In The Company #20: Ally Watson on coding like a girl

Ally Watson Code Like A Code Small Business Festival In The Company Podcast

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Transcript

Kylie: Today we’re in the company of Ally Watson, co-founder of Code Like A Girl, with a degree in computer science Ally has for the last seven years built websites and apps, and four years ago moved from her homeland of Airlie, Scotland, leaving behind her established professional networks to start over.

Kylie: It was in this transition she acutely felt the anxiety of not only being a newcomer but also often being the only woman in her team or at an industry networking event. This spurred her to create her own tech events for girls and to create a social enterprise to close the gender gap in a male-dominated industry.

Kylie: In this episode, we talk about knowing when to pivot, making a side gig a full-time gig, going from an employee to a manager, and why it’s important to have more women and girls in tech.

Kylie: Welcome Ally.

Ally: Thanks Kylie, it’s lovely to be on the show.

Kylie: Fantastic. We’re excited to have you to spend some time talking with us about a fantastic organisation that you started called Code Like A Girl, but before we jump into that I wanted to find out a little bit more about who you were as a girl, as a young girl and some of the things that you liked doing that have had an impact on what you do today?

Ally: So I guess there’s a tale. I was actually really creative. I was obsessed with, I don’t know if you had it here in Australia, but Art Attack, the program Art Attack, did you ever have that? This UK guy, Neil Buchanan hosted it. It was on children’s TV. He had books, he had activity exercise book you could get, and I was obsessed with it. It was all about these little mini projects you make.

Ally: I loved art and design. I loved sculptors. I loved sewing. Every Halloween I was always helping my friends, I was painting their faces and helping them with their costumes. My costumes were always a bit like lo-fi, not much effort, because I was always just spending the whole night just helping everybody else because that’s just what I love doing. Yeah, I was a real creative kid I would say. Spent a lot of my lunch hours in the art department. Yeah, that was definitely Ally in her younger days.

Kylie: How does that show up in what you do today?

Ally: I don’t think I’ve ever left my creative side. I use it now as more sort of an outlet to get away from work. I make a lot of things at home. I make a lot of little sculpture things at home.

Ally: In terms of how I use that in my day-to-day, it did influence where I worked. So when I worked as a web developer, I purposely worked for creative agencies. I loved being part of creative projects, and whilst I was the technical person on the team, even being part of the process, it felt rewarding. It felt satisfying. It really ticked that box for me.

Ally: Now that I’m in a company, I get to be more creative actually in my job, before I was just the technical side of things, but now I get to do, I put all my design effort in the decks that we create and the slides, and to one page that we’re creating for new services and to the websites. So I still get to really use that creative side, which is yeah, again, just really rewarding. I love it, yeah. I can’t stop.

Ally: I also think technology is quite inherently creative. I see it as almost like a tool, it’s paintbrush in a way of modern society where you can create what you want with code and you can create these products and it’s just a tool.

Ally: Then even on a lower level to that, the actual craft of coding and writing programs, it’s quite creative, once you are fluent in a language you can write it really well. You can structure it and organise it, and design it really well.

Ally: It’s all about readability and giving it to someone else who can have a look at that code and it just reads like a letter, that’s what differentiates a good programmer, to not so good programmer is if you can read piece a code and it can just read like English, and you’ve used meaningful names, and you’ve structured it and organised it well, and it’s almost like a piece of art itself.

Ally: I think there is so much creativity, not just in the products that you create, but really down low level to the actual crafting of the code. So yeah, lots of creativity there.

Kylie: Yeah absolutely, absolutely and I really do think that we in our jobs we are actually creative beings if we allow ourselves to see problem-solving is a creative act-

Ally: Absolutely.

Kylie: … and starting something new is a creative act-

Ally: It’s amazing.

Kylie: … that requires joining dots in a way that hadn’t been joined before and that’s really what creativity is.

Ally: I couldn’t agree more, yeah absolutely. I think even at the core if people ask me what coding is, it’s problem-solving. Every single thing that you try and create is just a problem that can be almost put into bite-sized little problems, and you just tackle each one at a time, and then suddenly before you know it you have this complex system that you’ve designed from being a big, big problem to tiny, tiny, little ones. So yeah, there is so much creativity in problem-solving.

Kylie: Now am I right in thinking that computer programming wasn’t your first area of study?

