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It’s the 26th November and week seven of our latest girls coding course here at the M&S support centre in Waterside Paddington, in partnership with Code First: Girls. The aim of the programme is to encourage women to become more confident and involved in technology by introducing them to the basics of coding and its role in a digitally driven world. And it’s completely free.

This is the third course of its type we’ve run and it’s going from strength to strength. There are around 25 attendees on the course from a wide variety of backgrounds – it’s a real melting pot of cultures, ages and professions; from students to teachers to scientists. What unites the women is a desire to develop their understanding of coding, whether that’s for personal or professional means.

We meet once a week for eight weeks and it’s always a sociable affair with lots of discussion. We put a lot of emphasis on collaboration, which is particularly important during the project section of the course.

The course teaches the fundamentals of coding - an increasingly important skill in today’s modern world. As the participants will testify, even just an elementary understanding of coding can open a whole new universe of opportunities.

Importance of Tech in today’s modern world

An understanding of coding can help you get a job, keeps your mind sharp, but it can also help you to automate parts of your life or write simple software that helps you on a day to day basis. The first piece of software I wrote was something that kept track of my grades at University and allowed me to enter new results as I got them so I could see where to focus efforts and where I was at.

I’ve also written fun bits of software for my friends and I to use, as well as software that sits as companions to board games that would be tedious without the help of tech.

What a lot of people don’t realise is that much of the modern world is built on the backbones of computers, their software and knowing how to code. The internet is effectively the coding of electricity in a way that allows the transmitting of data.

For M&S, tech is entirely integral to the way we operate: from our website to our depots, all the way to our stores around the country. It is fundamental to the daily execution of our business and its importance will only increase as we progress with our digital transformation goals and ambition to become a Digital First retailer.

Balancing the gender imbalance in our technology industry

The gender imbalance across tech, and more widely STEM, is widely acknowledged. Men generally outnumber women 3 to 1 in the data industry, so it’s great that we’re playing our part in correcting that imbalance.

While there are obviously a number of factors behind this disparity, a lot of the time women just aren’t given the chance or have the confidence instilled in them to pursue a career in technology. I’m passionate that we as a society challenge and redress this at every turn possible, which is what motivates me to teach this course and pass on my expertise. And I hope that one day, any number of these women return to M&S with the skills they’ve learned and developed in the industry to join our growing Digital & Data team. 

Richard Hammans is a Software Engineer in the growing Digital & Data function at the heart of M&S’ transformation. He’s worked at M&S for over 2 years; prior to this he studied Computer Science at Canterbury Christchurch University. Richard is passionate about spreading his expertise and love for data and the opportunities it can create.