Online coding school empowers women in China

Lu Chang China Plus Published: 2019-04-04 12:02:44
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Online coding school closes gender gap and empowers women in China

Online coding school closes gender gap and empowers women in China [Photo: VCG]

The importance of gender equality has been increasingly recognized in China in recent years. But there’s still a long way to go - China was ranked 103 out of 149 countries in the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Gender Gap Report.

Some insiders in the IT industry have found that conditions could be improved by getting more women and girls into STEM related fields.

When 28-year-old Qingyuan Lee tried to find a job as a computer programmer three years ago, she experienced some setbacks she’d never expected.

“I was once told by the HR manager that they decided not to give me an offer simply because all their programmers were male - both they and I would feel weird working together if I was accepted. And when I was seeking career advice from a male fellow student, he suggested I wore short skirts for job interviews, then I would have more chance of getting the job and wouldn’t have to answer too many professional questions. I knew he was joking, but I felt offended.”

Software engineer Victoria Sun says it’s not easy for a woman to break into a male-dominated world like information technology.

“There's a lot of men and it's a very male dominated field, and it can be very difficult because I'm very girly. I like my cardigans and my scarlets, was when I first started working in tech during my first internships, I was really afraid to act girly in the office. I didn't know if I could make friends.”

By the end of 2017, there were twelve times as many male programmers as female in China, according to a survey by China Internet Network Information Center or CNNIC. And it’s estimated that worldwide only one in five programmers are women.

Online coding school closes gender gap and empowers women in China

Chen Bin is the founder and CEO of Beijing-based Coding Garden. [Photo: China Plus]

Chen Bin, the founder and CEO of Beijing-based Coding Garden, an online computer skills school for children, is calling for more girls to try science subjects at an early age.

“There are few women working in this field - Some people say it’s sexism, but I think this problem can be dated back to education choices. When I was at university, there were only five girls in an engineering course of fifty students. That means girls accounted for only ten percent in this subject - Why? I think it’s because of gender stereotyping. We may find that starting from high school, there’re less girls choosing science, but some parents also think girls may not be good at science and math.”

Born in 1980s, Chen Bin has worked for global tech giants including Microsoft. and Cisco Systems. As an experienced software engineer, he had noticed the gender imbalance in STEM-related jobs, and in 2017 he started a non-profit program called “Female Programmer Plan”, in the hope of reversing the trend by teaching girls code online.

“The program encourages girls and women to learn programming skills. Many female participators exchange views and experiences, and inspire each other in the working groups. I think it provides a platform for gathering the voices together, and tells women that they can code, they can handle it if they desire to learn - they can choose a related major in higher education, they can get an innovative and well-paid career opportunity in today’s highly competitive world.”

With some 300,000 female participants in this program, it’s currently the world’s largest online platform that teaches women code.

Online coding school closes gender gap and empowers women in China

Online courses provided on covered major programming languages. [Photo: China Plus]

The free online courses covered major programming languages such as HTML5, JavaScript, Python and CSS. Different with most of the traditional online resources that help people learn coding skills, Chen’s website helps the participants learn by interacting with an artificial intelligence chat robot, which plays the role of a mentor and provides a “learning with fun” experience.

Meng Lingzi, who has designed a multi-media website after two months learning on the platform, says the learning process helped her discover a better self.

“It feels like it opened the door of a new world for me. I was an arts major student previously, when I was in school, I was not good at computer courses, so I never thought I would be doing this one day. After trying this program I found coding wasn’t as boring as I’d imagined - on the contrary, it’s very interesting. Conquer a new world and explore a new possibility makes me feel so happy.”

Chen says that getting users interested in it is the first step to professional learning.

“Our course is designed not to be difficult - Because we designed it for beginners, most students don’t have any prior programming knowledge. If 100 points were enough for you to start a career in IT technology, you would get 50 points after you finished all our courses online - It’s far from enough for you to get a job, but this 50 points will equip you for further, and professional learning. After all, programming is a life-long learning process.”

Chen says the program has motivated several hundred female users to get into information technology professionally so far.

26-year-old internet user Vivi is one of them. After a year of self-learning, she quit her job in a state-owned enterprise and became a successful front-end Web engineer at the end of 2018.

“It’s important to open this window. Chen bin’s program laid me a solid foundation before I began to buy more professional online courses and learning resources on the other platforms. They’re really difficult, but luckily I was highly motivated then, and it’s strong enough for me to overcome all my difficulties.”

When she talks about her current work, her voice fills with confidence.

“Currently there’re three programmers in our team, the manager appreciates my working ability most - and the other two are men. We three joined this company at the same time, and our probation period was three months, but I was the only one who got the official job offer after a month and a half.”

Qingyuan Lee, who is an experienced UI designer now, says it’s not about gender.

“I think IT and technical work isn’t related to physical power, it just needs brain power - so why should there be a gender disparity when it comes to working ability? I wish more women would step into this field if they really wanted to, and work hard, let the gender stereotypes vanish in this way.”

Online coding school empowers women in China

Chen, who calls himself “Uncle Bin” on Weibo, has more than a million followers. [Photo: China Plus]

“Emphasizing the gender difference in a mental work area is either stupid or wicked.” Chen Bin once posted this on weibo, one of the biggest social media platforms in China.

Chen, who calls himself “Uncle Bin” on Weibo, has more than a million followers. His daily posts of voices for gender equality and women empowerment have gained a lot of support in the media, including NGOs like the United Nations Foundation, and countless web users and industry insiders.

Online coding school closes gender gap and empowers women in China

Online coding school closes gender gap and empowers women in China [Photo: China Plus]

He’s planning to add online courses with gender equality themes, and he believes it’s not an issue that just affects women. When half of the human population is encouraged to discover their full potential, the world as a whole will be benefit.

Chen Bin has this to say to all the young women.

“The first programmer in information technology, Ada Lovelace, was female. That’s to say, ‘SHE’ was the originator of this area. The programmer who wrote code for NASA, and contributed to human’s first steps on the moon - was also female. This field was initiated by women - It makes no sense to say ‘Coding is not for women, science is not for women’. You need to learn how to ignore, or even fight against those voices, don’t let them to hold you back. And don’t be influenced by any gender stereotypes, you need to find what you’re really passionate about, and no matter whether it’s arts or science - just go for it, you’ll be good at it if you’re willing to learn.”

For girls like Vivi who have already taken a step, work is the best proof.

“Just like uncle Bin said, if more and more girls are attracted by science and technology, and bold to go after a position in this field - the rest is just down to working hard, and letting your work speak for itself. Sometimes words are pale, but ultimately they cannot ignore you if you do amazing stuff.”

(Written and produced by Lu Chang. Yangyong voices the story.)

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