Ally: It wasn’t, no. So I actually, as soon as I finished high school I did art and design. So I did a portfolio course to try and get into art school and did photography classes, did sculpture classes, life drawing classes, you name it, and put together this portfolio so that I could apply to art school. Then I just didn’t get in Kylie, I got rejected from not just one art school, but every art school in the country and I didn’t give up.

Kylie: It wasn’t meant to be.

Ally: It wasn’t mean to be, but I didn’t give up straight away, I did it again the next year, worked on my portfolio for a full year and applied again, and no, I didn’t get in. It was at that moment where I just felt so embarrassed and such a failure.

Ally: No, I’d got really great grades at school, I actually, my whole family were so proud of me because I’d got the best grades in the whole entire family history. I didn’t want to do anything academic with it, I wanted to go to art school, but it just wasn’t going to work out.

Ally: I had this moment where I was forced to just pivot because you have all your peers are going to university or they’ve got jobs, or everyone’s sorting out their life, and there’s you stuck, stuck in this place where you’re not even sure who you are or who you’re going to be because that plan that you had isn’t happening any more, it’s not going to work.

Ally: And so, there was about two months before the semester was starting at university and I looked at the Glasgow University, which was the university that my dad had went to, and it was a really prestigious university, and they had leftover courses. It was just a few, there was a really short list of spaces that were left over, and there I saw computer science and software engineering. It was like a dual degree.

Ally: I thought to myself, “I was good at maths. I’d done information systems at school, and I was pretty good at that too. I do like probably solving. I’m very good at designing and art, so maybe there’s something there. Maybe I can design software, maybe that’ll be for me.”

Ally: The great thing about Scotland is education is free in Scotland, so it wasn’t a huge gamble for me to just try it. I had never done programming before and so I signed up to the course. I walked into that computer science class and day one I thought, “What have I done?” Like, “What did I do?”

Ally: I was surrounded by guys. Everyone knew what they were doing. It felt like everybody was supposed to be there and here was me, a fish out of water. Had no idea what they were talking about. The curriculum and the content was really above my head.

Ally: I just had came from a world that wasn’t very technology based. I hadn’t a lot of experience already and it seemed like everybody was there because they already had experience in that field, and so for me the learning curve was really steep.

Ally: On top of that I did feel really like an outsider. I was ashamed that I didn’t know a lot. I felt embarrassed that I didn’t know a lot, but after time and after really hard work, things started to click. I really started to find my place within the course.

Ally: We started doing things like human-computer interaction classes. This was all about psychology, all about the design of software. I was like, “I know this. I know people, I’m good at design.”

Ally: So I finally found places where I could apply my strengths, and other people in my class, they didn’t really get these subjects very well, so that’s when I knew that, you know what? I’ve got something different to bring to the table. I might not be the one that’s going to come up with the complex algorithm that’s going to change the world, but I see things differently and I can design things differently.

Ally: I was able to balance out all my different subjects based on my strength. I managed to graduate, which was wonderful. Yeah, I loved my time at university, because I guess when you’re in those uncomfortable situations for such a long time, the growth, the personal growth, and the professional growth that you feel, because you’re just pushing yourself beyond the limits you thought you had.

Ally: You’re in situations where you feel like giving up, or you feel like you can’t do it, and then you do it, and that’s just such an amazing feeling. To be able to complete that degree when I know how I felt on day one, it still feels like an achievement to this day.

Ally: So yeah, I had quite an experience, to be honest, and I don’t regret it. I’m actually glad that art school didn’t work out because I’ve found such a passion in place within the technology and I love it now, just driving off of it. So it kind of all works out I guess in the end.

Kylie: It’s an incredible story. What I’m interested in is one of the questions that we ask all our guests is, three things that they believe in and why? I would love to hear what you have say, knowing the background to your story now.

Ally: One of them is, I thought about these in advance. I was like, one of them is I believe that teamwork makes the dream work. So at Code Like A Girl I think a lot of people, they know that I started it, but it could never be what it is today without the team.

Ally: Then also the seven years that I spent in the industry working very collaboratively on projects, I think really cemented how important teamwork is. Just how important a diverse team is, having these people from different industries and skills coming together to create this amazing product.

Ally: I believe in four-day weeks, so that was another thing. I think I’ve really gotten to know myself really well and how I work at my best. I think when you’re well rested and well fed and you’re in a really good place energy wise you can achieve double the work in half the time. And so, one of the things that when I started my own business was to really aim for four days weeks.

