself as a freelance web designer. It gave her the flexibility to travel the world whilst working remotely; a typical day meant waking up at 10am in Germany and making breakfast, before settling down to work by 1pm.

“I love that it’s an inclusive job,” says Pearl, “if you’re a stay-at-home mum people will still give you work.” In her experience to date, she has been paid equally to her male colleagues.

But the lack of women in coding is a big problem, and one that Pearl wants to address. She first realised the true scale of the lack of women in her industry after volunteering at a non-profit in Canada, Ladies Learning Code. She realised how much men dominated the technology industry.

“50 per cent of the population is not being tapped into,” Pearl says.

To her, the reality of women missing out on a creative, challenging, flexible, in-demand, and well-paying industry just because they had boobs didn’t seem right.

In response to the problem, Pearl’s been incubating her start-up, TechTank, through this summer’s Live the Dream social entrepreneurship accelerator programme.

TechTank aims to demystify coding and technology for adults who shiver at the mention of apps, and who cower in the face of CSS, HTML and Java.

“My aim is to make it less of an ordeal to learn about technology and break the stigma that surrounds it,” she says.

In the future, Pearl is looking to use TechTank to create more opportunity, in a safe process and space to learn about technology. She is running night classes that are, she says, “A little bit more advanced, for people who want to dig a little deeper beyond the basics.

“I want to focus on involving women, Māori and Pasifika people, unemployed people and postgrads, as I believe these groups would both benefit from, and add diversity and experience to, coding,” she says. 

Pearl points out that there are a huge variety of different jobs in the field, and women often add variety to the industry. Pearl wants to smash the mindset of “only men are in tech,” or “I’m not a techy person,” because, as she says, “You won’t know if it’s for you or not until you’ve tried it.” 

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