- Ola Sendecka is busy. She works as an engineer at $2 billion UK fintech Monzo, runs an international charity encouraging women to get into coding, and looks after her own YouTube channel.
- Django Girls started out as a one-off coding workshop, which then ballooned into an organization that runs hundreds of workshops in more than 90 countries.
- Sendecka took her teaching skills online, making coding tutorials on YouTube, which have garnered tens of thousands of views.
- Sendecka told Business Insider about how she fell in love with coding, the "constant" sexism she’s had to face, and the changing attitudes to women in programming.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Ola Sendecka got into coding through an unusual route — art history. Back when she was a teenager in Poland, she was getting ready to decide what to study at university. Art was a passion but the employment opportunities were limited.
Instead, her teacher mooted a different kind of art that was coming increasingly into demand — computer graphics. "I was completely undecided and that spoke to me a lot," Sendecka tells Business Insider. There were no courses geared specifically for CGI, so she enrolled in computer programming.
She soon fell in love with coding. "I found art and science in one, I found everything in programming," she says.
Fast forward to 2019 and Sendecka is almost 33, she’s set up her own international charity teaching girls how to code, landed a job at one of London’s hottest fintech companies, and runs her own YouTube channel where thousands of subscribers watch her tutorials.
The inception of Django Girls
As a female coder starting out in tech 10 years ago, Sendecka always felt she stood out. Going to conferences, she would be bombarded with awkward questions. "I had people either asking if I’m there with a boyfriend… or if I’m just helping to organise the event," she recalls.
As her career progressed, she became involved in creating a web framework for the Python coding language called Django, which simplifies the code.
Along with a friend — who also happened to be named Ola — Sendecka started to get sick of being the only woman in the room. Both of them sharing a name proved to be a confusing factor. "For a very long time some people thought there is only one Ola," she says.
So the two Olas decided to set up a workshop for beginners, inviting women to come and have a go at coding in Python. It was such a smash hit people started asking them to take it international. With full-time jobs, neither Ola could afford to fly their workshop out, so in 2014 they put all their educational materials up for grabs online. "We open-sourced everything we knew, our educational materials, how to organise the event itself," she says.
Now, Django Girls operates in over 90 countries and commands a host of just over 1,900 volunteers.
Coding is for Girls
After teaching the Django workshops herself, Ola realised she loved teaching coding almost as much as coding itself, and found an outlet to give her lessons an even bigger audience — YouTube.
In 2015, she started her own channel, Coding is for Girls, although she explains men are very welcome to watch. "So many people have a problem with just the name," she says, adding that’s she’s had complaints from watchers who say they can’t recommend the channel to their male friends. But her thinking behind the branding was more aimed at inviting women into the community, rather than trying to freeze men out.
"I noticed with Django Girls if you do something that is aimed at women, they are more likely come, otherwise the assumption is they are not welcome," Sendecka adds. "It’s open for everyone and you don’t need to be a woman to use the materials."
Coding is for Girls has just shy of 9,500 subscribers, which is pretty small fry by YouTuber standards, but Ola is far from a full-time YouTuber. Just a few months ago, she got a job as a backend engineer at Monzo, a red-hot UK digital banking startup with more than a million users and a $2 billion valuation.
Constant sexism and rape threats
Even after a decade in the field and a sparkling CV, Sendecka still runs into casual sexism on a regular basis. "It’s constant, people keep doing this all the time," she says. Sendecka recalled an incident a few years ago in which she organised a hackathon and an attendee asked her if she was there "for social reasons."
"It’s really frustrating, especially when you start to have a couple of years of experience. When you are starting you’re very like ‘I’m not sure I should be here, I know nothing’ so you accept more. But the longer you are in the industry, [it’s] always assumed that you are there by accident, not because you are interested in a topic, and you constantly feel like you don’t fit in," she says.
It’s not just tech bros who are the problem. Sendecka has had to deal with anonymous internet users commenting on her looks, questioning her credentials, and in some cases even threatening rape.
"I know that this is just random people and they shouldn’t affect how I feel, but they do," she says. "It’s not something I want to deal with on a daily basis and I just start to ignore comments under my YouTube videos, which is a bummer because there’s a lot of people who ask really good questions."
Sendecka doesn’t consider herself a particularly vocal advocate for change in the tech community, as she doesn’t often speak out against what she feels is broken for fear of backlash.
She’s seen friends push for more equality, but in doing so, have essentially taken on a whole new unpaid job. "It takes a lot of time and emotional labor and a lot of people just can’t keep up and it’s really sad to see people burn out over and over again."
Nonetheless, Sendecka feels the programming community at least is moving in the right direction. "For me starting Django Girls was a massive change," she says. "More and more women started to join this community. Now when I go to the meet-ups that are Django-related or Python-related or to a conference, there are a lot of people who went through Django Girls, and this is so much nicer to see."
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