Abisoye Ajayi: Fostering Women In Tech Development via ‘Girls Coding’
Women are known to make the majority of the workplace but there is a major gender gap when it comes to women in technology. Facts from themuse.com shows that 56% of women dominates the professional workforce and 55% dominates the social media sphere (Twitter and Facebook), while the tech world is still the boys club. Only 11% of Sillicon Valley executives are women. But here in Nigeria, Abisoye Ajayi is doing something to break the gap with her girls coding programme. When you meet her she does not have the ‘techie’ look, which normally consists of round-rimmed glasses, jeans and t-shirts most of the time and probably hair packed with a rubber band.
Abisoye Ajayi is all girlie looking and definitely feminine. Miss Ajayi was born in Akure, Ondo State until she moved to Lagos in 2000.
“I practically ran away from a violent father who would beat us at every chance. I lost my mother when I was three years old and the only memory i do have of my father is that of a harsh man who beats a lot”, she said. “For me to attend a secondary school I have to move to a state where he has no connection and knows no one, so i did my secondary school education in Jos and whenever I am home on holiday in Lagos, I do not go out of my guardian’s house for my own safety. This continued for 8 years, i got tired of the whole issue and decided I needed to proclaim my freedom. It is time to get my life back.” When it was time to go to the university, making a choice became a challenge until she gets her admission to the University of Lagos after four years of trying. “Before I got admission to the University of Lagos my brother introduced me to company called EDP Audit and Security Associates, the company trains professionals and they bid for bigger jobs. I was one of the youngest and was not in school yet. “I was gaining a lot of experience, real hands-on stuff, I was a trainee, volunteer and intern,” says Abisoye. “I learnt alot about Presentation, programming, Visual Basic, Oracle Database, etc”, she said, and I was with the company for seven years. Miss Ajayi studied Business Administration as a part-time student. “Though i wanted to study English but i was advise not to combine English with my Tech background, Accounting was suggested which i also declined for I have always been an art student so I opted for Business Administration which is fair enough for me. I could see some bits and pieces of accounting, computer statistics, etc.”, she said.
Why Coding For Females?
“I would say it stem back to my root, where I am coming from we didn’t see a lot of females in the Tech space. I remember when I go for conferences with EDP audit which is not really tech based, we don’t get a lot of females. There is one female amongst 40 participant, I started seeing it from that angle years ago that something is wrong with this space. EDP Audit was a tech-based company, we were not taught programming but we were given loads of books with thousands of pages to go and read within two weeks for someone is already booked to pick up the book in two weeks. You are reading and checking it up on your laptop at the same time. Internet was a luxury at that time which is great because it would have been a source of distraction”. “I think learning some computer skills would help young girls to be economically independent. If we have adequate power supply and affordable internet, you can work from anywhere and not be physically available. You can transact business from the comfort of your home and money drops into your account”, explains Miss Ajayi.
Pearls Africa Foundation “Pearls Africa is the name of my NGO which started in 2012 while I was still working with EDP. I did not register it then because I can’t really do a lot and showcase it while I am working with another company. I just do it by the side, I do go to Ibadan and talk to young girls there on computer usage. I couldn’t even take pictures, so there were a lot of things that I have done that you may not see the pictures but I was just doing them. I didn’t know I will start an NGO per-say. I just wanted to help by creating that space for more women in tech.
Girls coding in Makoko
“Girls coding started in November 2015. It is a project I am partnering with the US Mission in Nigeria. When I filled the proposal I told them that I will be going to the under-served communities. This is my main focused, and I looked round for where the under-served communities are and I found Makoko. I was shocked when I discovered that people were living in these conditions, especially when compared with inner-city Yaba that is more urbane and filled with an upwardly mobile population. “ I saw the people in Makoko as the exact opposites of what I have known the Yaba area to be. I got a lot of discouraging comments from people who think nothing can spring out of these places, but I wasn’t discouraged. It has cost a lot but we are doing it” she explained.
Miss Ajayi explained further on the girls coding programme, “The project is Yaba-based at first but we will move to other areas that do have a lot of under-served people”. “The girls are in secondary school, we have very few that are through with secondary school and are not doing anything for now. They are in JSS1, JSS3, SS1 and SS3. We do have a 10 year old as the age range is from 10-17. We do have a smallie who I can say is the smartest of them all, I discovered that she teaches nursery school pupils verbal and quantitative reasoning and she loved mathematics. I noticed her eagerness during classes and I am determined to make her a computer scientist. We want a situation whereby people are coming to Nigeria to see young girls do amazing things. This is already happening in other parts of the world and we are not even there yet in Nigeria, we have not started.”
“We first started with Microsoft curriculum but later realized that there is a huge need to restructure the curriculum. Lessons that should take two hours to teach ends up being taught in two weeks, that was not working well. Initially we had 23 people in a class so we select a few students according to their skill and assimilation level. We now have 6 in a special class and 17 students in another group. They are learning differently and sometimes the group of 6 does teach the group of 17 what they have learnt. The curriculum is on computer basics, what the computer is about, for some of them have never seen a laptop before. We didn’t just jump to Java Language and have the students looking confused. We needed to start from that angle, bits and pieces, and then we moved to html. We used drag and drop elements to teach them and now we are doing Cascading Style Sheets and we will move on to Java. They will be going on Internship by June. There are a couple of companies that have requested for interns from us like Budgit, Hospital Plus , Nova Concepts, amongst others.
What the Future Holds and Lessons Learnt
“In five years from now we are going to have a female focus Hub, a virtual working space on the side, a training room, in overall, a place where people can come in and develop ideas. People have been asking me if I am going to do anything for the guys and I reply, ’I am sorry, there’s enough space for you’. The female focus hub is not a competition with the guys, they are welcome but when they come, they develop towards the girls”, explained Miss Abisoye.
Furthermore on the female focus hub vision, “Any form of work at the hub will be technology driven. If you bring food in, it will have an online platform. I tell people that tech was like a ticket out of poverty for me.” On words for female entrepreneurs out there, Miss Ajayi has this to say: “Ladies, the sky is massive, a place for everyone and most importantly, let’s unify ourselves, when there is unity we would be able to do it all”.
This article was first published in www.abovewhispers.com