Ally: Then this one’s a bit more relatable to my own experience, but I believe that everyone, no matter of what background they come from, should have access to technology education.

Ally: For me, I grew up in this really small town in Airlie. We didn’t have a lot growing up. My mum was a single mum and we were quite a family of four. And so, for me technology education and getting my computer science degree, it allowed me a lifestyle, and life and career that I didn’t actually think I was going get when I was younger.

Ally: I think when you grow up in these small towns you always feel like you’re prepared for failure more than you’re prepared for success. The things that you don’t get a lot of encouragement and there’s not a lot of exposure to different careers or different places that you can live and have a life.

Ally: A lot people I know and grew up with, they didn’t ever leave that small town. Whereas my education in technology, it just gave me wings, it gave me financial freedom. It gave me opportunities, and it gave me an opportunity to live in Australia, which was huge for me.

Ally: I mean Australia’s like, I don’t know, it’s funny, my partner’s Australian, I always tell him this, I’m like, “You know Australia is like the ultimate success for people from Scotland” because it’s like you go over to this amazing warm country.

Ally: There’s so much opportunity here and having that freedom because of my skillset has allowed me to live in this country and potentially could have lived anywhere in the world because there is such a shortage of technologists, and it’s never easy to get a visa but there’s access that technologists can get into the different countries and access to different visas.

Ally: And so, I think that if everybody has the opportunity to be exposed to coding, exposed to these amazing careers and opportunities, that would be an amazing gift to give some from a disadvantaged background, to give them that empowerment to do what they want with their life and to have those opportunities at their feet.

Kylie: You mentioned about where you grew up and the kind of feelings of potentially being trapped there, or not being able to get out of that situation. So what do you think was different about you in seeing the world differently or the tenacity to keep going when you got knocked back out of art school? How do you think you were different in that way, always able to see beyond that?

Ally: I think it was my mum to be honest. She’s one of my role models for life, but in particular, when things were tough at university I thought back to my mum. My parents separated when I was four. When we were around about seven my mum, we have to give up the family home, couldn’t afford to live there any more.

Ally: We almost faced homelessness, but luckily we were placed in a council flat and that’s where we spent most of our childhood. My mum realised at that point, enough was enough, “I can’t go on living like this.” She didn’t have skills or a career at that point in her life.

Ally: And so, she went back to university when we were all quite young. So she had four girls. I was the youngest, and we all went up in two years. So it’s extremely challenging having to go study, having to also work, having to look after these four girls who were crazy teenagers, we did not give her a good time.

Ally: She did all that and she conquered it. She ended up working in nursing and eventually working her way up to management in nursing. I think that is so inspiring to me that someone who when your back against the wall, comes back fighting, and she’s always been like that.

Ally: And so, when we were younger as well she spent some time abroad in Cyprus. She always talked about this time in Cyprus continuously. She only spent three years there, but she always talked about it, and it was always these glamorous stories, and this and that. It must have been important to her. It must have been a real time of her life because it just kept on coming back.

Ally: It was really inspiring to me to hear her stories of when she lived in these places. I kind of thought, “I don’t have a story for my children. I haven’t done anything with my life.”

Ally: I was 25 and I was working, still in Scotland and I thought, “What am I going to tell my children that’s going to inspire them? I haven’t really done anything yet.” And so, I wanted a story, and that’s where I decided to move to Australia because I hadn’t done anything yet.

Ally: It was only supposed to be a year I came over here. Only supposed to be working holiday and travel around and see the world and come back home, but that’s not how it worked out.

Kylie: It’s not how it worked out, is it? So you ended up working here-

Ally: Of course.

Kylie: … but you’ve also started a business here-

Ally: I did.

Kylie: … you’ve co-founded a business with Vanessa Doake, called Code Like A Girl.

Ally: Yes.

Kylie: How did that come about?

Ally: I guess I’ll start with how I met Vanessa. So I worked, my first job here in Australia my project manager was Vanessa’s husband and we got on really well. We became really good friends.

Ally: I’d only been here probably about four months and he invited me home to dinner to meet Vanessa and meet some of his friends, which was really nice because I didn’t know anybody, and it’s really hard to make friends and stuff, especially when you’re an adult, making friends is really hard when you’re an adult. And so, it was really kind of them to invite me round.

