It should be no surprise that women are highly underrepresented in the tech industry. Recent statistics suggest that only 17% over 2 million people in the UK technology workforce are female. Markela Zeneli is a young Tottenham person who is trying to buck that trend, and Rachel Ho had a quick chat with her to find out a bit more.
Where did you grow up and what did your parents do?
My parents immigrated here from Albania in 1997. I was born in 1998 and grew up in Tottenham. While I was in primary school, my mum got an entry level qualification in Childcare. She now works in a nursery, and my dad continues to work as a decorator, as he has done since they arrived.
Photo supplied: Markela Zeneli
Describe your relationship to Tottenham.
My relationship with Tottenham has been ever-changing. Growing up, I learned about London alongside my parents. I learned English alongside (and faster) than my parents. I would say that children of first-gen immigrants have a more independent childhood, having to relay what they learn back to their family.
Prior to gentrification, there were far less people in Tottenham, and therefore more opportunity for crime without witness. Violence was the same, if not worse than it is now (especially in 2008, for obvious reasons in hindsight when considering the financial crash).
Once I finished my GCSE's, I chose to go to a sixth form somewhere "nicer" than Tottenham.
What resulted was something I can only call a reverse culture shock. My peers had been replaced with wealthier, whiter counterparts. People who were lovely, but had the privilege of being able to afford private tutors from a young age, and had not been through the same trauma. No longer top of the class, in the lowest economic bracket, while my further maths teacher would consistently highlight my anomalous dialect. No amount of award ceremonies or positive reinforcement at school could have prepared me for the de-motivation that followed. I longed for the hierarchy-free concrete jungle that I could already navigate.
How did you get into coding?
Alongside the reverse culture shock previously mentioned, I experienced mental health issues during my second year of A-levels. I was studying maths, further maths, and physics. I got U's in every single A2 exam, and my grades averaged out to C D D, which was too low to do what I had initially planned (theoretical physics).
After A-levels, I swore education was not for me. I spent a year working at a bar, and all of my free time on the computer. I would mainly game and dabble with web development (as I had done from the age of 12). What really got the ball rolling was my friend sending me a simple program in Python that would generate Fibonacci numbers. Up until that point I had never mixed maths with computers, but once I realised I could, I didn't stop. Being able to simulate mathematical relationships virtually helped me further my understanding in a way which was highly accessible. I am now undergoing a BSc in Computer Science.
Photo supplied: Markela on a panel at a tech conference.
What advice would you give to women who want to get into coding?
Look at what inspires you in life and find a way to replicate it in code. Whether it's the aesthetic perfectionism of web development, producing a musical masterpiece on Max/MSP, or unbounded 3D design on Houdini, code can exist as a medium for creation. Find out what you want from coding, get comfortable, and then push yourself.
The average demographic in the tech industry is white and male. This is undeniable, and while it is not an issue for some, it can be isolating and barrier-forming for others. If you belong to the latter, look for local female and non-binary coding workshops. When browsing for groups / workshops / events, always make sure to check their code of conduct and see whether they have put thought into inclusivity.
For more information you can contact Markela via email email@example.com