The IT industry does not have a lot of women working in it and that's a problem 10Pearls, a company that hosts workshops, webinars and training sessions, hopes to solve with its Women Tech Quest. The sixth edition of the competition was held on March 12 and allowed women to display their coding skills, gain recognition and win cash prizes. Motivational speakers were also brought in for sessions to inspire participants to make their way into the IT industry. The event was held simultaneously in three cities — Karachi, Islamabad and Lahore — where women took part in a coding competition.
What is the competition about?
There are three parts of the WTQ competition — coding, testing and design. During the coding session, women are given problems to solve via programming language. For the testing phase, participants are presented with a set of objectives to test database and automation concepts and for the third and final phase, the design competition, the competitors are required to solve a User Interface (UI) or User Experience (UX) challenge.
There are two categories in the competition for each stream (coding, testing and design) — professional and student. After entries are submitted by the participants, motivational speakers from the industry are invited to answer queries of the women taking part in the quest. Each city announces six winners from the competition, two per stream. In total, 18 winners receive grand prizes while rest of the participants are given gift bags and certificates for their participation.
10Pearls Human Capital Director Syeda Sana Hussain told Images, "Back in 2016 we started [noticing] that [while] there are women coders, we saw women in a lot of, what we call in the movies, 'side roles' as testers or designers. But coding is the meat of the entire development sector and women were not here. We sort of investigated in firms if it is a systemic problem that stems from universities."
Hussain gave an example of a university experience and said, "when you're giving your final year project, groups are made and men immediately take [coding] and women are given the documenting bit and management." She believes that this translates into the workforce and therefore, women are unsure about their coding skills, which is why they don't explore this sector. She said that this was the first problem they figured out.
The second problem, according to Hussain, was that women after a certain age started to disappear because there was no daycare support in a lot of companies. "These women unfortunately quit their profession after they conceive or get married. We felt that now these women might want to come back as their kids grow up but they don't necessarily have the right networks men do by staying in touch and and hanging out to maintain these relations," she said.
Hussain also said that women are generally "hesitant to ask for help," which is why they thought of creating an event that specifically targets women in the IT industry and coding in order for them to come together and for those women who stay at home.
"We received a phenomenal response at the first-ever WTQ and the first-ever winner of this competition was a stay at home mom who had not been working for five years and had three kids at home. So when she came to this event, she won and it boosted her self-confidence," she said. "We gave her a flexible job offer to work at her own hours and [she] slowly had the avenue to get back into the industry and that's the first achievement of this event," said Hussain.
The director also mentioned that women who previously participated in the WTQ competition are now working in international tech firms and always credit the platform for promoting their talent. However, what surprises them is how coders from all over Pakistan participate in the competition. "We get a lot of attendance from areas that you'd never think of, like Sargodha, Gujranwala and Chitral. Because it was virtual during Covid, we had a lot of interest from these areas, which made us realise that there is talent in these cities as well," she said.
Hussain's advice to participants is to always make a friend who can help them personally and professionally as the competition allows women to speak to one another and understand where they stand in a work environment. She also said that feedback about the competition being tough creates this need to learn more about coding as it makes them realise how much information women need to succeed in IT in general.
"The field obviously does not have a [good] gender balance. I feel it has a lot of potential because this is one of the only sectors that allows you to work from home completely and remotely and that's ideal for the socio-economic situation women live in. Unfortunately the gap is still there, which can only be resolved at a teaching level for which we have started a university, an online portal that's free of cost for women to get the required training," she explained.
'Have audacious dreams'
Founder of Oraan Tech, Halima Iqbal, told Images that it is important for the IT community to have events like WTQ so that women get to showcase their skill-sets and to meet other similar minded people. "Tech space is not as inclusive as we want it to be. The narrative is changing, there is a lot of work that is happening and I'm glad to see platforms like 10Pearls taking that step forward to include women," Iqbal said.
She also said that there is a lot of work that needs to be done but it has to be done on a regular basis to really make an impact. Giving advice to women wanting to do something career wise, Iqbal said, "Have audacious dreams, nobody can stop you if you have those dreams, whether it is in the tech space or any other space that you choose. Dream big, work hard and things will fall into place."