The Code Institute – helping to bridge the skills gap for underrepresented groups in the tech sector

Created in 2015, The Code Institute is one of the most successful companies in the Edtech sector. It specialises in being a “a global leader in delivering coding skills that help people switch to a career in software development within a year. Demand for software developers is rapidly escalating as digitisation accelerates, and hundreds of thousands of new roles open up every month. Our online-programmes give learners a direct pathway into these careers.”. They recently had a career fair event and I interviewed the Director of Employer Engagement Jane Gormley to find out more about what they are doing in Diversity and Inclusion for underrepresented group in the tech sector:

1. To someone who is not aware of it, what is Code Institute? How did it begin and what does the institution do now? 

Founded in 2015 and headquartered in Ireland, Code Institute is a global EdTech leader that delivers coding courses to help people switch careers/upskill to software development within 12 months. As digitalisation accelerates, the demand for software developers has rapidly escalated, creating hundreds of thousands of unfilled developer roles globally. 

It’s Code Institute’s mission to grant a direct pathway into tech by providing learners with accessible, jobs-focused education that supplies them with the skills to land successful roles as developers. Our industry-led and university-validated curriculum ensures graduates are highly-skilled, job-ready software developers, with a globally recognised qualification.

We combine high-quality content, technology, analytics and support to facilitate learners’ success. As well as our university credit-rated curriculum, students have access to a variety of support systems including Career Support, Mentor Support, Tutor Support, Community Support and Student Care Support. Through these elements, students are guaranteed a superior learning experience and personalised support system that will future proof their careers.

2. What are the institute’s primary objectives in relation to Diversity and Inclusion?

Code Institute delivers software development programs directly to learners and via our education partners in further education. We also partner with governments around the world on training initiatives related to employment, diversity and equality in the tech sector. 

Code Institute’s mission is to create a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable tech industry by making a career in tech accessible to all. We believe that diversity boosts performance, so by participating in a variety of social initiatives and providing people from different diverse backgrounds with the skills to become software developers, it brings a richer, more layered aspect to business decisions and greater creativity to solving business problems. 

We’re always looking at ways to do this better and achieve more. At an initial level, we offer a university credit-rated Diploma in Full Stack Software Development, but with a whole new, flexible means of achieving it. We are invested in helping underrepresented minorities such as women, the deaf society and the neurodiverse, with our delivery and project based immersive learning style being designed to teach in a new way of learning. 

As a result, our main objective in relation to diversity and inclusion is to increase participation in the tech sector by making it accessible and achievable to anyone, irrespective of their background, gender, ethnicity, age and circumstance.

3. How is the institute going about achieving those objectives? What programmes or companies do you partner with to achieve those objectives?

Code Institutes program is 100% remote, with advanced technologies and significant, human led learning & career support. This digital delivery allows the course to be accessed by different demographics who may not traditionally have access to education at this level, as well as those who may not have the means to travel or access transport during traditional class hours. The flexibility of the delivery provided by an always-on LMS, enables learners to avail of the course and develop their skills around work and other personal commitments. 

Since its founding, Code Institute recognised that underrepresented minorities in particular face a number of barriers when it comes to entering the tech sector due to lack of diversity and access to fewer opportunities. As a result, we took action to be involved in social initiatives which fund and deliver training, giving these individuals access to a meaningful career in the tech sector – helping them transform not only their careers, but their lives too. Some of these initiatives are:

  1. Coding Careers for Women, which is a joint initiative between Code Institute, Limerick and Clare Education and Training Board, Regional Skills Mid West Forum and Limerick for IT employers network. It gives women the coding skills to access opportunities in the tech/STEM sector. The objective of this initiative was to increase female participation in the tech sector which stands at 17% in Ireland and 25% across Europe. The dial has not moved in over a decade which made it clear to us that the issue needed to be addressed quickly and in a practical way.
  1. The LevelUp Initiative in collaboration with Zartis which was developed to upskill refugees arriving in Ireland from war torn countries. Through this social initiative, Code Institute was able to provide over €100K worth of Full Stack Software Development scholarships in 2022 alone. Most of these were given to people from conflict areas such as Afghanistan and Ukraine, who have been suffering from sudden disruption in their home countries and this gave them the opportunity to reskill as developers.
  1. We’re also currently in the development phase of a partnership to support the deaf and hard of hearing community for 2023. 

