How Andela's all-female learning program in Lagos is still transforming careers ten years on

The all-female Cohort 4, with Andela's co-founder, Christina Sass.

In May, Andela celebrates 10 years of connecting brilliance with opportunity. This International Women's Day—and Women’s History month— we're reflecting on the incredible impact women have made on our organization, our community, and our training programs over the past decade.

Across Africa, just 30% of technology roles are held by women. It is our mission to increase the number of women in tech throughout the continent, and providing access to expert training and upskilling is an integral part of empowering women to build tech careers.  

In 2014, only months after Andela was founded, we launched an all-female cohort in Lagos, Nigeria, to train women in software engineering and development. From learning code to building their first applications, Cohort 4 nurtured participants to hone their skills and created lasting friendships among the female learners. Andela’s co-founder, Christina Sass, believes brilliance is both equally distributed and gender neutral, and emphasizes the importance of training female technologists. “It’s been energizing, but certainly not surprising to see how the incredible women of Andela’s earliest days have progressed, and they continue to lead tech teams and companies across the globe.”  

We spoke to three of the trailblazing women from cohort 4 to find out how the all-female learning program still inspires their technology careers 10 years later.

 

Rukayat Sadiq – Student in Cohort 4

I started programming at university. It was more than just a hobby; it was a passion. Unfortunately, I didn't have much support or guidance to help me progress in learning how to code. My classmate Sunday Adefila introduced me to Andela; talk about male allies supporting females! He had recently joined cohort 3 and loved it. Even though Andela was a brand-new company, applying to join cohort 4 was a no-brainer. It was a two-week intensive course, and this time round, it was for females only. I would get the chance to learn to develop my problem-solving skills in a nurturing environment and kickstart my understanding of software engineering and development. It was the perfect opportunity to turn my interests into a career.

Being part of the all-female cohort helped me to feel empowered. We were allowed to be vulnerable enough to ask for help and support one another, accelerating our growth. Also, there was the feeling of being included in an industry that often excludes female voices.  

All-female cohorts are essential to any learning program; they serve to build a talent pool that eliminates gender inequality, promotes diversity, and inspires inclusion in the tech space. Cohort 4 made me feel I could achieve anything because I was surrounded by many skilled women. It is so important for females to have the opportunity to see other women in tech as role models, encouraging and boosting their confidence. It is so much easier to imagine and aspire for exciting, challenging roles when you already see people like you in these roles.

Since cohort 4, I have worked across multiple engineering teams, leading software engineering and Artificial intelligence (AI) technical initiatives. I pivoted to a career in AI after obtaining a master's degree in applied Machine Learning and AI systems at Carnegie Mellon University, where I also got to work on some research projects at the intersection of AI and computer vision within the health space, getting the chance to teach in one of the most popular courses at CMU, Intro to Deep Learning. Today, I work as a Senior Machine Learning Engineer and live in Toronto, Canada.

Cohort 4's participants forged strong friendships during their studies.

 

Tolu Komolafe - Trainer in Cohort 4

I joined Cohort 2 in Lagos as a learner because I had been teaching myself how to code for about two years, and I needed to bridge the gap between understanding how to solve basic algorithms and how to translate that knowledge into building real-life applications. At the time, Andela had just launched, and there was little to no information about their mission, but I took a leap of faith based on their value proposition, and the rest they say is history.  

After I completed my training, I wanted to contribute to the development of other engineers. I had always been passionate about sharing my knowledge with others, but I was inspired when I discovered cohort 4 was an all-female program. It was a perfect opportunity for me to help other women hone their skills and instill confidence in other women like me that this was something they could do and be great at.

The tech world has been a male-dominated industry for years, and there's a distinct lack of diversity regarding female inclusion. Due to a high proportion of male influence in technology, it means the few women who are working in tech now are often subjected to misogynistic, toxic behavior that can be off-putting and career-destroying. Most women then give up or transition out of tech, while others feel they must put up with this behavior, giving them a negative view of the industry. It is essential to create a safe space for women to fully develop their skills or validate their knowledge without having to deal with patriarchal influence. Technology will benefit if more women are in leadership roles because it will increase the richness and robustness of the products or services we build.

Working as a trainer during cohort 4 put me on a new career path. After the program finished, I accepted a role as a Software Developer at Andela and continued to build my career there until August 2018. After that, I moved to Everplans from 2018 to 2020 and joined Carta in 2021 as a Senior Software Engineer. I recently transitioned to a new role as an Engineering Manager at Carta, and my time at Andela during cohort 4 piqued my interest in management and helping others. I have continued championing women in tech through my involvement in initiatives including Girls Who Code, Ladies In Tech, Black Girls Code, and Women Who Code.

The all-female cohort launched the careers of many female technologists.

 

Oluwatoyin Koleosho - Student in Cohort 4

I first heard about Andela during my time at NYSC. I had already graduated from university with a computer science degree, but I still needed help with learning how to code, and unlike today, there were very few code tutorials available to help me progress. A friend mentioned Andela's cohort 4, and I knew it was something I needed to join if I wanted to build a career in tech. I appreciated the supportive environment within the all-female cohort. Knowing many women with similar aspirations in programming and hearing inspiring real-life stories from other women, such as our trainer, Tolu Komolafe, motivated me to strive harder for selection.  

Forging bonds with fellow cohort members, who I now consider my sisters, was particularly thrilling. Witnessing our collective success and leadership in diverse industries gives me immense joy. Over time, I have volunteered for boot camps for both men and women, and one consistent thing I've noticed is the lower confidence levels among women.

While men often dive fearlessly into coding challenges, women can hesitate and doubt themselves. They are afraid to fail rather than fail fast and pick themselves up again like the guys in my boot camps would. I'll admit I've grappled with this too.  

In recent years, I've been privileged to lead and supervise an all-female boot camp in the UK, and my experiences have reinforced my belief that an environment for females can truly boost women's confidence. After cohort 4, I transitioned into the field of AI. I now work as a Senior Data Scientist with a beauty tech company in the UK. Alongside my day job, I run a community for data newbies and professionals to provide a supportive environment for those joining the industry.

Andela continues to empower women to build careers in tech

Over the past ten years, we’ve remained committed to training and mentoring women across the world to achieve their full potential. Nicola Lyons, Director of Talent Experience at Andela, believes that to foster a culture of diversity and inclusivity in the tech world, we need to empower the next generation of female technologists to become innovators, leaders and entrepreneurs. “We can close the gender gap in tech by ensuring the right opportunities reach the right people. Female representation is lacking in tech, but witnessing the triumph and perseverence of our all-female cohort proves that when we connect brilliance with opportunity, everyone wins.”

Find out how how we're supporting women in tech:

How to build your confidence as a woman in tech

Women in tech: An interview with Adetola Ahmed, Andela community member

How women are dictating the future of tech with the Andela Technical Leadership Program

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