A strong medicine is available for technology companies’ chronic coder deficiency – women! The ‘Mimmit koodaa’ program, led by Milja Köpsi, encourages women to code, develop software and design user interfaces. The program started in Helsinki, and the achievements so far have been described as ‘a much desired shake-up’ and ‘a force for change’. The great news for North Karelia is that Mimmit koodaa is now here as well.
Technology sector influencer, promoter of ICT sector equality, member of MEAE’s AI 4.0 steering group, established name of the top of the Tivi rankings for ICT influencers. Milja Köpsi is all this and more.
– ‘I was 14 when we got our first home computer. I enrolled in an IT course in upper secondary school. The teacher suggested that, since I was a girl, I should give my place to a boy and join the typewriting group instead.’
This grown woman’s story of gender-stereotyped thinking is not an isolated case; up until now, women in the ICT and software sector have often been left with just the scraps. Now the Mimmit koodaa (Women code) program, powered by the Finnish Software and E-business Association which is led by Milja Köpsi, is shifting people’s mindsets. The motivation for this is clear: Finland simply cannot afford to exclude women from the technology sector.
Acknowledging the reality
The Finnish Software and E-business Association has more than 600 software-driven member companies. The association’s objective is a concrete one – to promote the opportunities for its member companies to succeed in the face of tightening international competition.
– ‘That’s right – companies in Joensuu are also dealing with strong international competition. To succeed in this, more and more skilled workers are needed. Bringing international talent to Finland can be challenging when competing with the likes of Berlin, Thailand and large corporations,’ Köpsi explains. Looking back, she can see the snare that Finland blundered into:
– ‘We sealed ourselves in a bubble, caused our own labour shortage and spouted so much technological jargon. It was a big mistake to shape the stereotypical IT expert to be mathematical genius who is over-interested in all things technical. We ended up excluding a lot of people from the IT bubble.’
According to Köpsi, the phrase ‘shortage of experts’ came into common use in Finland over five years ago. Since then, digitalisation has been spreading like wildfire through every sector.
– Software development, digitalisation, coding – there is no longer a single company that does not in some way run on software. Either the company itself has the software or the service is purchased from elsewhere.’
Köpsi and Rasmus Roiha, Managing Director of the Finnish Software and E-business Association, decided to make some calls. The two of them called round eight different software industry companies and explained their idea for launching low-threshold workshops for women.
– ‘Rasmus has since retold the story many times … we were cautiously hoping to get around a hundred women signing up. Things went a bit differently: the first year there were 800 women queueing up for the workshops! We then understood that this work requires just this kind of low-threshold model.’
Mimmit koodaa launched in Helsinki over three years ago. Köpsi tots up the number of women who have participated in the workshops, physical meetings and virtual events, and easily hits the 7000 mark.
– ‘Women are massively interested in this subject! And these women have all kinds of expertise and job experience. And all of this after realising that anyone can learn the technology, but what is valuable is all of one’s experience in other fields.’
As one example, Köpsi mentions Fastroi Oy.
– This company develops software for elderly care. It is an enormous advantage if the software designer has experience in the care sector and experience of what needs to be recorded when visiting customers. This means the designer already has deep understanding of the customer needs, which is a key asset.’
Straight talk and getting specific
Mimmit koodaa has not had a large marketing budget. This has nevertheless meant that the word has spread all the more quickly through personal networks and social media channels. For Köpsi, the key thing is to speak clearly and concretely about things, without technical jargon.
– ‘Mimmit koodaa is not a training service, although many of the participants go on to apply for training in the field.’
Some women become coders. Some find a new career in the technology sector by taking on some other job position. It is hugely significant in itself that the participants get an understanding of what software development is really about.
‘It has been great to see when a secretary or a textile seller goes on to become a coder.’
– ‘Mimmit koodaa may be their first point of contact with the world of software development. The workshop participant sees that coding isn’t after all something that you do with a penis. It has been great to see when a secretary or a textile seller goes on to become a coder.’
Pilot project in North Karelia
Milja Köpsi moved to Joensuu a couple of years ago. Software played a big role in that as well – the love of her life, and Joensuu resident, was found through Tinder. Launched in 2021, Tinder is a web-dating mobile application that makes use of location data and has tens of millions of active users around the world.
– ‘It is a big success, because people have a huge need for love, proximity and sex. It’s also a good example of how software does not always have to be a product such as a service management or production control system. Software can help a person who needs love, a victim of domestic violence, or even a person with menstrual problems.’
Köpsi knows the software companies in the Helsinki region and their particular needs like the back of her hand. Through the networks of this social influencer, many doors can be opened. In the Helsinki Metropolitan Area, the message that women are a skilled group who can give the sector a real lift has really taken root.
Mimmit koodaa has now spread to North Karelia thanks to ESF project funding. The regional project started in March and will continue until 2023.
– ‘We want to help to ease the difficulties of matching demand with supply and to boost the attractiveness of the region. North Karelia has been a pilot in the sense that we are carrying things forward in an area that is unfamiliar to me. We still have groundwork to do in familiarising ourselves with the regional actors, companies, and educational institutions, and also with the aspirations of North Karelian women.’
The Mimmit koodaa base in North Karelia is the Science Park – a North Karelian ICT hub.
– ‘Business Joensuu, the North Karelian Chamber of Commerce and Luotsi are important partners for us. All the actors involved have been strongly sending the same message: the region needs more understanding of the opportunities offered by the software sector. If the project produces results in North Karelia, the model can be replicated at the national level.’
Already during the initial phases, Milja Köpsi has also received support for the project’s objectives from companies such as Abloy Oy. Expertise is needed there as locking and access control become increasingly electronic. The work involves increasing amounts of service provision, data and information analysis.
— ‘Abloy is not a metal workshop, although many still think of it as such. Abloy is a technology company where software development and digitalisation professionals are needed. The company is a good example of how smart it is to start training people from one’s own staff,’ points out Milja Köpsi in reference to how Abloy has implemented comprehensive training of its own staff.
Further information: mimmitkoodaa.fi, firstname.lastname@example.org
Text: Sirkka-Liisa Aaltonen/Viestintä Ässä Oy
Images: Jarno Artika