Pakistan is behind with regards to gender inclusion in technology; however, coding boot camps are helping women to get jobs and become financially independent. Faiza Yousuf, a product management expert and community leader, spoke about how she uses agile principles for improving gender inclusion at Agile 2021. Starting small is important to test run ideas, and there are things that you can do even when you have few resources.
Yousuf, together with Shamim Rajani, her co-founder, modified the Agile principles for building and running a coding boot camp for girls in Pakistan. They made simple changes to the Agile principles, such as clients became stakeholders, software became quality training, and working software became Retention Rate and Conversion (hirings).
The boot camp enables those who attended to become part of the tech ecosystem, Yousuf mentioned:
We target young women, aged 18 to 35 (in some cases up to 40 as well), from low to middle-income families with a lack of opportunities. We train them on coding skills and other core skills and help them get jobs in the tech ecosystem.
The program has two active Phases. Phase 1 is web design and development, in which they teach HTML, CSS, JS, and Python. Phase 2 has multiple tracks, including Node, PHP, WordPress, SQA, UX, and Python. Core Skills workshops include Financial Literacy, Business Communication, Entrepreneurial Skills, Workplace Safety, Internet Safety, Work Readiness, Freelancing Skills, and Design Thinking.
They started with a small goal and a very small team, and the whole program is basically a series of experiments and retrospectives, as Yousuf explained:
We keep what works and discard what doesn’t. For example, we started a community service program where our graduates will do 10-hours of community service with one of our collaborating organizations and will receive a letter of recommendation and mentorship in return. We ran a test batch for this and realized that it was taking too much time and wasn’t very successful. It was also moving our focus away from our core objectives, so we parked this.
InfoQ interviewed Faiza Yousuf about improving gender inclusion in Tech.
InfoQ: How important are the agile principles for you? How do they inspire you?
Faiza Yousuf: Agile principles have been part of my work philosophy since I started working in technology, which was 11 years ago. The principles are simple and clear in their direction and that’s the most useful and inspiring thing about the whole philosophy. Change is the only constant in this world and a good team is the greatest asset for a business. The agile principles do an excellent job capturing these two truths and more.
Agile focuses on stakeholders working together, and at CodeGirls we do just that. Regular check-ins with stakeholders can help us with seeing the program from different perspectives and improve what we can. We also have two key metrics to measure our program: one is the retention rate of students which we want to keep near 70% and improve on it further, and the second one is conversions, which means the number of graduates who were placed by us in the tech industry. Rather than focusing on vanity metrics like the number of hours of training delivered or girls enrolled in the program, we focus on core objectives.
Our team is built around motivated individuals; they believe in the cause and go above and beyond to help bring better results. A lot of ideas came from team interactions that we implemented, including in-class audits, adding python to Phase 1 of the program, teaching students about internet safety, etc.
InfoQ: What is the state of gender inclusion in technology in Pakistan?
Yousuf: We are far behind both in gender inclusion as well as in collecting data around this topic. But the landscape is changing with programs like CodeGirls and TechKaro that provide tech training, communities like WomenInTechPK and Pakistani Women in Computing that provide advocacy, peer network, and mentorship, and with excellent advocacy and output from Pakistan Software House Association’s Diversity and Inclusion committee.
We have recently launched the first draft of a framework for local companies becoming more gender-inclusive. The Diversity & Inclusion Framework for Pakistani IT companies includes a business case for D&I, relevant stats, an action plan for companies, and a benchmarking tool to help companies set D&I goals and gauge their performance. We have also added details on the appropriate benefits program and some advice on diversity-based hiring practices and infrastructure requirements.
InfoQ: You adapted the value and principles of the agile manifesto to create versions that served your needs. How did that help you?
Yousuf: These changes helped us in the following ways:
- Rather than creating a plan, we started with brainstorming, discussions, and test running ideas
- We involved people from all sorts of backgrounds to come together and help us with the mission
- The team stayed relatively small; we have three full-time employees, all three co-founders work as volunteers, and have trainers on contract.
- We have tested multiple ideas, from community service, to taking the whole program online, to working with UN Equals and other organizations
- We have built a huge network of friends of CodeGirls by running an active outreach program
InfoQ: What’s your approach for continuously improving the boot camps?
Yousuf: Receiving regular feedback from all stakeholders, including students, program team, trainers, and hiring companies. This feedback includes a review of the curriculum (course outlines and learning outcomes), trainer/instructor feedback, and feedback on the quality of graduates. We also do in-class audits to gauge trainer performance. This helps us in improving the program.
Recently, we added Python in the 1st phase of the program after receiving feedback from our local and international advisors and hiring managers. We invite our collaborators, and anyone interested in the program to be part of our orientation and graduation ceremonies. This builds stakeholder buy-in and we are able to receive resources and advice to continuously improve the program.
InfoQ: What have you learned from running this program of boot camps?
Yousuf: The following is what we learned:
- Transparency gets you to the next level. Keep things open for everyone to see, and give feedback to!
- Use your influence, both in and outside of your comfort zone. I am an introvert, but I run communication and strategy for CodeGirls.
- Change starts with an idea, and the next step is to start small and see where it takes you.
- Start when you can; your tribe will find you, but you will have to value them and get them involved. When we started CodeGirls, there were only three of us, but slowly and gradually the local and international tech ecosystem found out about the work, mostly via word of mouth and social media, and we started getting requests for collaboration and hiring, and also sponsorships.
- Don’t wait for an elaborate plan; start, learn, document, and adapt!
- If you have more than one cofounder, do internal sync-ups quite often (better to do them daily). Also, all meetings should be time-bound and include proper agendas; without boundaries, meetings can become a productivity-killer.