“What excites me the most is inspiring another woman to fall in love with programming,” says Anna Makarudze who organizes Django Girls workshops in Zimbabwe. “Just knowing that I am making a difference in somebody else’s life is really a great feeling. Through this, I meet so many women, make new friends and I also get to watch them grow in programming.”
Django, is the name of an open source development toolbox for building websites and apps. Django Girls is a global, community-led organization that offers free manuals and tutorials to help anyone organize a one-day workshop for women who want to learn Web programming.
Since 2014, they have held more than 590 events in 378 cities for over 12,000 women. Recent events took place in Río Cuarto, Argentina; Port Harcourt, Nigeria and Bangalore, India. Today, Django Girls counts over 1,300 volunteers in 84 countries. Makarudze herself was one of them, before accepting a position as fundraising coordinator for the Django Girls Foundation in 2017.
Having been interested in programming since high school, Makarudze pursued a degree in computer science. After graduating from university, she worked several jobs in the tech sector. Throughout her career she couldn’t help but notice how few other women were in her field.
“In high school, there were 20 people in my physics class and only two were girls. And when I went to college there were also only 10% women in my subject,” she says, emphasizing that such ratios are not unique to Zimbabwe or Africa. “This a global problem.”
The international absence of women in tech doesn’t just come at a personal cost. From an economic standpoint, businesses are losing out on talent. And these disparities extend beyond technology companies, products and services right down to the gender gaps that exist worldwide for basic Internet use. It’s a vicious cycle that begins with the education pipeline, where women experience barriers to entry in computer science programs.
By training and supporting women to learn Web skills, change is possible.
“Our aim is to increase diversity in the tech space by increasing the number of women in programming. We do this by working with volunteers across the globe that organize events in their own cities. The foundation helps by providing resources that empower them to be able to organize these workshops, including the Django Girls Tutorial that is used in the workshops, the Organizer’s Manual and the Coaching Manual, where you can learn how to run and manage your own events,” says Makarudze.
Aware of how many women are deterred by a predominantly male work culture, Makarudze is taking a normative approach, too: “We also try to create a positive image of programmers to encourage more women to get into programming, and then we organize workshops ourselves,” she says.
Teaching programming skills in Zimbabwe often comes with resource challenges. The Django Girls model requires participants to bring their own laptops. “But most people can’t afford laptops,” says Makarudze. “That lowers the number of attendees we can have in our workshops.” Finding local sponsors to help cover the costs of advertising is difficult, but Makarudze and the Django Girls community are driven and inspired by their mission.
“I think it’s important for everyone to be Web literate because in any domain you can cut costs by being able to use the Internet. I believe everyone should be empowered to use the Web because it opens up opportunities and connects us to the global village,” says Makarudze.