Ally: Me and Vanessa just got on really well. Me, Hamish and Vanessa became best friends, but Vanessa was always very entrepreneurial. She worked in the not-for-profit space, and she was really strong in terms of the way she wanted to work with …

Ally: She works for a women’s legal services that really did a lot work around women experiencing violence. I found that really inspiring and really heartbreaking and some of the stories.

Ally: There was a lot commonalities about me and Vanessa in terms of how entrepreneurial we both were. We were always coming up with new business ideas, like on road trips, “Oh this is a good business idea” but never really acted on it.

Ally: When I started Code Like A Girl it wasn’t really intended to be a business, it was just a passion project. I’d never even really knew that much about creating a business or social entrepreneurship. Hadn’t been exposed to much of that in my career, but when Code Like A Girl started it was just supposed to be an event.

Ally: I was still trying to make friends in Melbourne, and particular as a woman in a technical role you don’t meet a lot of women in your work. I was always the only girl on the team. The two places I’ve worked here in Melbourne I was the only girl on the tech team, and I wanted to meet other girls who did what I did, who were like-minded like me in terms of worked in technology.

Ally: And so, I’d planned this evening, and it was supposed to only be like a small intimate evening. We were going to get a few bottles of wine in. We were going to talk about our projects and talk about what languages we knew, and share some of our stories and experiences, but it wasn’t like that at all.

Ally: The first event just blew up. We had a hundred RSVPs within two weeks, it was insane. We decided that night, this is important and this is needed. These women in this room need each other and I need them, let’s make this regular, let’s commit.

Ally: And so, we did it every two months, and it just grew and grew, and grew. And so, here was me sitting day-to-day being a developer five days a week, but the website was getting so much inquiries. People were just reaching out and saying, “We should do this. We should do this together. Let’s collaborate.”

Ally: It just got really overwhelming. And so, we decided after we were picked we were picked up by PwC and the Foundation for Young Australians, they were running this thing called an accelerator program, and I didn’t know what an accelerator program was, and I went for the interview actually not knowing really what I was doing and what I was getting myself into.

Ally: They described the course. They said ‘It’s touch points of the year, we’ll give you sort of 101 business classes and you will see mentors and you’ll get exposed to this new world.” I was like, “Great. This sounds brilliant.”

Ally: It was at that point that things changed. It was at that point that I really saw the potential in Code Like A Girl. I really met other like-minded businesses who had already being doing similar things for a really long time. I was able to understand what the next step were.

Ally: And so, naturally I didn’t want to do it alone. I knew my skillsets and I knew my strengths, but I also knew the gaps, and I needed someone else who could fill those gaps. It just felt like the perfect match so I reached out to Vanessa and I said, “Do you want to be my co-founder?” Vanessa was fully on board.

Ally: She went, “If I do this I’m coming on fully, like this is happening.” It was such a game changer getting Vanessa on board. She’s just, we’re so different in terms of the skills that we bring and it’s just great.

Ally: I couldn’t stress more about having that diversity in your leadership team. Just being able to tag out and come together on things, and to see it from different places as well has been really beneficial for the business.

Ally: So yeah, that’s kind of like the story of us and the story of how it happened. We’re now both full-time in the organisation. We’re trying to scale to a national size, we’re now in three states, which is incredible.

Kylie: Amazing. So what’s the business model now for Code Like A Girl?

Ally: The business model is this, we call ourselves a social enterprise, and so the idea os that we have six different services that we run within Code Like A Girl. The idea is that they’ll be self-funding, self-sustainable and that with the profits of Code Like A Girl we get to do amazing projects.

Ally: We have this one coming up and it’s the Travelling Classroom for Rebel Girls, and we’re taking it to disadvantaged areas. It’s this incredible space that we’re having designed. It’s almost like a pop-up classroom, but it challenges gender stereotypes. It’s really vibrant and it’s rebellious just like the Code Like A Girl brand.

Ally: We’re going to do free coding workshops within areas in West Melbourne. So that’s the idea of the model is that we can create self-sustaining services that make a small profit and with that profit we’re able to then go out to disadvantaged areas and really provide what we’ve always wanted to do is access to technology education to everybody. So yeah.

Kylie: You’ve run coding programs for girls and women?

Ally: Yes, so girls and women. We have workshops which are two to four-hour one-off, ad hoc workshops. A lot of that range is introductory, so we assume no knowledge of programming, we speak no jargon, we make sure everything’s clear, and everyone’s on that same, equal playing field as they come in, and they’re relaxed.

