Elizabeth Tweedale – Mother, Wife, Founder, CEO, CTO, Chief Innovation Officer, Female Entrepreneur of the year 2020 by ClubHub Awards, Great British Entrepreneur Awards 2020 Finalist, the list goes on… Elizabeth is so inspiring – raising a family, building a career, founding a Coding Academy for children (Cypher Coders) and launching a successful Tech Start-up (GoSpace)! She is looking to change the way coding is seen by the next generation, and encouraging more young girls into Tech!
Talk me through your journey into tech?
It started with the fact that I was a gamer to begin with, I started with Super Mario Brothers and it evolved from there – Tony Hawk Pro Skater, and all those kinds of games. I think gaming is one of those things that makes an easy segway into technology. Also, my father worked in tech, he worked on the server side, the set-up of the computers for big companies; there were times when he was transferring over servers where my brother and I would be in the office as well, unplugging hard drives and just messing around with all the techie bits, so that’s when Tech set in.
It wasn’t until University that I really discovered computer science. I always wanted to be an architect, so for my undergrad I chose my major majors as Maths and Art because I thought, OK, that leads you into architecture, and one of the first courses that you take as a math major is computer science. And I just fell in love with it because it wasn’t like pure maths, where you have you know 1 + 1 = 2, or A plus B = C, which can come from any different multitudes of types of A or B’s and C’s, and it felt so much more relevant to me in terms of the world and how to solve problems.
I continued on to become an architect, & did my Master’s in architecture. When I was practicing architecture, I realized even more, how important that background in technology as a base foundation for being able to apply technology, and the way of computational thinking towards any kind of career. That led me to want to teach children about the importance of Computer Science.
Let’s chat about Cypher Coders. Why did you set it up and what are your goals?
Our mission is to empower children to be able to move freely and confidently in the world; ensuring that they’re equipped with that base understanding of technology, and therefore the language of code. Also, our mission is really to prepare the next generation for what’s coming because we all know how important technology is and how quickly it’s changing our day-to-day lives. We teach children between the ages of 4-14years, how to code, and we do that through creative themes such as fashion, architecture or conservation & linking those to coding. We teach children during the school holidays, after school clubs, as well as within the school day as part of the National Curriculum.
Teaching computer science has historically been very tech-first focused and often times it lends itself to be more males over females, I really set out to create a company that inspired both boys and girls into coding and understanding the technology around them, which is why we incorporate those creative themes because it gets a broader range of children interested. Today we’ve already taught thousands of students who have joined our program and we are now expanding throughout the UK, which we were doing pre-covid. But now that we have transitioned everything online as well, we’re expanding into countries like the US, Canada but also the Philippines.
What do you think are the barriers for young people pursuing a career in tech?
First, I think one of the main barriers is just the perception of a “coder”, by that, I mean somebody that’s successful in technology. If you ask children about famous people in technology, they tend to say Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, Tim Cook. But what about Sheryl Sandberg, who’s the CEO of Facebook or Ginny Romeney who was the CEO of IBM? & let’s not forget the key one being Ada Lovelace, who is actually the creator of computer science! One thing we need to do is really praise those successful Females in technology so that they’re as inspirational for young girls.
On the one side, and I think the other kind of main barrier is really the fundamentals of how coding is taught. When computer science was first taught in University and just sort of in the Ivy League schools and at that time the only people that were allowed to take those courses were men just because of the time that it was. So when computer science evolved as a subject matter, it was created by Men, for men, so we need to find ways to broaden the subject so that we can teach it to men and women. It all comes down to perception. For example, if you call a class l “Learn to programme a drone” you might only get boys interested, but if you call it “Learn how drones are used in saving the ocean” you might get more girls interested in the conservation side, thus learning how to programme a drone to collect plastic from the sea. Our classes now are around 55% girls!
Tell me about GoSpace and your journey so far?