These funded routes remove one of the biggest financial barriers for learners with the motivation and aptitude to become developers, though not the means to pay. When they graduate, they’re going into a secure industry and achieve greater financial independence as well as acting as role models for new learners who come from a similar background.

We also run monthly Hackathon events for our entire student and alumni community, often in collaboration with tech employers. The purpose of these events is to not only give students the opportunity to work in a real developer style environment, but also about finding their place in a team, collaborating with others who may have more or less experience than them and getting creative in a safe space that is the Code Institute Community. For the Hackathons, participants are tasked with creating a project based on a specific theme, usually revolving around topics relating to diversity and inclusion in the workplace/tech space. Recent themes included ‘Finding Solutions For The Gender Gap in Tech’, ‘Price Month & Equality’ and ‘Accessibility In Recruitment’.

4. What are some of the common misconceptions about Code Institute and the coding industry in general? How are you going about removing those misconceptions?

There are tons of common misconceptions that surround learning to code. These vary from “Women can’t code” to “You need to be an expert at maths to be a programmer” to “Coding is boring and uncreative”.

We find that some of these misconceptions about the possibility of a career in tech still fall back on a misunderstanding at just how learnable some of these skills are – even if you have never worked in tech or have absolutely no previous coding experience! 

A career in coding is creative, ever changing and can offer so many career paths. It’s a welcoming industry with no strict ‘one fits all’ criteria. The perception that a coder is someone who stays in a dark room, removed from reality and coding all day couldn’t be further from the truth. Thankfully, developers come from a diverse range of backgrounds, have different personalities and are all unique in their own way – just like everybody else, and this is something that all Code Institute students and graduates can vouch for.

The idea that coding is boring is also false. In reality, is there any job out there without hardships and dull moments? No. The same goes for programming. The slight events of frustration and boredom do not automatically define the whole programming field as boring. Though individuals might get frustrated when the code runs to errors often, the frustration will eventually wear out on its own when they experience the successful outcomes of their hard work.

Programming languages are always misunderstood as complex subjects that take years to master. However, the reality is quite different. With the learning materials, proper consistency and support that Code Institute offers, learners are able to master full stack languages and frameworks within a short timeframe, develop a portfolio of work that acts as evidence of competency to employers and also land a lucrative career in tech. 

5. Has the institute won any awards for your efforts in Diversity and Inclusion?

In 2022, Code Institute was shortlisted as finalists for a number of awards relating to Diversity and Inclusion. These include:

  • The Education Awards under the category ‘Career Impact Strategy’.
  • The Women in Tech Employer Awards under the category ‘Best Supplier’.
  • The Diversity in Tech Awards under the category ‘Social Impact Award’.
  • The Technology Ireland Industry Awards under the categories ‘ Tech 4 Good’ and ‘Women in Technology Company Initiative Of The Year’.

6. What are some of the benefits that underrepresented groups in the workforce can gain from going to Code Institute as opposed to other educational establishments?

The Code Institute is the only university credit-rated online coding bootcamp in the UK and Europe. Our strategy of intensive skills delivery in an online developer environment makes learners work ready in twelve-months, sometimes less. The practical project-based assessment means learners are coding to develop functional applications from day-one. The Industry Advisory Council (IAC), which comprises industry employers, recruiters, academics, enterprise organisations, and startups, provides validation and guidance on Code Institute’s programs. This ensures that graduates have the most up-to-date skills necessary to gain employment and subsequently grow and prosper in their new job.

We deliver a Diploma in Full Stack Software Development online via an LMS with integrated learner analytics, tracking progress and velocity across thousands of data points. This gives us an oversight on learner progress at a very detailed level. We can then identify any points in the curriculum where learners are struggling and intervene with support. 