Ally: We’ve always got lots of compliments about Code, our workshops and how everybody just feels the presenters are very down to earth. It’s your safe space to ask questions.

Ally: I think particularly with technology there is a level of intimidation with some people. There is a thing that needs to be demystified and that’s our job for the day. It’s demystifying things that people have felt intimidated to ask what that does or why that does. And so, that’s our workshops.

Ally: Then we also do code camps, which are our more three-day immersive experience for young girls. Those are usually girls at school age level. Then we have internships, which is placing women into entry level roles within the industry. Those internships, we just launched last month and we’ve already placed seven women into the industry, which is great.

Ally: Then we have a job service as well. Our job service is adverting jobs from companies who are really committed to gender equality, so we do a lot of screening with those companies and they advertise and they meet me. So that’s kind of what we do. It’s all over the place. There are quite a few services going, but it works. It’s almost like we’re tackling girls from all areas of the lifecycle, so young girls, all the way to the industry and adults who want to enter the industry. So yeah, it’s we’re really enjoying building it out and scaling it.

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Kylie: How long did it take you to go from it being side gig to being your full-time gig?

Ally: So it was a side gig, August 2016 is when we launched in Melbourne. Then February 2017 is when established it as a business, so that was just about a year after it started. Then, yeah what? It’s 2018 now, so the company’s been running as a company for a year and a half, but as a passion project for about three years. So yeah, three years it started.

Kylie: Yeah. How important was it for you to become a business owner?

Ally: I think I realised how important it was because the more I researched into the why. So at first I did it because I wanted to meet other like-minded women, that was my intention.

Ally: It wasn’t really too well thought out, but the more I looked into the problem of why there was not more girls and what we could do about that is the where I got really passionate about it, because I started reflecting on how easily I could have chose art or something else.

Ally: I started reflecting on all the girls who’d dropped out of my course, or all the people who left the industry. I thought, “Why is this happening?” I looked at the way I grew up and the gender stereotyping that I was exposed to, and other girls are exposed to, and how natural a fit it is for men and how they grow up with consoles, they grew up with games, they grow up learning problem solving and tinkering from a very young age.

Ally: Then they have amazing role models to look up to who are everywhere. You see Elon Musk on the front cover of Time magazine, or something. You see all these amazing men in technology who are just leading the way, and so for them it’s such a natural fit.

Ally: Whereas, women in particular, we are still facing strong messages from as young as six-year-old, from the toys we’re given, to the magazines that we read, to the movies that influence us, and TV, just everywhere.

Ally: I know that we’re making great progress in the last few years, but when I look back on my upbringing and my childhood, it was so easy for me not end up on that path.

Ally: That annoyed me, that really bugged me, and so, I knew that if I wanted to make the change that I wanted to make and at the scale that I wanted to make it at, I had to be a business and I had to be a good business and a successful business if I really wanted the ammunition to make what I needed, or of what I wanted to happen, happen. That’s the only way I could do about it.

Ally: It couldn’t stay as a passion project. It’s couldn’t be something that only had my night or my weekend attention, it needed to be fully resourced. It needed to be someone focusing on this big time because it was that important. So it didn’t feel like a choice at that point for me, it felt like I had to do it.

Kylie: So it’s still pretty early days in terms of the business. What have been the biggest lessons you’ve learned so far?

Ally: Oh so many. Every day is a school day. I think one of the most great lessons I actually got was about a year ago. I went to female entrepreneur bootcamp and I was given this framework, which has came in really, really handy for a lot of things.

Ally: So I have a lot meeting that I have to go to, and a lot of pitches that I have to do, and you always feel like a salesperson and that can be really sometimes not a natural fit for me.

Ally: So the framework, it was by a woman called Erica Bradshaw. She does a lot of public speaking and coaching. The framework was, why this? Why me? Why you? Why now? So why this, is just explaining why is this important? Why me is like why should you listen to me? What expertise do I have? What experience I have on this problem? Why you, and this part’s really important, is why are you talking to this person? Why should they care? Then why now? Why now is like a lot of the time you’ll get, “This is really interesting, but not yet, we’re not there yet.” So they sort of palm you off. Whereas, why now is, there needs to be urgency about your ask.

