Arlene Mulder, WeThinkCode: “Coding as a tool to design the future”

After working as an investment banker, Arlene Mulder decided she wanted to close the gap between coding and business and launched a coding school: WeThinkCode. With coding as the central theme as well as the main tool, Mulder managed to open two campuses in South Africa. Since 2016, WeThinkCode has accepted 900 students into its program. Arlene Mulder explains to Club Africa that WeThinkCode is ready to expand into other African countries.

In high school Mulder enjoyed solving mathematical problems and challenges. Her love for math and coding helped her graduate cum laude with an MSc degree in Quantitative Risk Management at North-West University. With her love for and skills in business and coding, Mulder could see a need for people with new skills, who understand technology, and how to use it in a business context and to solve problems.

She left the banking world and opened the WeThinkCode school, based on the principles of

no-teachers-no-classes and peer-to peer learning. The school requires no prior qualification and is tuition-free – as corporates pick up the bill: over 38 corporate partners sponsor tuition fees and provide students internships. In 2016, the school opened its doors to the first batch of students. Of the first class of students at WeThinkCode, 100% graduated and were placed in jobs.

Clearly, you love coding. You also made a career in banking. Two different worlds?

“Often the two functions of business and technology operate very independent from each other. If you are able to bring the two together, that is extremely powerful. Businesses need talent who can use coding as a tool to solve complex business problems.”

“I started coding in high school, and completed a master’s degree in Business, Mathematics & Informatics, which equipped me with the technical skills to build solutions. I worked at one of the top Investment Banking firms in Africa in M&A as a dealmaker, where I learnt about business. I was extremely fortunate to be exposed to both the technology and business side, which empowered me to build the tech solutions required in business.”

What makes coding crucial for students in Africa?

“Coding enables you with the superpower to create anything you can imagine. The world of work is also changing with the freelance and outsourcing model growing, therefore students in Africa are now able to employ their coding skills and work with people and companies across the world.”

What are your ideas behind making WeThinkCode private, non-profit and tuition-free?

“We believe that talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not. By making WeThinkCode tuition-free, we are removing some of the largest barriers to entry that enables anyone who believe they are ‘born to code’ to apply.”

How did you manage to make corporates fund WeThinkCode?

“Corporates are in desperate need of high-quality tech skills. They are not just looking for software engineers, but talent who are able to use technology and coding to solve complex business problems.”

“We have worked hard to create a sustainable business model with a strong base of corporate customers. I believe real impact is created through solutions and business models that are robust and sustainable.”

What is the status of WeThinkCode today? What are the next steps you envision?

“We are dedicated to continue to focus on sourcing high-quality talent and enabling them with tools to design their future. We are currently investigating opening campuses in other countries across the African continent.”

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