Women Who Code, a global non-profit that aims to increase the number of women excelling in technology-related careers, is a terrific and far-reaching organization. While in Belfast, I met with Sheree Atcheson–founder of the Northern Ireland branch of Women Who Code–who at first may seem an unlikely pioneer for this group. 25-year-old Sheree is originally from Sri Lanka and was adopted by a British family when she was just four weeks old. Her father worked security along the Ireland-Northern Ireland border during the “trouble,” as they call it. She has spoken on behalf of Women Who Code in locales as diverse as Bulgaria, Texas and San Francisco.
Coincidentally, our meeting took place on Monday, July 18, just as the Conservative Party was electing Theresa May as Britain’s second female prime minister. All agree, she is an Iron Lady in the successful mold of Margaret Thatcher.
Q: You founded Women Who Code in Northern Ireland; that is quite impressive. What was the timeline on that, from its inception leading up to where the organization is now?
A: As you know, we are a global non-profit, the first branch of which was founded in San Francisco. We currently have 60,000 members worldwide. I brought Women Who Code here in 2013, after I graduated from Queens College Belfast. I got requests from London to start a chapter, and we now have 6,000 members in the U.K.
Q: Please share about the tech startup ecosystem in Belfast and Northern Ireland
A:: We have many large tech and financial service companies in Northern Ireland. This creates a top-down ecosystem. Although this is beneficial for FinTech startups, we need a more bottom-up ecosystem. However, I will say that we are lucky to have large operations here, including big names like Microsoft, BT, KPMG, SAP and dozens more.
Q: What about the Brexit? Since Northern Ireland is part of Great Britain, how will it be affected?
A: There are positives to the Brexit. For instance, we are now the only British country with a land border to Europe. We will have some leverage points that we previously have not had. The doom-mongers have had their day, but now it is time to accept the reality of the situation, focus on the positives and look to the future. The Pound has gained strength and employment is strong.
Q: Theresa May, a very no-nonsense woman, officially became Britain’s second female Prime Minister just today. Do you have any thoughts on that?
A: The Labor party talks about change, but it is the Conservative party that gave Great Britain its first female prime minister, its first bachelor prime minister and its first Jewish Prime Minister. Probably its first gay prime minister too–we just don’t know which one! First of all, you can’t just support her–or anyone else, for that matter–based solely on the fact that she is a woman. While yes, only 5% of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women and there is a clear gap that needs to be addressed, there has to be more to the rationale for supporting a certain candidate.
A: We do the coding dojos, which are offered once a week after school, and those are incredibly important for us. They go nearly year-round in participating schools.
A: The universities are incredibly important in the startup community.Q: What about the VC community?
A: It needs to be stronger. A lot of London VC’s will come here to hunt for opportunity, but they do not have offices yet.