When Wunmin Wong and Sher Minn Chong founded the nonprofit Code Equality last year, they set out to promote equal opportunities for young people in Malaysia to learn computer science. Drawing from their own experiences, the two intrepid founders felt more could be done to make coding classes more accessible to the general public.
A product manager at job portal SEEK Asia, Wunmin picked up web development through tinkering with HTML/CSS, Python and other coding platforms in her free time. While her coding pursuits were borne out of an interest in building her own website—despite having no technical background—Wunmin said it also enabled her to communicate more effectively with the software engineers she worked with.
Wunmin explained, “Our main objective is to lower the barriers of entry for young people who are interested to explore computer science. Coding knowledge is important if we want Malaysians to not only be tech consumers, but to also become creators who utilise code to develop things.”
Her counterpart Sher Minn, a freelance web developer, concurred, “Computer science challenges you to think logically, but also creatively. There are so many things you can do with code, from drawing crazy patterns with a disco cat to finding out what people around you are doing on Instagram. The possibilities are limitless and it really is up to you to create what you want to build.”
“Coding does have a learning curve, but it's been very encouraging to see Code Equality participants overcome these challenges with patience and self-learning, and interacting with fellow coders,” Sher Minn added.
With a number of Code Equality events under their belts, the two decided to refocus their efforts on inspiring more women to pick up coding after noticing that only 17 percent of participants were female.
Last year’s inaugural Rail Girls boot camp was their first large-scale event targeted at women, where 46 female students were taught the basics of HTML and CSS coding during a one-day workshop held in Kuala Lumpur.
“We were initially unsure if we could attract enough female students, and were amazed to receive more than 200 applications! Bringing together aspiring female coders was a wonderful experience, and we are grateful for the many volunteer developers who helped the young women feel at ease during the session,” Wunmin said.
Following the success of the Rail Girls boot camp, Code Equality has plenty of other activities lined up for young Malaysians and women in particular, including workshops based around the Ruby on Rails framework, which helps coders easily build their own web apps.
Sher Minn enthused, “We are passionate about getting more women into coding and will continue customising our syllabus to be more appealing to females. There are numerous other initiatives in Malaysia such as Women Who Code KL and Gorgeous Geeks, where we interact with other women in tech. My advice for young female coders is that it's up to you to decide what it means to be a great coder. Don’t be afraid to ‘code like a girl’!”
“Technology in Southeast Asia is still very much a male-dominated industry. But, I hope young women entering this field will see that many females have worked hard to address this, and we should band together to make the tech industry more conducive for women,” Wunmin added.