Codie Roelf was the only girl in her computer science class at school. Today she is a software developer at Praekelt.org, a tech company working on improving the wellbeing of people in poverty through open-source mobile phone technology. She’s also the co-organiser of Django Girls Cape Town, a space for girls to learn to code – Codie set up the Cape Town branch in 2016 with her colleague Lisa Adams. All in all – pretty badass in our books! We asked Codie about how she became a coder, what she wears when she needs to feel like a superhero, and what she’d say to girls who want to follow in her footsteps.
What were the biggest challenges in becoming a coder?
‘My biggest challenge came from assuming that if you did not look, act, or have the same interests as the stereotypical coder in the movies, then you would be a bad coder. What if you aren’t able to access the FBI database within 30 seconds, or if you aren’t completely obsessed with all computer science theories and the latest algorithms? At the core, we use code to solve problems. It is a tool we use to achieve a goal. Once I figured out that I wanted to do something that helped girls all around the world, I realised that doing that with technology has a great reach.
I think a lot of people eliminate themselves from being a coder before they even give it shot because of the unrealistic expectations that have been set by media, and because of some silly notion that men are better coders.
What made you become badass? Was it a defining moment when you first felt different, or a set of circumstances?
‘I never had a defining moment of badass-ary, but being one of the few brown girls in a school that was typically white, being a girl with a name that was typically a boy’s name and having interests that made me not so popular (complete obsession with Bollywood, Celine Dion’s music, and cricket) were all things that made me feel a little different. It took me a while but I got used to that feeling, and it became the norm for me. The moment I felt a little badass was when I realised that it is because of the things that made me feel isolated as a kid that I am now so passionate about my field. I still feel a little different, except now I am completely okay with often being the only female in a room full of males, and bringing that perspective confidently.
All the things that made me different now give me a platform. Because I know what representation means and how important it is, I will force myself to be a badass every day to achieve and add to the great examples of women of women of colour who have done amazing things in the tech space.’
What makes you feel like a superhero?
‘If you know me, you know that I am always wearing a hat. This is my version of a superhero’s cape. I feel like a superhero when I have my best hat on, and some Bollywood music blaring in my earphones.’
What advice would you give your younger self?
‘I would tell my younger self to not to waste time trying to fit into a mould of what is beautiful, what is feminine, what a girl/woman should be like and act like, and what her responsibilities are. It’s the unique things about you that will put you in situations where you are able to solve problems because of it.’
What is a career defining moment for you?
‘I get to be a part of a team that solves problems for girls all around the world, girls that don’t have the best access to technology and information. Every story that comes out of that, is a career defining moment. It has always been my dream to make a difference in the lives of females specifically, and getting to do that for a living is the thing I am most proud of.’
Codie Roelf is one of the Badass Women featured in the April issue of Marie Claire. Buy a copy for more inspiring stories.