Bruce and I co-founded GoSpace together and initially, I was the CTO, so I was behind the scenes writing the kind of key algorithms, & Bruce was raising investment in building up the business development. From a technology perspective, GoSpace is extremely exciting. Particularly because of the advancements that we’re tackling in Artificial Intelligence, drawing on the cutting edge of research in this field. We have seen these huge shifts in AI research and development, and we are applying this to the allocation of people in the workplace, it’s even more important now than ever with COVID. We are accelerating the way the future of work will look. There’s a huge multi-dimensional problem that needs to be solved because you’re talking about different people, different teams, different days that they want to come into the office, so we can automate that.
From a tech perspective, it’s an exciting problem because it’s so complex that it can also be applied to a lot of different industries. I’m the Chief Innovation Officer, so I’m not involved day-to-day, but in how those theories evolve in terms of creating the algorithms. I’m also supporting Bruce as a director. It’s been really inspiring to see how Bruce himself leads the team and how he raises capital or executes key business objectives, that has really helped me & I’ve really learned a lot from him over the years.
Do you have any other female role models in tech or anyone you look up to that inspires you?
I think we can definitely find inspiration from other females in tech like those mentioned before, but actually my mentors have come more from probably the entrepreneurship side of things, rather than the technology side. I think there’s a running debate – being an entrepreneur, is it something that you’re born with or is it something that you can learn and develop? For me, it’s definitely something that I was born with. I’ve been starting companies since I was in 3rd grade.
So, In terms of a mentor. I would have to say probably Bruce (Co-Founder of GoSpace and Husband) has been one of my biggest mentors. I think it’s because he has a business degree, to compliment my education, and I’ve found that to be invaluable.
When we’re talking about finding a good mentor first we need to decide what the key strand is for you that inspires you everyday. Is it business development or entrepreneurship? Or is it technology? Or is it finances or operations? For me, it’s entrepreneurship first but it just happens to be that like technology underpins all of that. Then find somebody that has that same kind of key, aspirational thing, but a completely different knowledge base in that particular area
In terms of other females that have been really influential, it’s really come down to my Grandmother who passed away a couple of years ago, she was a mother of five and she was trained as a Nurse. But back in those days you couldn’t be a nurse and be married, so then she met my Grandfather, interestingly, over the operating room table, and they fell in love so they had to get married in secret! When she had her first kid, she obviously had to give up her career. She was so inspirational to women. She used to volunteer at the Women’s prison to try to educate these women into what kinds of careers they could do and not to let being a woman hold them back.
What are your thoughts on having a diverse workforce?
I think it’s important for women to understand that roles in Tech are multi-faceted, it’s not about just being a full-stack developer or code, there are so many roles within Tech. From Sales, to Marketing, to QA Engineering. You don’t need to be super technical to understand it. women are successful in Tech because they approach problems in different ways, they see fresh ways to solve issues. By bringing together both perspectives, we can solve problems quickly and efficiently. I think men and women bring different things to the table and that we can benefit from both of those.
Who would you have at a dinner party? Dead or alive?
My grandmother, definitely; Seymour Papert – the original creators of the logo programming language and a huge educator. And, maybe one of the Egyptian Pharaohs who built the pyramids, they created this timeless piece of architecture, completely man-made. Incredible.
Do you have a favourite quote or inspirational message that you stand by?
We have a “family motto”, something my grandmother always said, which is, “Do your best and let them say”, which I think is important because you can read into it in so many ways, not being influenced by what people think of you or not being worried about what they will say. It’s just always doing your best, and also doing your best for others too.
Can you pinpoint one thing that you could say is your proudest achievement today?
I don’t know this might be too cliche, but I think my proudest achievement today is that I’ve built my entire career, whilst being a mother. I had my first child when I was 24, so I hadn’t even finished my undergraduate degree. I had my second child 2 weeks before presenting my final thesis and we had our third child 2 years ago. I think my proudest achievement is being able to say that I have done both building a career and having a Family. I want to inspire other women because I think having kids is sometimes something that women put off until after they create their career, and I just would hope that women might consider having children while building their career, because I think it’s important for you, that we motivate women to believe that they can do both.
By Emily Lewis
A voice for diversity in tech <3