We know the tech industry is still a largely male-dominated space, but exactly how big is the gap between men and women in technical roles?

Thanks to this Google spreadsheet created by Tracey Chou, a software engineer at Pinterest, there’s now tangible data on the percentage of female engineers at 84 different tech companies such as Snapchat, Hootsuite or Foursquare. Within the surveyed companies, female engineers only make up 15% of total development teams. Still, that number’s bound to rise as more women are expressing interest in updating their technical skill.

Hong Kong-based Karen Farzam and Michelle Sun are two female coders at the forefront of this change. As tech entrepreneurs and the co-founders of Women Who Code HK, these women are exemplary of how far a passion for continuous learning can take you.

Michelle got her start researching the tech sector for a San Francisco-based investment bank, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Alibaba’s management team. When she found herself following TechCrunch more than finance, she began building a mobile loyalty startup with a hardware component.

“Coming in from finance, I was clueless. I would go to Shenzhen every week to work with the manufacturers and they would use all this jargon,” said Michelle. “The takeaway from that startup is while I really like technology, I felt half-blind from not being technical. So in order to stay in the industry, I decided to invest in my technical skills.” Following her first venture, Michelle joined Hackbright Academy for a full-time software development course and she’s also since founded First Code Academy; a school that teaches pre-university students how to code.

Like Michelle, Karen also started out in finance as a trader on exotic products in Tokyo, but struggled to achieve the elusive work-life balance after starting a family. Realizing she could find more freedom in startup life, she leapt into the entrepreneurial realm but encountered the steep learning curve than many bankers-turned-founders experience.  And so she enrolled in an intensive, full-time web development course to update her skills.

“I did a three-month course with General Assembly to learn Rails and JavaScript. Even though I knew C and C++, I didn’t know any of the new frameworks,” she said. “When I realized I was really into entrepreneurship, I figured that I could update my skills, build my own website and launch my own ideas as opposed to hiring somebody to do it for me.” Upon finishing the course, Karen used her newly-minted web development skills to build WHub.HK, a platform that connects Hong Kong startups with talent.

The two likeminded women initially met at a Codeaholics Hong Kong event where the male-to-female ratio leaned heavily in favor of the men. And so they created Women Who Code HK: a monthly meet-up of workshops, hack nights and idea sharing. A community by and for women in tech.

Since their launch in January 2014, the group’s Facebook community has grown from 4 to over 75 and Karen has also been invited to enter the prestigious ‘Talent Unleashed Awards’ for her work with Women Who Code HK and WHub.HK. The competition, judged by the likes of Richard Branson and Steve Wozniak, looks to honor individuals within the Asia-Pacific who are making an impact within businesses or local communities with technology.

Join the Women Who Code HK Facebook Community here or visit their website for more details.

Iris Leung is a Hong Kong-based writer covering local tech entrepreneurship and ecosystem news. Before moving to Asia to pursue a Masters in Journalism degree, Iris wrote about tech startups and innovation...

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