In September 2017, the Booking.com technology recruitment team headed to South Africa on a talent finding mission. There, we hosted Meetups and organised interviewing days in search of the brightest tech minds SA has to offer. But we weren’t just there to hire. We partnered with Booking Cares and Code For Cape Town (Code4CT) to teach young women how to code.

If you don’t know Booking Cares, it’s the volunteer program of Booking.com, focused on destination improvement  by supporting sustainable tourism initiatives and helping local organisations. It’s about giving something back to local communities. Code4CT is dedicated to empowering young women to utilise technology for social innovation. They’re striving for greater gender diversity in the technology industry – just like we are. So this was a mission close to our hearts.

25 girls, aged 16-17, signed up for the workshop to learn from our best developers how to code in Javascript, HTML and CSS. And it was a chance for our programmers to share their knowledge with 25 incredibly enthusiastic teenagers, which of course they loved doing.

The workshop started with a presentation from Booking.com product owner Maria Scerbikova. Maria quickly got the girls engaged with her presentation about the world of tech. She then challenged them to come up with an innovation. After thinking about it for a bit, one girl, Katryn, shared that she would like to build an app to make the lives of autistic children easier. The app would give an automated warning to parents whenever surroundings got too overwhelming for the child. It was a lovely moment. These talented young minds were alive with ideas, they just needed the skills to realise them. And that’s what we were helping to give them.

After Maria, it was the turn of Mateus Correia and Ramon Bezerra, two of our own talented front-end developers, to share their knowledge. They started by teaching the girls how to code in JavaScript, HTML and CSS. The girls then took their newfound knowledge and put it into practise, by coding and sharing their results.

It was truly humbling to see just how talented these young women are and how eager to learn they are. Sadly, a lot of girls, just don’t know what opportunities are out there in the real world for them. They don’t realise that they too can actually build technology. At the beginning of the course, we asked the girls what they’d like to do in the future. Let’s just say tech was not an industry they believed they could be part of. They didn’t dream they could be programmers, web designers, analysts, or anything that wasn’t what they saw other women in their communities doing. But by helping them explore their potential. By showing them there is a world of opportunities out there, we changed their perception of what they could be.

So, after the workshop was finished, we asked the girls what they wanted to be. You can guess the answer. Through this programme the girls realised they are not limited to their circumstances. It was inspiring to be part of this process and help these very talented and ambitious young women to find their way. Sharing our knowledge was pretty easy and a lot of fun, and it had a huge impact on 25 people’s lives.

At Booking.com, we kick-start various initiatives to bridge the industry’s gender gap. For us, this workshop was further proof there is plenty of female tech talent out there. However, not all of this talent knows its full potential. That’s why it’s so important to facilitate it and encourage them to develop their skills from an early age. We need to change the market. Code4CT is an excellent platform for creating that change. It was a privilege to help them do it.

To read more about the Booking Cares projects we have going on around the world, click here.