Ally: So this framework, you can use it in networking situations. You can use it in when you’re meeting someone for the first time. It just allows you to prep in advance of why this meeting is happening and what is the reason you’re meeting with this person, and why should you bring value to that meeting to make it worthwhile, both your time?

Ally: I found it a really amazing framework and it’s really helped with me in terms of if I’m putting together a proposal or I’m meeting someone for the first time who I want their help on something and I can really address like, “Okay, well why they should they be bothered about this?” It gives it a really personal experience and it just takes away that idea of you trying to sell it to them, actually you’re really thinking it out properly and you feel really prepared going into it.

Ally: For me, that was one of the most valuable things anyone’s ever said to me in terms of how I go about now just my day-to-day business. Yeah, I’d probably say that’s a real stand out one.

Kylie: Yeah, that’s genius. That’s a bit of gold right there, isn’t it? I can think of so many different instances of where just those four questions could be applied, not even necessarily in sales, but even just in writing content or in any kind of situation where you’re talking about your business and why you’re doing it. That’s amazing. So there’s always difficult situations that arrive in business. What have been some of the sticky ones for you.

Ally: I think the most difficult thing for me in business is usually the people. I think that there’s been a lot of difficult conversations you have to have, there’s just no avoiding it. As someone who … I’ve never been actually in a management position before, this is my first one, and so I didn’t have that training.

Ally: I’d never had to fire anyone. I’ve actually never hired anyone. I was never senior enough in any of my roles previous to be in those positions. And so, now you’re currently that person who has to hire and fire, and delegate.

Ally: It’s been difficult because at the very start I very naively went into it. I really had a lot of optimism, and I’d work with people and I wouldn’t really give them very clear deadlines. I wouldn’t really give them clear boundaries or expectations, and so, I was then upset and disappointed when they didn’t meet my expectations.

Ally: At first, I felt that was on them, why were they not just getting this? Why is this not … but it was all on me. I realised very quickly if you don’t from day one set those boundaries, set expectations, then you will end up disappointed and you will end up having to have a difficult conversation, which is way more difficult in that first conversation if you just did it from day one.

Ally: So that has been the biggest learning. I think the difficulties have came because I haven’t done that, and I’ve ended up in the situations where I’ve had to have very difficult conversations when people have let me down or disappointed, or something has went wrong because of that.

Kylie: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Do you have any tips for how to have a difficult conversation?

Ally: Oh there was a framework I was using for while. I think it’s something like I was reading a book, I can’t remember the book at all, but it was about … so say something goes really wrong and you need to pull someone up about something, it’s about explaining what exactly happened, so just saying out loud what that person did, how it made you feel, and what is the action that they could do the next time? And so, being very clear about what happened.

Ally: So, “I saw you said this to so and so, that made me feel that you maybe were being quite aggressive or that’s just the scenario. Then next time if you feel that way maybe talk it out
with me, maybe take a 10 minute break and don’t straight away talk to that person.”

Ally: Trying to give it really tangible so that they know what they did and how it made people feel. Then they’ve got something to act on it, because that’s all you can really do. Also, at times with running a business there are moments where you’re very tired and you’re very stressed, and you’re very emotional. I think it’s better for everybody that you don’t make decisions on those feelings, that you take some time.

Ally: I think when you’re running a business there’s this illusion that everything has to be done now. There’s an illusion of an urgency because it’s so busy and you want to get everything out, but I try and not make decisions when I feel at my lowest point. I feel like they’re never a good time to make any actions.

Ally: So yeah, getting that time to step away, to rest, and to know that what we’re doing, we’re not saving lives, right? We’re not doing heart surgery, it can wait. If it’s not the right timing, if you’re not in a good place, everything can always wait.

Ally: And so, it’s just taking away that illusion that everything has to happen now and that there’s urgency around it, you can always take time to breathe and to get away from the situation and calm down, because it does, it can really consume you. I think that’s a real trap that a lot of people get in, and that’s how relationships can fall apart if you act on those emotions and you don’t take that time to really come back to yourself.

Ally: I think at Code Like A Girl we have been good at that, recognising that things are getting up to a really high-stress point and finding time to go away and be like, “Okay, let’s just go out for a long lunch and we’ll sit and chat about things that are not work.” Yeah, it’s not easy, but you realise that’s the best thing you can do on those ones.

Kylie: So that personal awareness of actually what’s going on for me when I’m kind of emotionally hooked or like you said, recognising I’m tired. When I’m tired I’m not in my best frame of mind. The studies show that our brain actually … the function of our brain is compromised when we’re tired and when we haven’t had enough sleep, or when we’re extremely stressed.

