Why women must code to change the world

25.07.2016 | Text Antonia Märzhäuser
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An interview with 'Rails Girls' founder Linda Liukas.

Linda Liukas loves all things shiny and products from the Japanese design chain Muji, she experimented last year with a ten-day detox and has written a book. All this wouldn't be that surprising if it weren't for something else: Linda is also a talented coder. By founding „Rails Girls' she started a global movement in 2010 which now teaches coding to young women all over the world in more than 220 cities.


© Maija Tammi

Over 10,000 women are involved in the project, and from Tallinn to Mozambique and Beirut 'Rails Girls' is opening up new perspectives on coding: 'I don't believe in coding as a means to a end, coding is an opportunity to express oneself, to create something where there was nothing beforehand, and of course in many countries it is also a form of emancipation.' Linda's doctrine is simple: women are gifted coders, they just don't know it yet. With her book „Hello Ruby: Adventures in Coding“, which will also be coming out as a German translation in 2016, she wants to convince little girls of their ability to code.

In the interview Linda reports on the incredible creative possibilities offered by coding and how important it is that this expertise is not just in the hands of a small elite.

Coding is an opportunity to express oneself, to create something where there was nothing beforehand.

Linda Liukas

Does coding have something of a self-fulfilling prophecy about it? People think it is unbelievably difficult and therefore don't go anywhere near it?

You need perseverance and staying power, like when you need a new language. But what has much more of an impact is that it's suggested to you that if you are interested in computers you can't also be interested in art. It makes me sad when I see young girls at the age of ten to twelve today, growing up with a perception of technology that often falls in the category 'That's not for me'.

Like no other technology, coding allows us to shape our present and future. What happens if this ability is in the hands of one homogeneous group?

This means that we only end up solving a very small selection of problems, which are relevant for this group. Coders are the ones who choose what is pursued further and improved. The problems that young, white men have are naturally very different to the problems that most of the world's population has.

Right into the sixties coding was deemed to be a career option mainly for women. Why has this changed so radically?

Back then coding was still a manual and therefore also a very repetitive activity, similar to that of a telephonist and so it wasn't necessarily very highly regarded. In the seventies and eighties the existing technology companies then started to make the job of a coder more exciting and accessible, because there was a lack of people wanting to do it. So the image of the career was enhanced, and the job interviews tailored to a male, maths-savvy target group. And so coding gradually became a male domain.

And this is precisely what 'Rails Girls' is now trying to break up?

From the outset we wanted women and men to work on problems together. There is a huge call for purely female environments, but we are convinced that if you really want to make a great leap, you can't exclude the other half of the human race. For me the project will be successful when there is no longer a need for 'Rails Girls' . When we finally have female and male coders with the most diverse of backgrounds.

Which countries are currently investing most in this form of education?

India and the Ukraine have a balanced ratio of women and men in the coding sector. That's incredible! When it comes to coding and education, Estonia and England are way ahead at the moment, both countries have included coding in their curriculum. What I find most exciting are the developments in countries which have not previously done much to strengthen the position of women in the technology sector, such as Tunisia, Egypt or Turkey, where a lot is happening at the moment. The same applies to Kenya, where there is also a 'Rails Girls' movement.

Many thanks for this fascinating conversation.

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