Why Baratang Miya of GirlHype believes the future is female

Nazli Allie, Tuesday June 12th 2018

MEST Cape Town Community Conversations is a monthly meetup that focuses on topics chosen by MEST Cape Town community members. The topic for May looked at the South African entrepreneurial journey with GirlHype founder Baratang Miya, who will also join us at the upcoming MEST Africa Summit on our Founding Females panel discussion.

When Baratang first joined the tech and entrepreneurial space, the biggest challenge she carried was that she was not a technology expert. But with help from the community and strong female role models she believed that she could do anything, and her fear of not knowing was overcome by her passion to code. At community conversations she came to  share what she learned in order to create the future in an industry filled with females.

Why women in technology?

Every time I was around tech experts I felt inferior. I felt that I did not know - fortunately I am over that now.

I was raised by very strong women, and when I started GirlHype, I started it knowing the strength women had. I did what I thought was right and relevant at the time. I was a strong feminist, a student at UCT, a member of the SRC, and I articulated for feminist movements. I was there to bridge the gender gap.

I studied marketing, I was in tech and I was a designer. Technology has been used in media to shape how women view themselves, and I was working in a time where I knew my role was to help other women overcome the views pushed upon them. When I finished my degree, I had the option of working at a large consumer goods company working in advertising. I chose not to take the opportunity,but instead to be with my family and create the company that would later become GirlHype.

I believed that women are all influenced by society in our own right - when I looked at certain faculties on university campuses, there were no women except for myself and my friends who were bothered by the same situation. And so, with my feminist view, I went to campus with a motto of ‘I am going to change the world.’

In 2003, the teachers at the schools I started teaching at could not use computers - they did not know how. The demand was high because the teachers needed to learn. I then went on to teach computer science classes to girls including how to use Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
This was the foundation of what I wanted to build, to teach girls how to discover their own voice and bring meaning to the world through technology and entrepreneurship.

How did you learn to code?

I started learning Microsoft FrontPage. I was inquisitive, and I needed to understand the little bit of coding that I saw in front of me at the back end. That’s when I fell in love with code and its capabilities.

After learning how to use Microsoft FrontPage for an hour I started to teach girls at schools how to use it. It was not as easy as I thought; I met a few challenges but what helped me was my ability to market my achievements. I was proud, inspired and motivated. I went around town telling people that I teach girls how to design websites. Through telling people what I was doing and how I was doing it, I was challenged by many questions and I was surrounded by people who wanted to help. They wanted to teach me how to code. They wanted to see my vision flourish.

I had a developer who sat down with me once a week. He taught me FrontPage to the core and helped me to design a very beautiful website that I could put forward. He was teaching me HTML. Every Saturday, developers from a financial service company came to teach me how to code. They worked with my husband, and they wanted to help me. In 2005 I learned HTML, CSS and Javascript.

After these lessons, GirlHype was registered in 2005 as an NGO that empowers girls to go into STEM and teaches women how to run tech businesses -everything that I think that everybody needs to learn in tech today.It became approved as a business. This included bringing young people into job skills and women into entrepreneurship and business.

I now have small curriculums that I teach at universities for schools in the Western Cape. I have 28 schools that I work with. When I entered the market I started working in schools, and I continue to do this today. That's the thing about tech - anyone can do anything because it is so broad.

When I first began, I wrote a list of what I needed, and within 6 months of starting out, I had covered all the universities in the Western Cape to help teach girls how to code. I then moved to teaching unemployed youth how to code, purely because of the people I met along my journey who helped me to learn. We’ve worked with global companies and organisations such as the United Nations, Mozilla and Microsoft. GirlHype has really evolved, it has always been about women until this day.

I realized that if I could teach them then anyone could learn. And if I could train people who struggled with English how to code in HTML, CSS and Javascript - I think anyone can code.

My entrepreneurial journey was dependent on collaboration and people who helped me along the way. I started in technology at a time where I needed to create the change that I wanted to live - there were not that many SA women working in this field.
Don’t give up. If you are knocking on the door of the same opportunities - move on but never give up.

What were your biggest takeaways during this time?

When I started Girlhype, I just did it. I put all my passion into it, and over the past 3 years it has been the best experience. I had so many people who believed in me and my vision; when I needed skills they had my back. And it has nothing to do with male, female, colour or background. People are excited and willing to talk. I work in a coworking space, and when I need help or advise I pop on over to someone in the space and I have a chat with them.

If you share your vision and goals with others they are there to help you and give you free advice. You move on from those conversations and you find mentors who can help you achieve those goals and support you along the way to grow. When you are creating a business you need to talk to someone.

Join our next Community Conversations at MEST Incubator Cape Town on 13 June! RSVP to the Open Innovation and Community Building talk here. See you next time!