June Angelides is Founder and CEO of Mums in Technology, the UK’s first baby-friendly coding school, encouraging women to bring their babies with them to every session. They offer a unique and flexible way of learning that fits around women’s lives, their children and their ambitions. They believe maternity leave should be an opportunity for development, rather than a barrier, and that women should use the time away from work to explore something new and get excited about tech.
“…the fact that we’re still dealing with lack of flexible working and women returning to lower paid jobs is a sign that it’s not enough of a priority. We need to keep talking about it until it is…”
My journey into tech: From Notting Hill to Silicon Valley and beyond
I graduated from UCL with a degree in economics and was one of the few students that didn’t have everything figured out. However, I knew that the culture of an organisation was really important to me. Ironically, I found my first job after university at Notting Hill carnival! (Not working at the carnival, but through a friend there who was working at Thomson Reuters who encouraged me to join the company…)
So, I began my quest for purpose, trying to figure out how I can make a difference. I switched teams twice, but still felt a vacuum. I needed to be stretched a bit more. I feel like I have gone through my career with something inside me whispering in my ear to move on anytime I get too comfortable.
I did move on in 2011 to Silicon Valley Bank. It was a dream job. I was actually working in a bank. Not just any bank – a technology bank. I joined at a really good time because the team was still really small. They were about to ramp up preparations for a banking license and I was about to witness a commercial bank being built.
I learnt so much about venture debt, the psyche of founders and investors and how having the right partners could make or break a company. At the time, I had no idea how much the experience would become a part of my personal life.
I was the first woman to go on maternity leave in the UK office. I took 14 months out and was completely unprepared for how I would feel when returning. I felt out of place, disconnected and lacked confidence. I joined a new team, which was really exciting, and I felt privileged to have the opportunity but I found myself questioning my ability to do a good job anymore. After a few months, I found my feet and loved meeting new and exciting start-ups. I found myself catching the start-up bug, eager to create something.
Starting Mums in Technology and becoming an accidental entrepreneur
I am definitely an accidental entrepreneur. I never knew this could be on the cards for me. Two months into my maternity leave, I had a moment of reflection and decided I was going to have a different experience going back to work. I wanted to return more skilled and more confident. I knew learning something would be the way to keep my mind busy.
I thought it would be fun to try and build an app that I had an idea for. I also wrongly assumed that it would be really easy to hire a developer, communicate my idea and get this off the ground for less than £200. The terms and the tech jargon were overwhelming and I found myself feeling like I might get cheated in this process because I just didn’t have the technical know-how to tell A from B.
It made me realise that I had options. I could learn and attempt to build something myself or I could learn enough to communicate my idea and manage the project more effectively.
I started with some online coding classes but couldn’t stay motivated after long. I am a really social person and wanted to have the classroom experience. My challenges at the time were having a two-month-old, not having lots of disposable income and not being able to be away from home for long in the evenings. This ruled out a lot of the classes that exist but weren’t suitable for parents with young kids.
Creating a child-friendly coding school
After speaking to a few really important people who believed in me, I got to work on my mission to create a child-friendly coding school. It was a very interesting time because not only had I no idea about how to do it, I had also never attended a coding school. I read a lot; I talked to a lot of people and got creative.
My first challenge was to find out if there were women like me who were facing similar problems and wanted to learn a bit more about coding and break down the tech jargon. I also needed to figure out how to reach them.
As far as social media went, Facebook was my only tool at the time. I hadn’t even joined any groups at that point. I had to learn about Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and I had to do it in two months. In that time, I had to develop a curriculum, using myself as an example and thinking about the concepts that I had struggled with when trying to build an app.
Wearer of many hats – social media manager, strategist, curriculum developer, customer service officer, admin, product manager and project manager
I was suddenly becoming a social media manager, a strategist, a curriculum developer, a customer service officer, admin, product manager and project manager. I often tell people that I had no idea how hard it was going to be. It took a lot of time to manage the marketing process and setting up the processes for the course. Finding the time was tough, so I worked when the kids were sleeping and during feeds.
