June Angelides MBE: Pushing New Frontiers In Tech
The incessant wails of the baby won’t stop. She has one hand wrapped around the fragile form in her hand as she coos gently, trying to entice it to suckle on her breasts. Her laptop is balanced precariously on her laps as she tries to type with her other free hand. Numbers, codes and what have you juggle for space in her thoughts. Just then, the crash of plates from the dining table and the guilty yelp of another child alerts her that her attention is further needed.
This is the average reality of a working mother. And being a mother is hard work. In fact, it is a superpower. The chances of you trying to look like you have it all together are really slim, so slim that as far as waking up in the morning without a worry of how short your nights have become goes, you are a magician.
Yet, Nigeria’s June Angelides MBE, a mother of three, is founder of Mums in Technology, the UK’s first child-friendly digital skills training company for mothers.
Since 2015, Mums in Tech has been teaching women how to code and be better at it. And Angelides has been getting recognised for her efforts. In 2018, she was named the 6th Most Influential BAME tech leader by the Financial Times and 15th Most Influential Woman in Tech by Computer Weekly in the same year. In October 2020, she was recognised on the Queen of England’s Birthday Honours List and was appointed an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) for her services to Women in Technology. This recognition, she didn’t see coming.
“I just wanted to help other mums like me to know that they have it in them and they don’t have to choose between having a family, and a career.”
A new mum with a 2-months-old child on maternity leave from her office, Silicon Valley Bank, she decided to satisfy her whet appetite for tech by building a mobile application (app). Although she had cut her teeth in the Venture Capital and Early-stage banking team, she quickly realised that despite having a working relationship with technology companies,
“I couldn’t really have a tech conversation because I didn’t really know about the in and out of building a tech business.”
She decided to test the waters by trying to build her app herself. Her excitement took another turn as she quickly found out that coding wasn’t done with the snap of a finger. It was only then that her journey into the real world of tech started. While she embarked on learning to code, another want arose- the experience of learning in a classroom with other mothers. But the more she searched, the more she found “mummy and baby classes”.
“I thought to myself, ‘Wow! There is nothing upscale, no means of improving ourselves and helping us get back into the workplace.’ So I said to myself, ‘I can’t sit around for a year, hoping and praying that someone does something. It’s up to me.’ ”
With the help of the bank, volunteers, Ministry of Justice, Microsoft, donations, and other organisation, this idea was brought to life. The most interesting being that corporate contents were ready to be offered to prospective students (mothers like her). She notes that she was more impressed by the tech community’s reception of nursing mothers and their willingness to help mothers via reading mentors. “I think that if you give people the opportunity to learn something new, you can start something special.”
While she started Mums in Tech, something even more interesting was going on. Her decision to take her daughter, Ivy, to every meeting and still be able to coordinate affairs excellently sent positive signals to the public. June tells The Guardian Life that this was deliberate. She wanted to prove that “although I am coming with my children, it doesn’t take away from what you bring to the table and the conversation. It was also an avenue for the children to see what their mother does.” “We need to let them see why we are spending time away from them and also opportunities to interact with people.”
Since then, some of the hundreds of graduates, the oldest being over 40 years, have gone on to become senior tech executives. The message across the UK is, it is never too late to learn to code. And Mums In Tech has grown in leaps since then.
“I have been told that I help people feel at ease with my authenticity, and it was not something that I was able to do in my earlier career where I had to fit into a certain mold. I realised that we spend a lot of time in our work environment and it is so important that we feel like we can bring our 100% to the table, and you don’t have to hide behind the pretence of trying to be macho. I still try to be myself in the room and If I couldn’t, I wouldn’t want to be in the room. I don’t want my kids to think that growing up means losing yourself, [and] your innocence because the world gets complicated.”
She believes that with the success rate of Mums in Tech, people who thought learning to code as a mother was almost impossible now see her as one who was able to make the difference.
“If I am able to change one person’s trajectory and make them see their potential, it makes me so proud. I feel privilege to be a part of that.”
“It doesn’t matter how much your contribution into getting someone into tech is, every contribution helps. I hope that people will realise that when they decide to pursue their dreams, there will always be people to help.”
The Nigerian Story
Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation and its tech ecosystem is one of the fastest rising in Africa. With commendable contribution to the GDP and the tech community perceived as one of the best on the continent, this is also perceived to be another evil by some in Nigeria. From the Nigerian police who assumes that carrying a laptop means you are engaged in Advanced Fee Fraud (popularly known as Yahoo), to those who opine that mothers who want to become coders, rather than paying attention to themselves should redirect it to their children, is a prospective mother in Tech’s harsh reality.
In light of this, she says that she hopes that responsibility is communicated properly. “Just being aware of the process will give you empathy. It is not necessary that everyone will become a coder, but that everyone understands how everything fits together.”
“For someone who has a superpower, your hope is that they will create something good. This is why guidelines are important, and this is where role models come in as well.”
While coding is introduced in primary school in the UK, she hopes that people in Nigeria are someday exposed to the same opportunities. “Just with the understanding, they can build the next tech advancement,” she says.
If Angelides is interested in bringing Mums in Tech to Nigeria, she enthusiastically hints that she is working with the Lagos state government to introduce Mums in Tech to Nigeria in 2021 because she is passionate about having the same impact at home. And home is Yaba, which is coincidentally the unofficial headquarters of the tech community in Nigeria.
The Unusual Techie
When you think of a techie, the picture that comes to mind is the overly serious geek with the oversized glasses but Angelides doesnt fit into that stereotype. Her passion for technology has not overridden her fun side. Pink, a colour that signifies playfulness captures her fun side and she says that the colour is a constant reminder that she should never forget to have fun while working. And this techie is also an entertainment enthusiast.
Her love for entertainment started early as she admits that she has always been a lover of beauty pageants and watched the Most Beautiful Girl In Nigeria pageantry religiously. As a child, she and her cousins would hand flowers to the contestants. Her love for pageantry was so much that she would organise mock competitions with her cousins.
This love is understandable considering her father Willie Jonah is an actor. Although she didn’t follow in his footsteps, she appeared as an extra in the 2020 Will Ferrell produced film “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga.” The love has been handed down to her kids whom she says are child actors.
Actualising her childhood dream of having her own show, she recently started her podcast “Believe It, Achieve It.” The show is a weekly dose of sparkle and empowerment to help guide women to living their best life mind, body and soul. The show serves as a tool kit to inspire others to achieve their dreams.
On Angelides’s wishlist to have a guest is Nigerian songstress Tiwa Savage.
“I admire Tiwa Savage and believe she is incredibly entrepreneurial. I like how brave she is in her music and the opportunities she creates for herself. She is a strong woman and a good role model. It would be nice to talk to her about how she thinks and her mindset about making things come to live.”
How does June let down her hair? She confesses that she is a TV addict and watches a lot of Netflix. Like many others around the world, her current watch is “The Crown,” a historical drama streaming television series about the reign of Queen Elizabeth II.
As a way of staying in touch with home, she likes to catch up with a good Nollywood film from time to time, and eat her beloved Egusi soup at any chance. When it comes to music, she lists Tiwa Savage, Burna Boy, Yemi Alade and Wizkid as some of her favorite Nigerian acts.
“My kids and I love dancing. We are constantly trying to learn all the latest moves from the music videos.”
Interestingly, June who is a fangirl of “Barbie” has a dream to partner with the brand. “I want to help change the narrative of what girls are capable of”.