Melanie & Chanel

We were honoured to hold the one about “Coding” and talk about algorithms. 21 women joined our 1h-session about Algorithms.

We are surrounded by algorithms and they increasingly decide for us. E.g. Google Maps decides which route we take or a Google Search tells us what options we have. Amazon even decided to use algorithms to simplify their recruiting process. But who actually knows what an algorithm is and how it works?

In the first part, we wanted them to decode the concept of an algorithm by experiencing one. So we came up with a playful drawing challenge. In pairs, they drew an image and then wrote instructions for another group who had to re-draw the image without seeing the original. Some instructions were pretty accurate, and so the images were similar, others were far off. But that didn’t matter. What matters is, that they learnt that computers are dumb and need exact step-by-step instructions (=algorithms).

Drawing challenge
Drawing challenge

Algorithms have the potential to simplify processes but there’s also the danger that algorithms go wrong. They are written by humans, so they are biased. In the second part, Chanel showed examples of algorithms gone wrong, e.g. Amazon’s AI recruiting tool that favoured male applicants. She explained how data models work and why they are biased. Participants also wrote an algorithm in pairs, without any computer.

Chanel teaching

At the end, we had a discussion about: “What the world would look like if it were coded by women?” and “What can we do to write future codes?”. We discussed our experiences, learnings and how we can write future codes, especially in regards to diversity in tech. Here are our group’s key take-aways:

  • Break the bias: understand that machines are not perfect because humans write instructions and there is human bias and error
  • Understand the impact of code / AI for us as humans, e.g. for our health and speak up. (One example was how pills for women were just tested on men in clinical trials)
  • Take away fear of tech by demystifying tech, e.g. with education, role models and communities
  • Adopt a learning mindset, be curious and get outside your comfort zone. Learn about AI and understand that you don’t need to write code to shape it. We’ll have to pivot our careers several times in the coming years and linear careers might not be for us.
  • Think about: How to give women access to positions in IT? e.g. more opportunities for juniors, people from different industries, bringing women back later in life, more coaching?
  • A world coded by women would not be different because it would still not be diverse. But maybe, it would be more playful ;)