Work-life balance has always been really important, but this was harder to manage in the early days when it felt like I had to be very reactive. I’ve gotten better at it and learnt to lean on family and friends and get that needed time-out card once in a while.
My role day-to-day
On a day-to-day basis, I am finding out how the mums on the course are doing. Ensuring they are happy with the content, always looking for feedback to improve what we’re building.
I work very closely with the team even though we all work remotely. We use tools like Slack, Trello and WhatsApp on a regular basis to stay on top of work. If there’s a course going on, I’ll typically pop in for a bit to say ‘hi’.
I also tend to have meetings and really enjoy learning about new companies where we can run our courses. It’s fun taking my daughter with me to those meetings because I can tell straight away whether it would be a good fit for our course by the way they react to her being there. It’s the perfect litmus test!
Whatever I’m doing, I wrap up by 3pm so that I can make the school run. I love to spend quality time with the kids in the evening, just playing and being Mum.
Women shouldn’t be forced to take jobs below their skill levels when they become mothers as a trade-off for flexibility
I find the stats really sad around women after having kids. I personally think that society has had a long time to figure this out and the fact that we’re still dealing with lack of flexible working and women returning to lower paid jobs is a sign that it’s not enough of a priority. We need to keep talking about it until it is.
When I look at a lot of the roles that claim to be perfect for mums because they are flexible and see that they are around customer care, it’s super demoralising. I just think that employers need to spend more time talking to real mums and get to understand the key skills they bring to the table.
They will find that giving women more responsibility and purpose will be the key to businesses seeing a true shift in the bottom line. Hopefully with more visibility on the gender pay gap, we will start to see a shift in the salaries being offered to women.
Coding – not hard but not for everyone
Coding isn’t hard but, to be honest, it isn’t for everyone. This is something we openly say to the mums on the course. It’s a perfect opportunity to test the waters with minimal commitment. It’s like any language, some are harder to learn than others, and some are more useful to learn because you can speak them in multiple countries.
We teach it in a very practical way. A huge part of the course is showing how different tech companies use different languages and understanding why. We also spend a lot of time making the coding journey personal to the students and get them working on real projects. Just focusing on the theory would be boring, so we make it super relatable and a very social experience.
Why coding can offer a flexible way to work
I love seeing pictures of developers working away in the most amazing locations. My favourite has got to be on the beach. It’s a role that can be done from anywhere thanks to lots of collaborative tools.
I know a lot of developers that say this fits nicely into their schedules. If you work freelance, you can take as many or as few jobs as you like. A few of our alumnae have taken on roles after the course, building websites and working around their life commitments.
A lot of tech teams have a good culture around working flexibly. I believe in having an open discussion around being assessed on delivering great work, not where the work is done.
Advice for other mums about taking the plunge in order to broaden their horizons
I would encourage every mum out there to do something that stretches her way of thinking. It’s the most empowering thing you can do. Think about coding as breaking down problems into even smaller problems that need to be solved in the most efficient way. It’s about problem solving. It’s about getting creative and learning to think outside the box.
I highly recommend at least trying. You never know, you might just love it! Even if you don’t you’ll find yourself able to have a pretty smart discussion with a developer whenever you have to work with one.
Growth plans and sending the elevator back down
Mums in Tech is focused on continuing to build the best programmes and products for our students. We want everyone that comes out of our courses to reach their potential and we will be with them every step of the way.
We want to grow our Mums in Tech family and will be running more courses outside of London in the second half of the year. We’ve learnt so much about the challenges women are facing after kids and will continue to focus on practical solutions for our community.
We are designing an exciting two-day programme in partnership with RADA in Business to support women returning from a break with key leadership skills. We are also running an event with The Ivy Club on the 29th of June on mentors and the women sending the elevator back down. It’s important we get more women into positions where they can start to change the discussions and create the change we need.