The Leaders of Tech4Good: Meet Kimberley Cook
Kimberley Cook reveals why diversity is important in the tech world, why putting yourself in someone else’s shoes might be the best way of teaching people how to code, and much more.
In our next interview of our “The Leaders of Tech4Good” blog series, we will talk with Kimberley Cook — director of codebar. Kimberley says, “The more diverse people we will involve in building software to solve their day-to-day problems, the more people we will help.”
Who is Kimberley Cook?
Kimberley Cook is a software developer and director of codebar living in the French Alps. Codebar, is a charity that promotes the growth of a diverse tech community in many cities around the world. Kimberley has been involved in running free programming workshops for minority groups in tech for 7 years.
Could you please tell our readers more about yourself and about what you do?
I am a software developer and director of codebar. I came across codebar when I moved to London. They were looking for more coaches, particularly coaches from minority groups because then you can also be a role model. I got involved and I loved it. That was in 2014, and now I am a director of codebar.
In 2014, codebar was only present in London and Brighton. Since a few more of us came on board, we have now expanded to 35 locations around the world. And we have had over 18 000 people come through codebar (13 000 of that are students and the other 5 000 are coaches). For us, it is completely mind-blowing. It was the best accident. Our intention was never to grow codebar the way we did. But, it showed there was the demand for people wanting to improve diversity in tech, and that is how codebar came about.
How did you choose your career path?
I knew I liked being online. When I got into the tech industry I realized there were no women in my team. There was no diversity. That is why I started volunteering with codebar. I wanted to be around people that look like me. Also, people that I can look up to and who I can ask for mentorship. That is when I met another female developer for the first time. I continued to stay in codebar. I loved hearing stories of people who got a job. That’s the best feeling for me. It’s such a pleasure to see women leading the tech industry. And also speaking to other women about advice or even money. Having someone that looks like you or hearing their career journey makes you think that you also can succeed in the tech industry. I love being around powerful and motivated women and that is why I ended up running codebar.
What is codebar?
Codebar is a charity that helps minority group members learn to program. Minority being women non-binary, LGBT, and ethnic minorities. Our workshops are slightly different from lots of other events. We realized that having a teacher with 20 people was quite a daunting experience, particularly when you are learning a new skill. People often do not want to ask something that might seem to be silly to ask. And so, we try to ensure that each person that comes to us feels that they are in a safe and collaborative environment.
Why do you think people choose your organization? What makes your organization stand out among others?
There are two things that make our organization stand out. The first is you do not have to have any coding experience. When you sign up as a student, we ask you what you want to work on. You can be a complete beginner and still learn how to code here. You can come to us having never written any line of code before.
The second is one-to-one support that a lot of people want when learning a new skill. Coaches here sit with students and help them code instead of writing the code for them. We try to never give students direct answers because it is not helpful. Instead, we teach them to fish and have food for the rest of their life. The earlier we teach people those skills, the earlier those people become developers.
And I think there is even a third feature of our organization that makes us stand out. People come to us because they have heard that codebar was a safe space to learn to code. We create a safe space for minority groups. We do our best to create the safest place for someone to come and learn how to code.
What are the main goals people seek when they decide to apply to codebar?
There are two types of people who come to codebar. Those who want to become developers. Those who want to learn how to code but don’t have money for it. To those who work full-time but cannot commit to a more structured program.
The second type of people who come here are those who want to build the website themselves. There are also people who are working in tech and want to bridge the gap between them and the developers in their team who belong to that category. Project managers or designers who learn how to code eventually feel more confident while working with developers.
What are your achievements locally and globally? Do you plan to develop your project further? How?
I think it is when people get jobs in tech. When people get interested and involved in the coding process. More locally, the success of what we do depends on the workshops that we do. We run six workshops a week in various locations. And people then get jobs in those locations. On a more global level, people in codebar can help from anywhere. Our community is very global, so when people from different countries attend our workshops, they can also receive help from our specialists at any location. You can get different opinions from people from Berlin, London, or somewhere else. That is why it is a wonderful thing to have a global community.
I think our goal is to run hybrid and in-person events. Before Covid, we were fully in person. But now we want to have a hybrid codebar and find out how it will work. We plan to keep expanding and help more people discover coding. Lots of people think that coding is boring and not creative. However, it is a very creative process. Developers deal with animations. Also, building robots or hardware shows how many creative elements are involved in the process of coding. We want to open that to as many people as possible.
What ethical values do you cultivate in your organizations?
I think one of the biggest ethical values in our organization is empathy. When people come to learn a new skill, it might be scary for them. You need to have empathy to really help people who want to learn something new. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes might be the best way of teaching people how to code. As humans, we are not always great at putting ourselves in other people’s shoes and thinking about other people. We can be quite selfish. So, I always try to enforce the idea of empathy. I think the world, in general, would be a million times better place if more people had empathy.
What do you think is the future of the Tech4Good movement?
I think tech is really well-ingrained into people’s lives now. Tech is part of our life. I can see that people nowadays rely on technology even when it comes to day-to-day tasks. The more diverse people we have building software to solve everyday problems, the more people we’re able to help.