Supermodels Who Code

By Ami Sedghi
American supermodel and coding advocate Karlie Kloss. Picture / Supplied.

What is it about models and coding? American supermodel and coding advocate Karlie Kloss (pictured) has joined a growing list of high-profile female stars urging young women to take up coding, reflecting a determination to shake up the disproportionately male world of coders and tech enthusiasts.

Calling on young women recently to apply for Kode with Karlie scholarships set up by the model in partnership with the Flatiron school in the US where she spent two weeks last year learning to code the 22-year old gave a passionate account of her own experience.

“Over the last year I started taking coding classes and realised how creative coding truly is. Code is going to continue to play a major role in defining our future. I think it’s crucial that young women learn to code as early as possible to ensure that we have a voice and a stake in what the world looks like.”

Kloss joins Victoria's Secret model Lyndsey Scott, who has also been vocal about her love of coding. The 29-year old, who holds a dual degree in computer science and theatre, continues to combine programming with her modelling work, which has included turns for big fashion names such as Gucci, Prada and Louis Vuitton.

Scott told the BBC she was always surprised when people expressed shock at her ability to programme. “I think people put too much stock in beauty and there are those maybe who do programming and some other things but aren’t getting the attention they deserve because they’re not a Victoria’s Secret model,” she said. “I’ve been programming longer than I’ve been modelling.”

Scott is also a mentor at Girls Who Code, an organisation helping teenage girls to learn programming. British model Lily Cole (who created social networking site and American television star and comedian Mindy Kaling are also seen at tech conferences as well as on magazine pages.

Encouraging that female “voice” is a priority of Kathryn Parsons, co-founder of Decoded, which runs Code in a Day workshops.

Women are consumers and users of tools and products still overwhelmingly dreamt up and created by men, she says. She believes Kloss’s support of coding will help to encourage engagement from those who might not traditionally have been drawn to it.

“People create all these barriers for themselves before they’ve tried it,” she says, describing the biggest difference between men and women in her fairly equally gender-split classes as confidence rather than ability. “Karlie Kloss might make a lot of women consider that they might give [coding] a go. Anything that can break up who [it] is for or should be for is incredibly valuable.”

Sarah Watson, group mobile manager at Net-a-Porter, says the diversity of the technology team at the group, which has a strong female presence, has led to better results and creativity.

“Having a superstar role model raise the profile of development can only be a good thing.”

A number of other initiatives have cropped up to entice young people to embrace code.

Hour of Code, a global campaign held during the annual Computer Science Education Week in December, has had Apple stores overseas host free one-hour coding workshops among thousands of other events organised by volunteers and educators, while Code Club is a Britain-wide network of free, volunteer-led, after-school coding clubs for children aged nine to 11.

Women Who Code, a US-based non-profit organisation aimed at inspiring women to succeed in tech careers, boasts a membership of more than 25,000 and a presence in 15 countries.

For Parsons, the increased focus on coding and women has been part of a larger shift to address inequalities in work and society.

“What Karlie is doing is brave, pioneering and pushing in the right direction to inspire a whole generation to aspire,” she says. “People like Karlie Kloss saying she codes jars people’s minds. She’s a woman? She’s a model?”

And, for the inevitable cynics, Parsons has the perfect answer: "As her close friend Taylor Swift would say, 'haters gonna hate'." The Observer

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