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Women in tech will likely remain a buzz word for a while. Tech is one of those industries that everyone would like to see more of a gender balance in. Jeanette Theu is one woman trying to correct that balance. The marketing manager for MTN Business Private Sector, Jeanette has experience in both the enterprise and startup worlds.

In her pursuit of greatness and helping more people, she started a non-profit organization, GirlCode with her best friend. The organization aims to help bridge the gender gap inherent in the IT industry.

Jeanette shares with SLA her non-profit startup, GirlCode, and her thoughts on women in the tech industry.

How did the idea of GirlCode come about?

GirlCode was originally the idea of my best friend, Zandile, who organized the first GirlCode hackathon in 2014.  I helped with the arrangements and onwards, we started brainstorming on how we could turn helping women through hackathons into a non-profit organization. The idea materialized in 2015 when we registered GirlCode as a nonprofit organisation.

The idea has grown since we first started. We now see GirlCode not only as a vehicle for empowering young women through hackathons, but also a vehicle for creating programmes to teach young women how to code.

We’re also planning on growing our brand to start having corporate challenges, and implementing the Women Go Digital initiative. With the hackathon happening this year, our aim is making it bigger and better.

We’ve enjoyed sponsorships from great partners like Standard Bank, Entelect, MTN, and Microsoft. Also, JoziHub has granted us their co-working space to hold the hackathon.

What is it like working with your friend?

I think being co-founders with my friend is not such a bad thing as we get to spend a lot of time working together. We understand each other, but working a full-time job in addition to running GirlCode can get a bit daunting.

So, it’s important working with people who can constantly motivate and push you to do better. I feel very motivated working with her. We’ve known each other for over a decade which makes it easier to be transparent.

What are some of the challenges that GirlCode faces?

The main challenge we faced at the beginning was trying to get sponsorships. People get excited at the fact that it’s an initiative for women in the IT space. But it’s a bit challenging getting them to actually put in the extra effort to help.

However, it’s been great having people actually wanting to help with the initiative. Some of our partners have been involved in trying to get our next hackathon off the ground.

Some others are helping to get more girls in the IT industry. It’s been inspiring to see these companies making a difference in helping girls bridge the gap.

How do you approach corporate organizations? Do you go in directly or approach the right person to help?

For us, it is finding that one person within a company that would be our ambassador. Someone who would be our voice within the company and fight for us 100%.

We’ve been fortunate to have a couple of these people in the various corporates we’ve approached.  They believe in what we do and try their best to help us.

What has been the motivating factor in making sure that GirlCode becomes a success?

It’s about making a difference in someone else’s life and bringing each other up. It’s all about using the knowledge we have for the greater good.

What are your thoughts on the level of involvement of women in technology in Africa? How can we get more women interested in technology?

We are making small strides but still have a long way to go. We have powerful women in the tech industry and I think they can also give back in some way. More women in the industry need to pull some of the girls up by offering advice. We need mentors. We need women to empower young girls.

We try our best at GirlCode but we need the seasoned/successful women to guide young girls in pursuing this career. More women should work on making a change in their respective fields and encourage other women.

Any advice you’d give to young women/girls wanting to join the tech industry and becoming the next Jeanette?

In terms of wanting to be the next Jeanette, I’ll paraphrase something I heard Shonda Rhimes say, ”If you try to be like someone else you will always be second best, but you can always be the best you.”

When you try to be like someone else you actually limit yourself. Yes, it’s important to aspire to be like someone, but always be true to yourself.

We want to know about women in your communities doing amazing things! Tell us about them here.

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