Kylie: You know, that executive function of our brain? So rational decision making actually goes completely offline. So it makes that really difficult. There’s a really good book called Fierce Conversations by a woman called Susan Scott that’s really helpful-

Ally: I’ll just write it down, please find Susan.

Kylie: … that’s really helpful. She has a really good framework in that, but what I would also say, is some of the learnings I’ve had in some of my trainings, the opening to a hard conversation can also be … and I learnt this from Brené Brown in her Rising Strong work, is acknowledging that what’s going on is a story that you’re making up about what’s happened, and starting and opening a conversation by saying, “The story I’m making up about this is …” And so, it’s a really great way-

Ally: I like it.

Kylie: … because it doesn’t say that it’s the truth and it invites somebody else’s perspective on the conversation about what their story is. That has been super helpful in marriages, in relationships, but it’s just a little bit more … like in addition to the things that you were talking about in that framework, that those words, the story I’m making up about this is, just seems to be, it’s not defensive and it’s not aggressive, it’s just like, this is-

Ally: Yeah. Yeah, I like that.

Kylie: … sort of what’s playing out. Anyway, so that’s a little hint the other way. The work that you do is incredible in terms of its potential to really impact girl’s lives and women’s lives in an area that you said, as you mentioned, can change the trajectory of their lives. What have been some of your most rewarding moments to date?

Ally: It’s so hard, the whole thing has been very rewarding, but there’s been moments where there was this little girl and she’s actually came to so many workshops and code camps now, but after the first one she went home to her mum and she said, “Mum, I didn’t know there were other girls like me.”

Ally: For me, that was huge, that just was exactly what we started this for. There’s little girls who our really into STEM, really into science technology and engineering, maths, that they might be a minority at their school. We all remember what it’s like being at school, you want to fit in. You don’t want to be an outsider, and so, there’s a lot of cultural stigma around technology and science fields.

Ally: Girls aren’t supposed to like maths and stuff like that, and it’s when they do, I feel like we’re losing them. And so, being able to create an environment where it normalises it and these girls can meet each other and look at one another and say, “Yeah, this is cool.”

Ally: Like, “Yeah, there is other girls that like this, I’m not alone anymore. I don’t feel so weird about who I am.” I think for me, that is the most rewarding thing about what we do is that, I feel like we’re giving hope back into these girls’ future and that they have this space where they feel that sense of belonging. I love that, that was probably one of the most rewarding things about some of our work.

Kylie: So what’s your big vision? What would you love to see happen if you could have your hands on the wheel of driving change, what would you love to see from schools, from communities, from other businesses?

Ally: Big vision is that I’d love teachers to be more prepared. I’d love to give them what they need to get more prepared in terms of teaching the digital curriculum. I know that there is a huge burden on them to really upskill, to teach this new curriculum, but it’s not as easy as just changing a curriculum and giving it to teachers, they don’t feel confident, they do feel underprepared.

Ally: And so, I wish that I could give them more to make them feel more confident to be able to teach technology. I want it to be mandatory from primary school. I think that kids from as young as five years old should be learning about computational thinking.

Ally: I imagine a world where everybody can code, just like we can all write and we can all read. I want to live in that world, because currently technology is being built by one gender and that’s not good enough. I don’t want to live in that future either, particularly as we go into artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Ally: If it’s one person with one perspective and one way of thinking that’s building and teaching these computers, I don’t know what that’s going to end up in terms of how well technology will serve our society.

Ally: A small even example of what that could be is the Apple watch. This is something that came out that was supposed to track your health, your footsteps, your sleep analysis, you name it, your health concerns are covered, but on the first launch of that product they missed out a menstruation tracker, and that’s a really important thing to women.

Ally: Every day my hormones change, every day I feel different, and I want to know more about my body and who I am, but if we don’t have enough diversity both building and creating technology, we’re always going to be forgotten about, we’re always going to be missed out. Something’s going to be missed out because we don’t have those people on the team.

Ally: And so, my vision is an equal society, equally building and creating the future. How we go about that, logistics of making that happen is so complex, but it’s something I’m willing to have a go at.

