Inspirational Woman: Elizabeth Tweedale
Cypher was born from founder Elizabeth Tweedale’s vast knowledge and experience in the coding space.
Elizabeth has taught coding to children of all ages for the past 5 years in London. She has written and co-written 6 books, her most recent focusing on teaching children Python, using real world career examples.
She and her team are passionate about unlocking the code to the future for the next generation and creating a world where children can explore their unlimited appetite and curiosity, by giving them the tools to open doors and tackle whatever our fast paced future brings.
Elizabeth’s mission is to empower children to navigate the changing world around us by understanding the universal technological language of code, the most powerful and ubiquitous language tool. She pioneers the idea that learning coding fosters an understanding of logic, advanced problem-solving, and the processes needed to turn ideas into functioning systems – inspiring the next generation to move freely and confidently in their future world. Elizabeth is a working mother of three, with a Computer Science degree and Masters in Architecture. Previously she was a computational design specialist at several leading architectural offices including Foster + Partners.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
I’m an entrepreneur, architect, computer scientist, author, a mother of three children and founder and CEO of Cypher. We run creatively themed coding camps that inspire children aged 5 to 14 to learn the language of technology through engaging activities. Our focus is on children learning the foundations of computational thinking to allow them to explore any code languages and develop their creative problem solving.
Children need to learn 21st century skills to partner with future technology. As AI, robots and machine learning become more sophisticated, along with learning computer science, we need to nurture what humans are best at – independent thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication. The leaders in the next generation, whatever their career, will need both the universal language of code and these human skills to be successful. Cypher camps approach learning through hands-on projects that capture children’s interests through creative themes exploring fashion, art and music, linked to code and computational thinking.
We believe technological innovation gives us the best chance of facing the great challenges ahead. Our unique approach ensures that the next generation are future ready.
I actually grew up wanting to be many things, but the main theme of my interests were rooted in design, building, and solving problems. I knew I wanted to do something impactful. I studied Computer Science at university. For me, the discipline is a perfect blend of creativity and problem solving and it set me on a career path that would eventually reconcile my long-standing love for architecture and design with code.
After study, I consulted at architecture practices like Future Systems and Foster + Partners – building computational models for architecture for major projects including the Bank of Kuwait and the Apple Campus in California.
Cypher was born from a desire to address misconceptions around AI and to fill, what I then perceived to be, a crucial gap in the school curriculum. I believe that coding is the single most important language of the future and will greatly influence a child’s ability to navigate the worlds of both higher education and careers. Significantly, computer science has recently been added to the National Curriculum.
I realised there was both a commercial and practical reason for concentrating the business on holiday camps versus after-school clubs. The effect of five full days at camp in the holidays is worth almost two terms worth of after school clubs in teaching and learning time. Children get much further much quicker and have more fun. We also solve a problem for parents – how to care for children in the 14 weeks or so of holidays children have every year.
Cypher camps run in all the school holidays in locations around London.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
I didn’t ever write down a plan for my ‘career’ so to speak but I have always had an idea of where I would like to steer my life. I use my interests and talents to guide me and assume I will come up with the best career path for me along the way.
Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?
I had an acrimonious split from my business partner of my original venture prior to starting Cypher, and that was a very challenging time. We fundamentally disagreed on the strategic direction in which to take the business and therefore decided to part ways. One of the biggest hurdles I faced when launching Cypher was having to start all over again. But I remained eternally optimistic, reassuring myself that if I did it once before, I can do it again. Since launch in 2017, we’ve grown from three to 30 teachers and have hosted over 1,000 children in our coding camps. Revenue has grown 330% in two years and there are big global plans to franchise the business in the US and Middle East.
I was a winner of the Small Business Grants in 2017, which gave the business a small boost, and Cypher was also selected for the Natwest Accelerator programme where I received mentorship and made some hugely valuable connections.
What has been your biggest career achievement to date?
