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Despina Stamkou

Photo: Despina Stamkou

Categories: Start a business

Stockholm code school means business about closing the gender gap

Publish date: 20 December 2021

For decades women have been underrepresented in technology roles. Post-corona economic recovery strategies might be a good opportunity for the tech industry to embrace gender diversity due to the current shortage of women in tech.

This best-case scenario would be a dream come true for Despina Stamkou, who has made it her mission to help women launch careers in the IT sector. 

With a 23-year international career in tech and at least five million lines of code under her belt, Despina is well equipped to help job seekers and technology firms find a mutually beneficial pathway to a better gender balance. 

As with all tech- and innovation-driven verticals, FinTech’s success is highly dependent on the supply of a high number of qualified developers. Even though tech teams rarely hit the headlines, they play a crucial role in developing the software we all take for granted.

Despina and her co-founder Margareta Kowalska were frustrated after attending multiple gender-diversity conferences in 2017. The industry talked a lot about diversity, but the real action was in short supply. With the financial support of Stockholm’s FinTech unicorn Klarna, alongside Nordea Bank and gaming company MRG Gametek, SmartCoding began offering evening programming courses for women.

The tutors are practitioners and active developers in the FinTech industry. The courses are based on ultralearning, a practice-based and solution-oriented method that allows participants to make progress within a very short amount of time. Applicants can choose between a beginner or junior level depending on their prior knowledge of programming. 

As over 90% of Swedish fintech founders are men, you do not have to be a rocket scientist to realize that we have a long way to go as a society. However, Stockholm is a brilliant place to enable that change.

After completion of a 12-week junior developer course, SmartCoding supports each graduate with an IT career development program. The program consists of an internship at an established company or a startup, which is usually followed by a full-time job offer by the same venture. During the course, tutors guide the students who solve practical programming challenges while working on real-life IT projects shared by startups, and using established dev processes. 

Participants include women who have recently arrived in Sweden with different backgrounds, including lawyers, translators and PhD graduates. More than 80% of graduates have already found either an internship or employment.

Despina is proud of what she and Margareta have accomplished so far: “We are preparing for our fifth course starting in September 2020. We know the whole struggle with looking for a job in a new country and we see SmartCoding as a tool for women to overcome career challenges. Because of the current pandemic, those might be even bigger than usual. We have proven that our model works in Stockholm. We are looking forward to bringing our courses to other locations in the future.” 

Using its innovative approach, SmartCoding takes the fear out of coding. Crucially, it connects graduates directly with companies looking for talent.

Article produced by Michal Gromek and edited by Invest Stockholm.