Australia is famously facing a skills gap in the digital space. While more kids than ever before are learning to code through school or extracurricular programs such as Code Club, it can be a little more difficult for the grown ups to get access to tech education – while the number of institutions teaching these skills continues to grow, there are various barriers to entry keeping people away.
Looking to address some of them is Meeum, founded by Elyse Maberley and Sam Hemphill with the goal of broadening access to coding education.
“For too long, [coding has] been promoted as an elite domain, with a ‘geekery-superiority’, if you like. And this has led to many people being convinced that it’s either too dry or boring or too hard for them to learn,” Maberley said.
“We want to change that. We let our students experience how fun coding can be, how it can be rewarding.”
The drive to create Meeum came after Maberley’s son Clarrie was born. At the same time, she sold her previous business, with these two events shifting her focus, Maberley said, “as an entrepreneur and a human being”.
“I was determined to find a new way to prosper and create something meaningful for others and to develop a business with Sam, using both our skill sets,” she said.
Maberley explained that she had started to realise how much opportunity her “unconscious tech knowledge” had afforded her during her career: she played a key role in the development of a share trading platform, was the general manager of a digital consultancy, and founded her own consultancy focused on driving culture change through the use of digital solutions.
“I’ve had these opportunities because I work hard and relish interesting work, but also because I was fortunate that I had early exposure to computing and technology,” she said.
Meanwhile Hemphill, a front-end developer and tech teacher, constantly faced challenges working with clients and providers who didn’t quite understand tech terminology and how to go about communicating their needs.
So they came together to create Meeum.
“We wanted to focus on people, and to empower people with what we see as the most crucial communication tool for our time. We wanted to do this through personal contact and quality learning experiences, not pre-packaged one size fits all mass learning packets,” Maberley said.
In developing the business, the cofounders were fueled by “blind optimism and an unwavering belief that what we are doing matters”.
Maberley said, “With Meeum, I have stepped far outside my comfort zone. I have established and grown a consumer-facing business, when what I previously knew was [business-to-business] and corporate environments. And wowee, do you work hard for every single purchase in a consumer market.”
Each Meeum workshop is project-based, with the goal to have each student leave with a new website that they have coded themselves.
“To begin with, we create the intended output, ensuring it is industry standard and with a few ‘gotchas’ – bugs to fix – to aid the learning process. We get input from peers and other non-tech users, constantly refining the product,” Maberley said.
“Once the final output is complete, we’ll pull it apart and write the notes and develop the supporting materials to teach it. We’ll pilot it with a small group and refine once more.”
Working with the motto that learning to code isn’t always about becoming a coder, Meeum’s target market is quite broad; as Maberley explained it, the business looks to appeal to those who know that coding skills can assist in scaling and opening new professional opportunities.
“We strive to create an awesome learning environment. People build networks through us: we might have a class with school teachers, business owners, recruiters, and digital marketers, and they all learn things they never imagined they would by sharing that learning experience together,” Maberley said.
Around 80 percent of Meeum’s students so far have been women.
Given the number of coding classes and workshops in the market, the competition for Meeum is significant. How Meeum stands out, Maberley said, comes back to the fact it is “respecting and acknowledging” that learning to code isn’t always about becoming a developer.
“We’ve sought to define ourselves in positive and meaningful ways,” she said.
“We aren’t pushing that everyone should strive for a career in tech, because that’s just not true. What we will say is that you have the chance to really empower yourself, in infinite ways when you learn to code.”
Image: Elyse Maberley and Sam Hemphill. Source: Supplied.