My biggest achievement to date is the success and trajectory of Cypher. With aspirations of creating a global educational company impacting and preparing the future generation for the technological future, we are well on our way to achieving this with the progress we have made to date.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
I believe entrepreneurship can be learnt, but it’s also innate. Overall, you have to have passion and conviction in what you’re doing. I don’t come from a big family of natural entrepreneurs, but I have learnt the value of networks and collaboration.
What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?
Be confident – technology is always changing, and it’s ok to not always know the answer; being confident about your ability to find the answer is more important than having the answer
Keep learning – as technology is always changing (as mentioned above) it is important to continue your learning – this doesn’t have to be through formal means like classes – which are obviously great – but can be as simple as learning from young people around you or your colleagues.
Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?
I gave birth to my third child, Rose, soon after Cypher was launched. During that time, I had been asked a lot – by the female entrepreneurs I knew in my network – about what my experiences were like being a working mother and pregnant, particularly as a startup founder. I have to say that I’ve been lucky. All of my investors were very supportive. They had already seen how I juggled running businesses with a young family in tow, and had faith in my capabilities to manage the demands that Cypher would bring.
But a few women I spoke to who had gotten pregnant after they set up their business received a lot of push back from investors, with one even being labelled “irresponsible”. Is it any wonder why few women compared to men set up their own ventures, let alone endeavour to seek funding from investors?
What do you think companies can do to support to progress the careers of women working in technology?
I saw a distinct difference between the way girls approached lessons in our coding camps compared to boys. For me, this emphasised just how important it is for tech companies (or any company for that matter) to diversify their teams. Getting girls excited about coding is the start of a long journey in disrupting the great gender imbalance seen in typically male-dominated industries. Just as importantly, it also shows how key diversity is for lateral thinking when solving problems. It facilitates innovation.
In order to tackle the lack of gender diversity within engineering and other STEM sectors, we need to make science and engineering subjects more attractive to females and show how such skills are applicable to careers beyond the typical tech-centric ones. For example, there’s a huge level of creativity involved in coding that can be applied to fashion, design and wellness.
Some of the biggest design blunders show just how vitally important it is to have diverse and empathic thinkers and doers within engineering and product design create everyday solutions that address human beings as a whole, irrespective of gender. Air conditioning systems, for example, are shown to be engineered and set at a temperature that is only in tune with male biology; current seat belt designs in standard vehicles do more injury to a female’s body than a male’s if an accident occurs – and this could be a matter of life or death. Piano keys are designed largely for bigger hand spans. The list goes on where design, upon closer examination, is incredibly gendered and slanted in favour of men.
One of our employees has just recently completed an undergraduate UCL Aeronautical Engineering degree and attests that any engineering degree these day will now include some form of coding, and it will become quite a prominent feature. Encouraging more girls into coding and STEM subjects will help get girls into STEM and other subjects, which will help close the gender diversity gap in engineering and STEM jobs. The involvement of females during the design, production and implementation stages across diverse sectors such as engineering, architecture, product design, etc will create products and systems that will be gender neutral, therefore creating a better world.
There is currently only 15% of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?
Change the way computer science is taught to encourage more women to be interested. Choose environments that women find comfortable and approach computing concepts from a gender-neutral position.
What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?
Listen to TechTalks – a great podcast full of interviews with inspirational tech entrepreneurs who talk about the trials and tribulations of starting up and scaling a business.
Play this game https://www.codingame.com/training – it’s packed full of fun interactive games and puzzles designed to hone and refine computer programming skills.
Listen to Ted Talks – there’s a wealth of great talks on tech innovation as well as inspirational, human-centred stories about triumph over adversity. Lots of thought-provoking material to fuel your creativity and help you get through challenging times and manage self-doubt.
Develop your cultural side – a combination of liberal arts and human skills are very important to foster and hone computational thinking skills and be successful in technology.
Finally, embrace your feminine qualities and female way of thinking. Our differences are our strength.
© Meet the WeAreTechWomen June 2019