While working at Entrepreneur First (EF) I have learned that the ambitions of the smartest people really matter, and as a former teacher I know that these ambitions are conditioned from a very early stage.
The children I taught absorbed their ideas of success from their surroundings; they were influenced by what the people they admired did, what social-media and music told them was important, what their peer-group seemed to value. I’ve taught many of the failed footballers, rappers and makeup artists of the future.
There are some kids who get into coding at an early age; a twelve-year-old in one of my classes hacked the homework platform and set his score to infinity. Another kid found a security glitch in the school’s email system and earned £200 for it. Both of them idolised Mark Zuckerberg and it isn’t hard to imagine how Zuck’, the nerd-next-door with his grey t-shirt and deep-rooted sense of personal exceptionalism, could be an icon for ambitious kids who single themselves out as different to their classmates. I admit, my sample size was small, but the kids I knew who wanted to code were often the outliers who didn’t fit in with their peers’ notion of success, and I encountered very few girls among them.
This is a failing of schools and teachers (like me) who are driven by outdated ideas of success, for not pushing the value of coding skills at an early age. To many of us, Zuckerberg and Silicon Valley seemed distant. Some pupils did find icons, like Elon Musk, who inspired them to different ambitions. However, there are no such female icons. How many celebrity female tech founders can you name? Ada Lovelace died two centuries ago… she doesn’t count. Less than 0.5% of girls study Computer Science at A-Level, and the lack of role models must have a part to play.
Last year, when Forbes named Kylie Jenner as the youngest self-made billionaire I was delighted; she wasn’t the youngest female billionaire, she was the youngest billionaire. Yes, admittedly the definition of ‘self-made’ had been stretched a bit, but her achievement of spearheading a new market, where social media stars sell directly to their fan base, is not to be sniffed at. However, Kylie Jenner seemed to become a billionaire by posting pictures on Instagram and applying makeup. Cue legions of teenagers starting YouTube channels giving makeup tutorials, hoping to make it their career. Kids are often impressionable, and always delusional. They are suckers for an icon. I’m not too proud to admit that I spent the best part of my school years aspiring to be the next Frankie Dettori (I kid you not) before realising that I was too tall and didn’t have enough of an affinity with horses to become a champion jockey.
By joining the EF cohort, you are one step closer to building a globally impactful company. It is not only the company that you create that will change lives; as a founder, you become a role model for future generations. As a talent investor at Entrepreneur First, I have a personal goal: to find the tech founder who will inspire a generation of schoolchildren, girls in particular, to sign up to Codecademy rather than Instagram. Maybe I’m still delusional, but if you think it could be you, apply to join EF.