As this is a learn by doing approach, we have a clear picture of progress at a granular level. Learners continually work and improve their code as they would in a regular software development environment. Once they complete the front end development they go on to add interactive functionality, then database and finally major in either e-Commerce, advanced front-end or predictive analytics. 

Students are each assigned an industry mentor who provides professional feedback on their project concepts and also on their approach and testing prior to submission. They are also given access to seven-days-a-week tutor support and a team of student care advisors. 

The global community meets across Code Institute Slack Channels for peer-to-peer support and socialising in online events, hackathons, meet-ups, careers fairs and sessions with industry leaders.

We understand that the job hunt is the most challenging part of a career changer’s journey. That is why we have created a career accelerator program to give students a competitive advantage when securing a job. This 3-step program helps students build their confidence, rub shoulders with employers, and tackle any interview and salary negotiations on their own. Weekly workshops are held where students build their CVs, Linkedin profiles and attend networking events with our 1000+ hiring partners. 

7. What are some of the marketing techniques the institute uses to attract students to the institute?

Code Institute offers a free trial access through our 5 Day Coding Challenge. This challenge introduces participants to the basics of HTML, CSS and JavaScript through a series of video tutorials, practical challenges and quizzes. The challenge is designed to be completely flexible around the participants schedule and requires only 1 hour a day over 5 days. 

On completion of this free coding bootcamp, participants will receive a certificate of completion, but more importantly – they’ll find out if becoming a software developer is the next step for them and if so, can apply for the Diploma in Full Stack Software Development.

We advertise our program offerings and our free 5 Day Coding Challenge to our primary audiences across social media and Google Ads.

8. If someone from an underrepresented group was interested in coding, but has no knowledge of what’s involved what would you suggest they do?

The beauty of the Code Institute program is that there is no previous coding experience required. In fact, the majority of Code Institute students had never written a line of code before. 

Our free 5 Day Coding Challenge introduces participants to the basic concepts of HTML, CSS and JavaScript through a series of video tutorials, practical challenges and quizzes. The challenge is designed to be completely flexible around the participants schedule and requires only 1 hour a day over 5 days. 

The coding challenge gives participants an opportunity to not only sample the Code Institute way of teaching/learning, but see if they have an aptitude for learning to code. The challenge is fully supported by the 5DCC co-ordinator, and participants also get an opportunity to meet with other aspiring coders in the dedicated 5DCC Slack channel where they can chat and ask questions.

The Code Institute YouTue channel has a number of video tutorials on the most popular software development concepts, student testimonials and hiring partner interviews which are really useful to anyone who wants to gain a deeper insight into the opportunities that learning to code can offer. 

Code Institute also has a series of free eBooks that highlight the career change journey into software development. They look at the exciting career paths that the field offers while examining what one should expect while making that change and the tools that are required to be successful in the world of software development. These are really useful guides for those with no previous coding knowledge or experience in the tech industry.

9. How did the pandemic affect the Institute? Are there any positives you can take from this time?

The main positive that we took from the pandemic was the shift to a remote working environment. This meant that one of our biggest USP’s of flexible, online learning grew and the barrier of classroom learning that exists for many individuals, was removed. More of our education partners and prospective learners were interested in online learning and Covid-19 gave people the opportunity to understand, experience and appreciate the benefits over in-person learning.

Our Code Institute Community also proved to be a really safe place for people to come together, when they could not do so in-person. It was fantastic to see students from all over the world uniting as one virtually through such a difficult time while still being able to support one another through their career change journeys.

10. Outside of the companies mentioned, are there any other companies in the area of Diversity and Inclusion that the institute are fans of?

There are too many to list, but Code Institute has been honoured to have been named alongside some fantastic companies this year for their hard work and commitment to improving diversity and inclusion worldwide, some of these include STEM Women, Serco, Skills4, Google Ireland, Access Earth, The B!G Idea and Fidelity Investments Ireland.