UK Spies Fund New Course for Female Coders

The UK’s main intelligence agency for dealing with cyber-threats is hoping to attract more female coders to its ranks with a new bootcamp course.

GCHQ is sponsoring one of the 14-week 'nanodegree' courses run by social enterprise Code First Girls, designed to appeal to women who may be considering a career change.

Jo Cavan, the director of strategy policy and engagement at the security agency, told The Guardian that teams such as those in counter-terrorism have seen performance improve since becoming more diverse.

“We have been working hard to increase that number so we have more diverse teams and better get across the threats we need to today,” she added.

“We know that if we get the right mix of minds it will give us a competitive advantage and that’s why we talk labour diversity as being mission critical.”

One key area GCHQ needs greater diversity to improve its standing is in countering threats from the east, Cavan claimed.

“If you look at China, for example, and how technology is moving east and China is looking to impose non-western values on technology, there is some really important work for us to do there to make sure we are at the forefront of shaping those international technology standards and norms,” she said.

“So it is important to have a diverse team looking at those threats and the opportunities that come from some of those technologies.”

According to certifications organization ISC2, women still occupy only 25% of roles in the cybersecurity sector globally.

Interestingly its 2021 industry report found that fewer women (38%) in the industry came from an IT background than men (50%), and that women have higher rates of entry from self-learning than men (20% vs. 14%).

These figures indicate there could be a potentially large pool of female job-seekers looking to switch career to one in cyber.

Organizations like defense contractor BAE Systems already work with Code First Girls in a similar way to GCHQ, sponsoring bootcamp courses which then provide a talent pipeline for the company and opportunities for graduates.

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