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Code First Girls raises £4.5m Series A to tackle tech’s gender gap

Coding school Code First Girls will use the fresh capital to provide one million free opportunities for women to learn to code in the next five years

By Amy O'Brien

Anna Brailsford, CEO of Code First

The only gap bigger than Europe’s developer talent gap is Europe’s developer gender gap. 

Sifted constantly asks founders why the gender gap across their startup workforce is so wide — and more often than not, they tell us that it’s harder to hire women for tech roles, which often command the highest salaries.

The stats are grim: 93% of all professional tech developers identify as men, according to the latest Stack Overflow global developer survey. It’s not much better in the talent pipeline either: 88% of those learning to code identify as men, according to the same survey. 

It’s this stark gender gap that UK-based edtech Code First Girls wants to narrow. Launched in 2014 by the Entrepreneur First founders, Code First Girls is today announcing a £4.5m Series A funding round led by Soho House backers Active Partners and bolstered by a glittering list of big names in European tech.

What does Code First Girls do? 

Code First Girls provides free virtual sessions for women and non-binary people to learn how to code. These come in three formats: online open courses, classes and “CFG degrees”. 

That translates to a big money-saving opportunity: a 12-week coding and data software “nanodegree” would normally cost £10k, for example. 

Code First’s courses are open to all — meaning there’s no university degree requirement or age cap for applications. Code First tells Sifted it’s increasingly seeing women join the courses to switch careers.

57% of the people on its cohorts so far have been from underrepresented minorities and around 30% of the people that have taken a Code First course so far were eligible for free school meals, a UK government provision for lower-income families.

Code First’s HQ is London, but it’s offering courses to women in France, Switzerland, Hungary, the Netherlands and Poland too. Around 260 students are admitted to each of its courses, which run three times a year and are oversubscribed. 

The edtech employs instructors with different expertise ranging from technical undergraduates to university lecturers to teach the courses.

Crucially, Code First’s courses are likely to lead to a job — it aims to place over 26k women into roles over the next five years. This is both how the startup makes money, and what makes it different from competitors in the industry.

Although female consumers are the benefactors of its courses, Code First actually operates on an annual business-to-business subscription model. Companies including Credit Suisse, Nike, Deloitte, Goldman Sachs, NatWest, Skyscanner, Barclays, Tesco, BT and Aviva pay Code First a set fee that guarantees they can poach top talent from the course once students have finished, while covering the costs of the programme. 

Code First also works with more than 50 universities across every region of the UK and Ireland, and government departments including GCHQ and the Cabinet Office.

It’s been operating as a social enterprise up until now, but transitioned to limited company status last week.

Who’s backing Code First Girls?

  • VC firm Active Partners 
  • Michelle Kennedy, CEO and founder of Peanut 
  • Claire Davenport, CEO of notonthehighstreet.com
  • Rona Ruthen, former VP at Monzo
  • Rosaleen Blair CBE, founder of Alexander Mann Solutions
  • Clare Johnston, CEO and founder of the Up Group

What’s the market like?

A number of coding schools have cropped up in Europe in an attempt to plug the tech gender gap in the last few years with intensive courses.

One of these is France’s coding bootcamp Le Wagon, which has 40% female teaching staff — many of whom graduated from the course themselves. 

France’s Ada tech school is geared towards removing the gender and cultural biases of the tech industry by educating a more diverse pool of students. In the UK, 23 Code Street teaches women how to code online and in-person in London, and for every paying student, teaches digital skills to a woman in the slums of India.

Although students have to pay for some coding schools in Europe, Code First isn’t the only one offering free courses. You can also learn how to code for free on the University of Leeds’s Institute of Coding online course; Ada tech school’s second course module; the UK’s School of Code bootcamps across the UK; the Mayor of London’s RE:CODE London course for 9-11 year olds; and Estonia’s kood/Jõhvi coding school. 

Sifted’s take 

Demand consistently outstrips supply when it comes to core tech talent in Europe. Simply put: not enough people know how to code. Pair this with the stark gender imbalance across these roles, and the massive gender pay gap this perpetuates, and the argument for teaching more women to code has never been stronger. 

Any coding school wanting to help plug this gap is a welcome addition to the European tech ecosystem — and the promise of a job at the end for students is the main pull. 

Code First is by no means the only coding programme on the market that’s aiming to widen access to this education by scrapping the (sometimes pretty hefty) fees. Now it’s swapped its social enterprise status for a profit-chasing business, it’ll have to lure in as many company partners as possible to keep funding the course. And to do that, it must fend off some pretty strong regional competition.

*One of 23 Code Street’s cofounders, Anisah Osman Britton, is a Sifted contributor

Amy O’Brien is Sifted’s fintech reporter. She tweets from @Amy_EOBrien and writes our fintech newsletter — you can sign up here.

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