Anne de Kerckhove: Freespee’s new CEO joins us on International Women’s Day

international women's day

I am incredibly excited to be joining Freespee as CEO.

It’s always wonderful to lead a very talented team of many backgrounds and nationalities.

What perfect timing: I join on International Women’s Day. I have worked hard over the last few years to promote diversity at all levels of organisations: mentoring and financing female entrepreneurs, coaching women to join boards and helping men and women from all backgrounds and skills succeed in fair and equal environments.  Diversity is an essential success factor of any company. And anybody with common sense finally recognises that. But we still have a long road to equality of gender, ethnicity, backgrounds, particularly in the Tech and startup world.

I have a confession to make: I am a tech startup addict.

Over the last 15 years, I have helped lead 5 tech start-ups to profitability and IPO.

I don’t have a pension plan or big savings: I reinvest all my money into the next generation of talent and innovation. I have personally invested in over 25 new tech companies and set up and invested in 3 tech early-stage funds. I mentor over 10 founders a year, as a way of giving back to our startup community. I am one of the few female executives in the UK to sit on 2 public company boards in the tech and gaming space.

I love it.

It’s as exhilarating today as it was when I started. In fact, it’s more exciting these days. AI, Bots, big data, UI/UX, virtual reality all enable us to create amazing new immersive and personalised experiences for customers in B2B and B2C.

I did not start up as a natural candidate for tech startups. Both my parents were diplomats and far removed from tech businesses. But my brother was a child model and with his earnings at 8 years old, he bought our first Apple computer. We played every game possible for weeks and then we took the computer apart out of curiosity. I was hooked from that day onwards. Our household was littered with decomposed computers and games over the years.

My mother always worked and made it to the top of her profession, having come from a very modest background where her schooling was stopped at age 14. My sister and I had a natural role model at home. We never questioned whether we could be leaders. We thought all women were naturally designed to lead. My sister was fearless and left the house at age 7 to pursue her career as a dancer. She became a prima ballerina and choreographer by the time she was 19.  Role models are so important. They drive our behaviour.

At 17, I set up my first company: a travelling theatre troupe whilst studying at McGill University. That’s how I made money to travel around the world and live my passion for discovery and new cultures.

Then I became a banker…Can you believe it? In fairness, it was a fantastic learning experience and I was surrounded by great mentors. One, in particular, noticed that I was always asking too many questions. He realised I was not fascinated by finance but by what we were financing. He transferred me to a new project and innovation financing division. It was amazing. Our role was only to finance things that had never been done or created before. I was surrounded by entrepreneurs and innovators in small and large companies.

I quit banking with his blessing and support and joined the camp of the MAKERS.

I have never looked back. It is very important to understand your true nature and your passions and to work in an environment where you can embrace them every day.

At Freespee, we are at the Inflection Point: when a company has found its market fit with a unique and superior product and is facing double-digit growth. It’s such an exciting time for us.

Our challenges will be to manage this hyper growth effectively:

We must stay true to our company DNA.

We must continue to recruit only the best.

We must continue to innovate to stay ahead of the curve.

We must continue to have our clients at the centre of everything we deliver.

We must empower our clients to have greater conversations with their customers.

We must continue to foster a culture of integrity and impact, of innovation and risk-taking and a culture obsessed with our clients and their businesses.

We must continue to grow the diversity within our business and promote young talent from all backgrounds.

We must push forward the best engineers, the best salespeople, the best customer service teams through constant training and empowerment.

We must drive a culture of joy and success amongst our teams and our clients.

We must create a culture where extraordinary things happen.

This is one of the biggest trends in tech currently across the world, pushing the boundaries to deliver the unimaginable. It’s not about a specific continent or country leading the startup scene.

From Elon Musk taking us to Mars, to Xavier Niel creating the world’ largest incubator in Paris: great people are making extraordinary things happen.

They refuse to believe in barriers and limitations. That’s the next generation of tech start ups and Freespee will be part of that.

Extraordinary requires risk. Risk requires diversity. Surrounding yourself as an executive or founder by people who think like you, who look like you, who come from the same school and neighbourhood as you, who share the same skin colour means you will never push the boundaries.

Worse – you will probably create a culture of exclusion and inequality, whether you wish to or not.

Creating true equality in Tech firms will require us to be courageous and bold, to stand up for what’s right, to make our common voices heard. Change won’t just happen. We men and women leading the tech world will make it happen.

Learn more about Anne on her blog here. 