Ally: It’s something that I’m willing to help contribute to, and chip away at it slowly and surely, because I imagine all the ideas that’s in everyone’s heads, doctors of the world who maybe have an idea for an app but don’t have the skills or funds to just build it, or people in different other industries who have noticed a niche or a product idea.

Ally: Again, we don’t have those native skills to just build it and make it happen, and put together an MVP. And so, I want to live in a world where everybody’s empowered to create technology based on their experiences, their backgrounds.

Ally: I’m tired of seeing Uber apps and pizza delivery and laundry services, what about problems that actually matter and people who face real adversity in life? Imagine the products that they can bring and the problems they could solve if they had those skills. And so, yeah, that’s the big vision, equal creators and building the future.

Kylie: Where can people find out more about what you do Ally?

Ally: They can find out through our website which is codelikeagirl.org. We regularly update our social media, and so we’re across LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Our handle is codelikeagirlau. So it’s just A-U at the end of it. Yeah, you can reach out to us on LinkedIn or whatever, I don’t mind.

Kylie: Because if people don’t want to actually get their hands dirty with learning code after speaking to you, I don’t know what we could do to get people more engaged, because the biases that you talk about and the digital exclusion that you talk about are only things that will become more ingrained and wider, and bigger, unless we actually address them and call them out. Have people, like you say, of diverse backgrounds with those tools in their hands to be able to create new things that we need that are not being adequately provided for.

Kylie: So I could stay and chat with you all day, but I’m aware that we need to start wrapping this conversation up.

Ally: Okay.

Kylie: So what three things would you like people to take away from our chat today?

Ally: Well one of the things Kylie that really inspired me to start a business was meeting someone like you. The first time I met you was on a female founders panel. I think you really gave me the confidence to start my own business because you were very relatable. The advice you gave was really tangible.

Ally: And so, I hope that one of the things that people are taking away from this podcast is that you can do it too. There is a lot of frameworks that you can use to really guide you through starting your own business or dealing with situations that don’t come naturally.

Ally: For me, I’ve never been a natural leader and I’ve never felt that I would be a great CEO because I was introverted. I am very soft spoken. Sometimes you see someone who starts a business or owns a business, or runs a business and they don’t look like you and they don’t sound like you, and they don’t act like you.

Ally: I think what I want people to know is, you don’t have to fit the mould, that if you’re passionate about something your passion will ignite others to help, and you’ll build great teams and that vision will take you forward. And so, that’s not three things, but it’s one sort of big thing that I hope people get away from this chat.

Kylie: Yeah. Fantastic. So thank you for the wisdom that you’ve shared with us today. We’re going to wrap up with our 10 by 10.

Ally: Lovely. Cool. Exciting.

Kylie: So are you ready to roll, to finish off on a high?

Ally: I think I am, yes. Yeah.

Kylie: So we have 10 questions. 10 seconds for each answer. It’s fast and furious, to wrap us up and bring us home. Are you ready to roll?

Ally: Fantastic. Yes, I think I’m ready.

Kylie: All right. Ally. What I like about myself is?

Ally: That I challenge gender stereotypes.

Kylie: I beat procrastination by?

Ally: Setting rules and setting boundaries.

Kylie: A song on my life soundtrack is?

Ally: A band called Frightened Rabbit and their song called Head Rolls Off.

Kylie: I’ll have to look that one up. The world needs more?

Ally: Girls building and creating technology.

Kylie: Amen. A phrase I live by is?

Ally: This is actually lyrics of that song I just mentioned, but it’s, “Whilst I’m alive, I’ll make tiny changes to earth.”

Kylie: Something everyone must do is?

Ally: Learn to love yourself.

Kylie: A book that changed me is?

Ally: Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I love that book.

Kylie: Fear and I?

Ally: Oh this one I got a little bit stuck at, but I think the only way to beat fear is through experience.

Kylie: Something that always makes me feel good is?

Ally: Camping and nature walks.

Kylie: Away from a screen?

Ally: Yes. Wander where the wifi is weak.

Kylie: Finally, my legacy will be?

Ally: Hopefully inspiring a new and diverse generation of new technologists.

Kylie: Ally Watson, founder of Code Like A Girl, thank you so much for your time and speaking with us and sharing your wisdom, and for the work that you do in definitely making a big impact on getting more girls into coding and creating a more equal digital world. So thank you so much, and we’re going to wrap it up there.

Ally: No problem. Thank you so much Kylie.

For more information visit:

Code Like A Girl

To make the leap into your own business visit:

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