Google Maps has let me down. Google Maps has led me astray. Google Maps is the reason that I am pacing up and down this road, and probably the reason Anne-Marie Imafidon has probably given up waiting for me, and gone home. I am fifteen minutes late for our interview, in a coffee shop that this blasted machine swears blind is just on this corner. It isn’t.
Being let down by technology just as I’m about to interview the brains behind Stemettes and Hack The Barbican is at least as ironic as rain on your wedding day/a free ride that you just didn’t take/ten thousand spoons. Take that, Alanis.
Eventually I find the coffee shop, and I find Anne-Marie, who has not gone home, and is lovely. I’m here (duh) to talk to her about what it’s like to be a girl in tech; she’s here to tell me about her organisation Stemettes, and their upcoming event at Hack The Barbican.
“Did you know that the numbers of women in STEM are declining?” she asks, laptop out, hands on the keys. “Seventeen per cent last year, thirteen per cent this year. And two thirds of women with STEM degrees don’t use those degrees in their work. I went to a conference last year, in America, and for me the problem is not yet keeping women in tech subjects, it’s getting them there in the first place. I don’t want them to be there as a minority, promoted as a minority. I want a workforce that’s 50% female. I want people to have to pay attention to women [the way they pay attention to men]. So I started this project.”
“Basically, [Stemettes] gets girls to meet women [in tech]. Role-models influence girls in their career goals, even subconsciously. So we have exhibitions, hackathons, but mostly women who’ve done really well- like Jenny Griffiths, who created Snap Fashion, and Roma Agrawal, who was involved in engineering the Shard. We play networking games- and we hear their stories.”
(Of course, that’s what this particular initiative is all about: providing a space for women in STEM fields to tell their stories, to have their stories heard.)
“So next, we’ve got this Hackathon. At Hack the Barbican. You should come! We’re going to have seventy girls, making apps and games, and it’ll be the first time most of them have ever coded. It started as a conversation between a handful of people in January. The excitement grew, and weekly meetings immediately started. And the organizing team grew organically from 5, to 10, to 15, to 20. By the test event in April, we’d become a community of 80 plus and most recently we’ve been totally blown away by the 200 plus project proposals received. At the core of Hack the Barbican there is a spirit of openness, collaboration and learning by doing. And these girls are going to be from around nine years old up, I think!”
What we haven’t yet said about Anne-Marie is quite how clever she is. You don’t expect former child prodigies to be this polite, lovely and down-to-earth but it must be true- it even says it on her Wikipedia page. “Anne-Marie Imafidon, computing, mathematics and language child prodigy” (no citations needed, obviously), and then it lists how young she got involved with this sort of thing, which is very. You can see why she feels it’s her job to encourage others to get into it, too. “Nobody does anything to do with STEM in primary school. You didn’t, I didn’t. But now..Code Club are doing some stuff there. Code Academy are looking at doing some stuff there. And we are, too, from September. We want them as young as possible; we want to make it something that’s just there for them, their whole lives.”
The kids we’re talking about, you recall, are the same age that Anne-Marie was when sitting her first two GCSEs.
“It was never work,” she says. “I used to come home from primary school, where I didn’t do anything, and sit up all night on my computer, building things. I remember sitting there, when I was probably four or five, writing a little story about Red Riding Hood, and saving it, and coming back, and realising that my words would still be there when I came back, on the screen. That was my creation. I’d…made something. And that I could, if I wanted, make the programme I was writing in, too. I’ve always loved making things. Being able to make something…create something..and something that other people can join in with. I love that.”
What’s interesting about speaking with Anne-Marie is that she seems to regard it all as just such tremendous fun, as if the whole tech world is a massive playground, and one she wants to fill with playmates. There’s no difference, it seems, between the traditional forms of creating and the digital; I assume, from the way she talks about creating, that she writes, or paints, or does something old-school- but no. “I’ve just taught myself to write,” she explains, “because people want to hear what I have to say, and I have to tell them. I need people to hear about Stemettes.”
And people are hearing, loud and clear, and they are lending Anne-Marie their platforms and megaphones with which to spread her message further. They’ve been sponsored by big names (ones you’ve heard of: O2, Starbucks, DeutscheBank, Bank of America…). “People just get it! Women get it. They see there’s not enough women around; they remember that they wanted to do it, that they had supportive parents, or they remember they weren’t allowed to do it, and now they enjoy what they do. They want to be that voice, that they never had, they want to help up and coming girls in tech. Guys get it too, they want to help. And they tell their friends, tell their nieces, tell their daughters, tell their sisters. And sign up to our mailing list. And come to our Hackathon!”
You can do that, too. She’d like that, she says.
“We’re also running an exhibition in October- like a conference, for young girls- and they’ll be able to rotate between twenty-minute workshops and other things like that. It’s going to be good. The Hackathon will be good.”
“Not pink,” she adds. “Just cool.”
It might be Stemettes’ motto, that: not pink, just cool. Anne-Marie is very cool.
“What’s been the most difficult thing?” I ask.
She looks at me, puzzled. “None of it’s difficult. It’s fun. Well- getting used to not sleeping is sometimes difficult.”
She is, she explains, also working a full-time tech job, which means she runs Stemettes at night. I have begun to think I might be talking to Wonder Woman. So, obviously, I ask her if she has any advice.
“Get stuck in,” she says, without hesitation. “Just do it. Creativity. Patience. Google is your best friend.”
“It’s all just…amazing,” says Anne-Marie.
And the way she says it, you understand that yes, yes it is. It’s not just misleading Google Maps, or frustrating spreadsheets: it’s a whole brave new world, and Anne-Marie and her Stemettes will be the first to colonise it.
Picture from Stemettes website.
This blog is part of Enternships’ Women In Tech series, within our ongoing commitment to supporting ladies who work in STEM sectors. Want to be involved? Email [email protected] for more information.
Written and devised by Ella Risbridger