Women In STEM: Organisations Building A Future For Female Coders

“Code is the next universal language, in the seventies it was punk music that drove a whole generation, in the eighties it was probably money — but for my generation of people software is the interface to our imagination and our world,” said Linda Liukas, a Finnish programmer who left a cushy job at Codecademy to develop a children’s book aimed at teaching little girls (4 – 7 years) about coding and tech.
Called Hello, Ruby — the illustrated book, named after the programming language was authored and mocked up by Liukas herself, going on to raise hundreds of thousands in funding. Since then she’s released more titles in the “Ruby” series to promote further the need for getting girls into tech as soon as possible.
Liukas isn’t the only STEM enthusiast to push these topics on future generations; there are numerous organisations in existence and forming that are intent on creating a space for women in tech. Here are a few worth a mention:

Girls Who Code

Founder Reshma Saujani introduced Girls Who Code to the world in 2012 as a way to teach young women how to master computer science. “The technology field is where new jobs are being created, and if we want to increase opportunities for women and girls, it has to be in that field,” she told Time. Her US-based non-profit includes a 7-week Summer Immersion Program, 2-week specialised Campus Program, after school Clubs and a 13-book series. So far, “88%​ ​of​ ​alumni​ ​have​ ​declared​ ​a​ ​CS​ ​major/minor​ ​or​ ​are​ ​more​ ​interested​ ​in CS​ ​because​ ​of​ ​Girls​ ​Who​ ​Code,” states the website.

Rails Girls

The brainchild of Hello, Ruby’s Linda Liukas, and Karri Saarinen the Finnish workshop gets its name from the web application framework Rails and began in 2010 as a workshop program but has grown into a global non-profit volunteer collective teaching coding to girls in countries like India, Romania, and Uganda.

CodeFirst: Girls

This social enterprise, founded in 2014 is focused on eradicating the barriers put before women pursuing a STEM education. “We want to change society and the face of the UK economy by teaching 20,000 women how to code for free by the end of 2020,” states the website.

Girls in Tech

A global non-profit geared towards helping women quickly advance in the STEM field. Girls In Tech was created by Adriana Gascoigne, a former tech executive, and current activist and entrepreneur. She started GIT after noticing she was the only woman in a company of 50 people. One of their notable events is “Hacking For Humanity,” a year-long endeavour that debuted last year with the intention of creating something that could help humanity. The winners were a hackathon team in Melbourne, Australia who created an online tool to make it easier for families to find missing loved ones. They were awarded a prize of $2000.00. Since its formation more than a decade ago, GIT has accrued 50,000 members in 60 chapters worldwide.

Code Like a Girl

The Australian company runs workshops throughout the country to bring together girls interested in the tech sphere. Speaker events like “Programmed for Success” include stories of women who have defied the odds in the STEM world.
These are only a few of the many companies created to create a space for women in tech. Despite these groups being primarily for the female sect, they also invite the opposite sex into many of their projects. Indeed, their purpose is to promote inclusivity in the industry and avoid gender favouritism. Let’s “code-exist” happily.
Via: Forbes, Time, STEM, TEDX

Women in STEM: Catching Up With Front End Developer Lisa Hjärpe

There is still significant headway to be made when it comes to women participating in the STEM space, but we’re inching closer. According to a survey of over 14,000 professionals from HackerRank, the gender gap for women learning to code is shrinking — 33 percent of women under the age of 25 are more likely to study computer science when compared with women graduates in 1983. Still, despite this upswing women in the field are more likely to hold junior positions. “There are signs of progress,” says HackerRank but its down to those in higher positions to drive it forward.
Freespee: Hey Lisa! So what do you do for Freespee?
Lisa: I’m a frontend developer in the talk squad.
Freespee: Who is your STEM idol? Who do you look up to in the industry and why?
Lisa: Lydia Winters at Mojang. She inspired me to go my own way and not be afraid to take the big step and educate myself towards an entirely different career. She is tough in a male-dominated industry and goes her own way. Also, she created a job that didn’t exist at Mojang before she joined them. Brand Director and Director of Fun.

