Girls don’t need to have any misgivings about getting into IT

Dita Přikrylová

The market needs qualified IT experts now and companies don’t care whether they are men or women.

It all started about 18 months ago when Dita Přikrylová together with Vanda Cabanová, Markéta Szydlowská, Jana Eitlerová and Miroslava Jarešová from the Faculty of Informatics and Pavla Randáková from the Faculty of Education, who were later joined by their newest colleague Monika Malátková, founded a non-profit organisation called CzechitasThen one year ago, Dita quit her job as a data analyst to focus her efforts entirely on helping more women enter the IT world.

Czechitas organise workshops for girls and women who want to learn about IT and fight the stereotypes that prevent them from enrolling in IT courses and looking for jobs in this field. “In my opinion, it would be enough if girls who like maths didn’t have any misgivings about applying to study information science. The fact that they don’t know how to write code is completely irrelevant,” says Dita, who graduated from the Faculty of Economics and Administration.

Do you like maths? And what do you like about it?

It’s mostly that moment when you find a solution, when you have a paper full of formulas and at the bottom of the page you have a number, a result that you can underline. In IT, the result is a working program. It’s a great feeling – you achieved a small personal victory by solving a puzzle.

However, you yourself only applied to the Faculty of Informatics after several years at the Faculty of Economics and Administration where you actually studied system engineering and informatics.

I was also bound by the stereotype that I couldn’t possibly enrol in informatics. However, thanks to the study programme I chose, I had classes at both faculties and I really enjoyed the informatics courses, so I eventually decided to apply to applied informatics. If I could make that decision all over again, I would have gone straight to informatics. On the other hand, if I knew I would end up running a non-profit organisation, I would have taken more economics classes.

What do you do at Czechitas?

I do a bit of everything, but since we have grown so much, there are actually certain aspects of the business that I’m no longer involved in. My job includes strategy development, meetings with our partners and grants although I also do social networks and data analysis, come up with workshop topics and sometimes even teach them. I really enjoy this last part and it also puts me in touch with our target group, which is very important.

You started with free courses, now you are beginning to charge fees.

We started charging a voluntary entrance fee for some of our workshops, just so that we could cover the costs for our instructors and rooms. And we also charge symbolic fees for our more advanced courses to motivate the girls to complete them and find those who are really into IT.

You also help your “graduates” find jobs. Was that always your goal?

It was absolutely necessary. While we are a non-profit organisation, we don’t actually work with any disadvantaged group of people, so we had to come up with a complementary business that would pay both us and the people who run the workshops. Moreover, providing recruitment services also makes sense in terms of our overall vision to get more women into IT. This is why we hired our newest colleague Monika Malátková, who works on this HR agenda and has already found jobs for dozens of women. The commission we receive is used to cover the costs of the non-profit organisation and in effect, we help bring new people into the technology industry in this way.

Is it difficult to connect women with IT companies? Do they have the same requirements and goals?

There is obviously a big gap, which we are trying to fill. The market wants qualified IT experts and it wants them now. The companies don’t care if they are men or women. However, women are shyer, they want to try things out first, and the training process also takes more time with them – they want a personalised approach and a safe and friendly education environment. And this is where our organisation comes into play. We try to give girls and women time to try things out and help them find their self-discipline and acquire a complete set of skills that they can offer on the job market.

Are the companies friendly towards women?

They have improved a lot and are opening up more positions for women at junior level. They take care of them, try to make them part of the teams and many of them support women in their effort to balance career and family.

We are talking about getting more women into IT, but that’s a very general concept. Do you focus on increasing technical skills or on the first steps in programming?

The first workshop that we organised even before Czechitas was Ruby on Rails, which is a global concept of a weekend programming workshop for girls focused on creating web applications. Back then, we wanted to get more women to start programming, but then we realised that there is a much wider selection of jobs available in IT and some of them are better starting positions. I know a number of cases where a woman started as a tester and gradually worked her way up to programming languages and development tasks.

Is this an easier way?

It takes a long time to train a good programmer. You have to be really into this and work long days and weekends. So yes, it is easier to get girls into IT from other positions and many of them eventually find their way into programming. We only offered technical education to start with, but now we also offer courses in project management and online marketing.

You work with data analysis; do you know how the global situation looks for women in IT?

In the Czech Republic and Western countries, including the USA, the number of women in IT positions is unfortunately stagnant at about 10%. When you look to the east, the situation is different; in Hungary and Bulgaria, for example, it’s about 20 to 30%.

This is hopefully going to change: the Faculty of Informatics has been reporting an increase in the number of female students in recent years. What do you think?

Since the Czechitas project is run by girls from this faculty, we have a sense of achievement from this news in that we managed to change something. However, it’s actually more likely to be the results of the efforts of the faculty, which is doing a really good job in this area.

You work with the faculty on a course and a summer school. Would you like to start working with other universities as well?

We have already worked in a similar way with the Czech Technical University in Prague last year. I’m really happy that these two large universities opened their doors to us. For us, the advantage of the collaboration is that we are given space for workshops and can show our students around the labs. On the other hand, we can attract students to the universities.

And what about your own studies?

I'm graduating from the Faculty of Informatics in June and I’m applying to a PhD programme at the Faculty of Economics and Administration. I would like to get much more informatics into economics.

Do you have time for anything else besides your work and studies?

I do have two bad habits, which are kitesurfing and kiteboarding. Fortunately, it’s okay for me to take quite a long time off, so recently, I spent a month in the Philippines where I kitesurfed in the day and worked in the evenings.

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