Treehouse teacher Ben Jakuben came across Girls Coding Kosova on Twitter recently, and discovered that they use Treehouse to help members learn to code. We wanted to learn more about their organization and mission, and had a chance to hear from Blerta Thaci and Zana Idrizi, the original founders. Blerta is a programmer, and Zana has studied public policy and economics. They decided to combine their efforts and knowledge and form GCK in 2014.
Tell us about Girls Coding Kosova, and how it started.
The idea started with two girls from Kosovo, Blerta Thaci and Zana Idrizi. We were very interested into doing something that could empower women in Kosovo. We thought that the best way to do that is by educating them especially in a technology field that is constantly growing.
First of all the initiative started to connect women programmers in Kosovo in order to identify and solve challenges we face as women this field. We started to discuss in our meetups the challenges that we face and how can we solve them. This being said, Girls Coding Kosovo planned to organize different events that would stimulate the development of leadership and careers for women in the traditionally male controlled field of technology. One of the primary purposes was to host more targeted events aimed to increase the number of smart, strong women in this industry. Thus, we started with basic ideas, and future plans, then we continued with meetups. We saw the great interest from community and this is how GCK was formed. After this, a lot of organizations and other initiatives have contacted and helped which made GCK even more successful here in Kosovo. However, we do recognize the fact that the community is what makes GCK.
Why is your mission so important?
Our main goals are to create a community that will:
- Increase the number of interested women in technology/programming
- Expand number of women that consider programming as an academic pursuit or professional field
- Increase the number of entrepreneurial women in innovative fields in technology/programming
- Encourage young girls to start practicing programming at an earlier age
Our mission is important because technology is becoming an essential part of our daily lives. There are so many fields related to technology; internet, smartphones, social media. Considering the importance of technology and the current situation in Kosovo, where there is an obvious lack of women interested in the technology industry, especially in programming, we consider this initiative to be important in changing this current situation.
What challenges have you faced?
The initiative started as volunteer work, and in the beginning we had a bit of hesitation about how it would be accepted in our society. There were some critics in the beginning that thought there was no need for the initiative because there were so few women interested, however, everything went really great. Day by day the community is growing and we have a lot of support from others too. Another difficulty we deal with is the financial support. GCK is non-profit, and most of the events we organize need financial aid from others which is very hard to come by. In the very beginning of the initiative we did not even had a location to organize meetups, so we met in different cafeterias.
What has been the most rewarding experience since GCK started?
One of the biggest moments in the GCK was when two girls out of our community got an internship through Girls Coding Kosovo. Also the practice and networking that happens throughout our meetups/workshops, presenting GCK in Albania, and seeing international support from all over the world has been amazing.
Which languages and projects are your members most interested in?
What is it like to be a woman interested in coding in Kosova? What is the tech community like?
The technology sector offers relatively well paid positions and has an almost constant demand for labour. It could serve as an ideal sector for women to enter into. However, women are in a disadvantaged position. Furthermore, the tech community among youth in Kosovo is very developed. We have a lot of events such as trainings and conferences, both local and international, organized by different organizations. However, young women interested in technology are a minority, and they face discrimination and prejudice by their predominantly male peers. In the 2013/2014 school year, only 30.4% of students enrolled in computer engineering at the University of Prishtina were women. However, one of the reasons that we actually started this is that a lot of women here that study this field do not continue to work in their field, rather they choose something else after they graduate.
Further, Kosovo’s educational system at present offers theoretical knowledge, but few opportunities to gain practical skills in technology. Given the rarity of internships and fierce competition over a few opportunities, young women have particularly limited access to learning and utilizing practical skills in technology. Thus, through this initiative we want to develop women even more professionally out of the university. Most of the companies with services such as programming and IT in general do not have a lot of female employees. After finishing their studies they need a lot of practice in order to be able to apply for these positions.
Have any of your members launched any cool projects you can share?
We want to share a project that we did together with Open Data Kosovo. It was about visualizing data on a survey that was done by UNDP Kosovo on: “Gender Equality related corruption risks and vulnerabilities in civil service in Kosovo”. The technologies were all Open Source ones that were used to build the final project: Flask, MongoDB, Python and jQuery and High Charts for Data Visualizations. It was a hands on project that was done for two weekends in Prishtina, Kosovo. Check out more about the project here.
What do you see for the future of GCK?
We envision GCK being a place for a lot of women in Kosovo to find opportunities for training, internships and support from other women programmers. Furthermore, we see a big community where most of them have trained in key programming languages that will train future generation. We already have accomplished many of our plans for 2015, but there is still need for much more work to fulfill our mission. In fact we are planning to expand our mission. Thus, a lot of great events are coming and we surely do expect that our community will continue to grow.
How can people get involved?
GCK is open to everyone. The first step is to become member of our Facebook group and our official Facebook page where we post all of our upcoming plans, and people can be part of our events. GCK is intentionally organized to support women in the field of programming, however, we do encourage men to participate in our events as well.