Freespee: What has been your overall experience as a female developer?
Lisa: My experience is that it is easier to get a job if you are female since it is a male-dominated industry. Many companies want more female developers in their teams. That being said, I have also noticed that if a company struggles and they have to let employees go, women are sometimes the ones made redundant first. But overall I think it is favourable to be a female developer. It’s always good to make a working-place more equal.
Freespee: What advice do you have for future developers?
Lisa: It is never to late to get into the tech industry. I was 34 when I gave up my work as a saleswoman at the newspaper Upsala Nya Tidning. I wanted to do something more creative and became a student at Medieinstitutet in Stockholm, with the goal of being a Frontend developer. It was hard since I have two kids that needed my attention when I was home. But if you really want something you can do it.
Freespee: What dev communities are you a part of?
Lisa: The girls in my class have a Slack group, where we help one another. Geek Girl Meetup Sweden, the Code Pub Stockholm and other developer groups at Facebook.
Freespee: How do you feel about the multiple coding groups targeted at women in a city like London?
Lisa: I think it’s good. The more, the merrier. Women need role models in the coding world, and we also need to help and boost each other. These groups are a way to make more women interested in a career within development.
Freespee: What are, in your opinion, the most effective ways to create an inclusive environment in the industry?
Lisa: Of course to hire people with different backgrounds and values. That is why I really enjoy working at Freespee. We are a great mix of people having fun together.
Via: Hacker Rank, Cision. 

Interview With Cloud Operations Engineer Alaa Rahimi

Freespee: Hi Alaa! So tell us more about what you do for Freespee?
Alaa: Hi. In this position, I am responsible for managing our cloud infrastructure, contributing to the expansion of our telco network, while helping developers and support in the issues regarding Freespee services.
Freespee: STEM week is here, as an engineer and a woman in tech, who is your female STEM idol?
Alaa: Well, this is a hard one! I would say any female who succeeds in the tech world is a role model for me. However, to be precise, I could say Lise Meitner is a female idol of mine. I know that despite being criticised and mistreated due to her gender and religious belief, she didn’t give up. Ever since I was a teenager and found out about her life story, I realised that in STEM world; the most important thing is to concentrate on your goal and never stop, follow your dreams and trust yourself.

Freespee: What is the industry like for women in the cloud operations field?
Alaa: I would say this is one of the fields in which I don’t see many women involved. But I’m very optimistic, and I believe women can perform any STEM job as well as a man — sometimes even better! Usually, operations jobs include more responsibility in every position and demand more care and patience in the role. Cloud operations could even be more challenging since it requires background and knowledge of cloud computing. I’ve seen female in tech who avoid this field due to these criteria. I strongly encourage all girls in IT to join this field because even though its challenging, it’s very fun and you can work with different aspects of technology.
Freespee: What do you enjoy most about what you do?
Alaa: I get excited when I work towards implementing new ideas. The fact that I can combine cloud operations with telecommunications makes it even more interesting. I’ve studied  communications, networks, distributed systems, and telecommunications. Now I can use the technology which is built upon all these subjects. IT is rapidly advancing, and this creates twists and challenges which inspires my curious mind to continuously learn and build new structures.
Freespee: How can we create an environment of inclusivity in the tech world?
Alaa: Women could be good representatives in STEM by encouraging other female workers to join the tech world. I could say we have already started to create such an environment in Freespee. I was the only female engineer for some time, and now that I see more women have joined Freespee I am happy and certainly proud to be part of the team! The movement has started from small-medium sized companies in many countries where gender equality is part of their culture. Moreover, I am aware that in some firms there are particular laws for hiring women. But this can only happen if women themselves are interested in being involved in the technology.
Freespee: A survey recently revealed, teenage girls aren’t interested in tech jobs due to a lack of self-belief, what are your thoughts on this?
Alaa: If women don’t step up themselves then, around half of the population in STEM, who are talented and educated cannot participate in this era. This leads to the lack of professionals with the necessary skills in STEM areas. I feel that teenage girls have more self-belief in comparison to the time when I was a teenager. Even though self-confidence in women has increased during the years, there is still a long way to go, and I’m optimistic that someday in STEM gender will not be a criterion for any job or position in all over the world. This could lead to more self-confidence not only in teenagers but also in all women of any age.
Freespee: What are you most excited about regarding tech development in the next few years?
Alaa: I’m super enthusiastic about cloud to the edge developments and conversational platforms. Both of these areas are very interesting and make me excited. The fact that shortly we can decentralise most of the computing power across multiple edge devices makes the server implementations a lot different. Conversational platforms are also getting more challenging, the interaction between human and smart devices, speech to text, webrtc, and similar technologies have made life easier for consumers, and at the same time in STEM world this has made new opportunities to implement new ideas, and this has opened a whole new development era in Tech.