This Young Entrepreneur Is Pushing For Tech With A Purpose

How Emma Dicks went from a tech novice to becoming one of SA's most respected women in tech


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Emma Dicks, founder of Code for Cape Town with students from the programme.

Image: Supplied

Launching a business is hard enough - doing so in a sector in which you have little to no knowledge is almost unimaginable. This is what makes Emma Dicks' rise in the ICT sector even more remarkable. 

Dicks is the founder of the tech initiative Code for Cape Town (Code4CT) which she launched in 2014. They introduce high school girls to coding and creative problem solving with the purpose of encouraging them to enter STEM-related career and study paths.  

Before launching Code4CT, Dicks had almost no coding or ICT experience. She was a BComm student majoring in Business Science.

It was only after interning for Mobenzi, a mobile software company working to support community health workers and improve access to medical care in rural areas, that her interest in tech developed and she woke up to the role tech could play in helping to solve big challenges. 

"Being able to see firsthand how one could create technology sparked my imagination! I realised that I had been very misinformed when I decided not to study Computer Science or Information Systems.‚Äč Thus Code for Cape Town was born out of my own experience that the narrative around tech skills is all wrong."

"I want to show young women that coding is more accessible than they might think, that it is creative and a powerful tool for social change"

The programme introduces high school girls to the world of technology, equips them with coding skills, and exposes them to tech companies and female mentors in the field. The extracurricular programme involves a series of coding modules that take girls from novices to being able to code their own projects.

The programme makes sure that girls learn about job opportunities in the tech industry. Earlier this year, Code for Cape Town partnered with online shopping platform takealot.com to host 40 young aspiring female coders for a three hour introductory coding workshop.

Dicks has since expanded beyond focusing solely on high school girls and has launched CodeSpace Academy, which offers a variety of part-time and full-time courses that teach coding and computer science skills, "To address the fact that there is such demand for tech education and that South Africa’s thriving ICT sector is currently limited by its access to talented developers," she says.

Young Tech Leader

Dicks has gained global attention for her work and its impact. 

She was one of 60 young leaders chosen from the British Commonwealth countries to attend the 2015 Queen's Young Leaders Awards (QYL) ceremony in London where she received a leadership award from Her Majesty The Queen.

She was also recently selected as one of the Inspiring Fifty South Africa for 2017. The initiative showcases women in technology, with the goal of increasing visibility of the achievements of women in the technology sector.

Dicks was in the company of women tech pioneers such as Rapelang Rabana, founder and CEO of e-learning platform Rekindle Learning, and Darlene Menzies, founder and CEO of business management platform SMEasy and funding solution, Finfind.

Dicks spoke to SME South Africa about why the way tech is being taught is all wrong, and making coding more accessible. 

I Want To Change The Way Tech Is Taught
Code for Cape Town was born out of my own experience that the narrative around tech skills is all wrong. No one seems to be telling high school girls that tech skills allow you to bring an idea to life; to create something tangible that people can interact with and that can fundamentally alter society. As a result women are self-deselecting from careers in tech. 

I want to show young women that coding is more accessible than they might think, that it is creative and a powerful tool for social change. By changing the narrative around being a woman in tech, I’d like to see young women equipping themselves with the skills that would allow them to be at the forefront of innovation in South Africa.


Dicks meeting Her Majesty The Queen at the 2015 Queen's Young Leaders Ceremony.
Image Supplied

"When you run your own business or organisation you have the freedom to bring your ideas and values into the world in such a tangible way; this really excites me"

It's About Creating A Community, Not Just Skills
The beauty of the educational experience we create is not just the skills we teach, but the space we create where young people can connect with other like-minded youth, with South African innovators, with women who have pursued careers in technology despite challenges.

In this space they can find ways to apply their skills to issues that they are passionate about; to imagine and create things they were not before sure they would be able to. 

I Use My Accomplishments To Further My Work
Being part of the Queen’s Young Leaders network is a fantastic opportunity to be connected into a global network of leaders. Being connected into the QYL community has helped me develop as a young leader and grow in confidence to pursue big goals. 

We Need To Open Minds
There is a lot of unlearning and relearning that I find myself doing the whole time as to how I understand my identity as a woman in the workplace.

I can highly recommend that any organisation that really wants to push its understanding of driving forward a practical feminist agenda get in touch with Africa Matters who can lead incredibly useful conversations and get people examining their perspectives! 

There Is No Shortage Of Women In Tech To Look Up To
I look to so many exceptional women in education as role models - Phadiela Cooper who runs COSAT, Mmaki Jantjies who is leading UWC’s Information Systems Department, Arlene Mulder heading WeThinkCode, Janice McMillan at UCT’s Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching. 

The Plan Is To Expand
There is a huge need for tech education across South Africa and the continent. We have already expanded our operations in Cape Town and Stellenbosch, through partner organisations. We are planning to expand into other major cities in SA in the near future. 


See also: "I Have Never Submitted A CV In My Life!" - Allegro Dinkwanyane

 

My Passion Is What Drives Me
Understand what drives you. I am driven to push through challenges by my clear idea of what future I want to create and what is important to me. When you run your own business or organisation you have the freedom to bring your ideas and values into the world in such a tangible way; this really excites me.

There Is No Such Thing As The Right Time
Be brave and start. My advice to young women with big dreams would be to just start. Start small; don't limit yourself by your perfectionism. Start even if you don't feel ready; no one ever did. Start even though you don't have all the answers, ask for help from those around you.

Work With Others
Collaborate. You are always stronger when aligned with others who you can work together with to a common vision. 

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