“We’ve never had anyone say no to us,” June Angelides says.
Companies would do well not to mess with the mother-of-two and founder of Mums in Technology, the first kid-friendly coding school in the UK.
In under two years she has set up a ‘pop-up coding course’, aimed at recent parents, that has been hosted by a range of high-powered companies, from Marks & Spencer to Skype.
The next course is taking place at the Ministry of Justice. June is joyfully upbeat about Mums in Tech’s success: “Well the companies just love having the kids around!” she says.
Tuesday was the ‘graduation’ of the most recent cohort of ten women, as well as their small companions. Everyone was energised by the products and ideas they were working on. After the talks, networking time, and an awards ceremony, recent alumnae Sara and Tinu chatted to me about the apps they are developing.
“I don’t want to go back to work if they can’t offer me what I need with a young child,” Tinu, a Project Manager at The Foreign Office, explains to me while bouncing Joshua, who just turned one, on her knee. She is building an app with her husband, a developer, to help parents find child-friendly places.
June Angelides was born in London but grew up in Lagos, before returning to the UK for her A-Levels and an Economics degree at UCL. She’s been in London ever since – “it’s definitely home”. She was accustomed to start-up culture before launching Mums in Technology. She worked at Silicon Valley Bank, which calls itself “the bank of the innovation economy”.
“I was working with earlier stage businesses, so that was really interesting because you get caught up in all the excitement. You get to see early on how they move from an idea to a real business and watch them grow. That’s where I caught the start-up bug.”
“I experienced the drop in confidence that does happen after maternity leave,” June says. “I made a conscious decision that during my time off [for my second child], it was a good process to go from an idea to a website or build an app.”
But there were too many barriers in the way. Hiring a developer was expensive – “I just couldn’t confirm or even argue with pricing because I didn’t know.”
Then she tried to teach herself, but online resources did not offer the chance to troubleshoot with real people and there were no child-friendly courses for a mother with a small child.
“All the courses were in the evenings and I had a two month old. It was really tough. I tried to go for a little taster course but she cried the entire time,” she says.
It was mentoring with a pioneering woman in tech, Amali De Alwis of Code First: Girls, that gave June the confidence to start her own coding course. “That was really huge. Where your confidence is low, having somebody telling you that you can do anything. That was really empowering for me,” June explains.
Through word of mouth, social media, and interested companies, June found people who were interested in doing a pilot coding programme.
Fast forward a year and 130 people have done Mums in Tech’s First Steps to Coding course, which is split between coding, understanding tech businesses, and networking.
June gave up her job to make the social enterprise a reality. “It was a hard choice but it was also easy because – you know when you’re really passionate about something? – for the first time I felt I had a purpose. This was something I was meant to do.
“I was actually offered a pay rise at the time to go back to work but I turned it down because I really strongly believed this programme had to exist.”
What has motivated recent mothers to learn strenuous technical skills while pregnant or with young kids? “You can never have too many digital skills, it’s so relevant,” June enthuses. “People come on the course for different reasons, some to support their kids at school because it’s on the curriculum from age 7.
“You also have people come because they’re entrepreneurial and they want to be better equipped to work in a tech business.”
The women at the graduation stress how important the group has been for support. Judy Bretschneider, 34 and a mother-of-two, who are in the creche next door, said: “community is what I would say I most took away from the course.”
Contrary to what you might assume, Mums in Technology is not just for women. “We haven’t seen enough dads. We had one on our pilot programme but we want to see more,” June says. “I am completely pro gender balance, it’s not about saying it’s just for mums. It’s a safe zone, come and learn with us. Everyone is welcome.”
And the future is looking bright. “We’re looking to do a lot more. We’ve got alumni and they want to keep involved so we’re developing courses they can do,” June says.
“There’s some really cool success stories with our alumni building things that makes me super excited. Just over a year ago I didn’t imagine that we would have these sorts of stories.”
“We definitely want to expand and make this available across the UK, across the world, really.”
Images: Max Ramsay