The Beauty of Coding
By Lowri Williams
Amelia Humfress is someone who catches your attention instantly. A savvy young businesswoman, she swapped designer shoes for computers at the age of 23 after spending time working for a luxury footwear brand; a decision that has worked out very, very well. In 2013 Amelia took a leap of faith and left the luxury fashion house that is Jimmy Choo, to launch Steer, her very own coding business. It teaches customers the fundamentals of coding in five days or less, and guides beginners through projects that mirror what they would like to build in the outside world, providing them with a skill for life.
If you don’t know much about coding, it’s what makes it possible for us to create, view and use apps, websites and computer software. Essentially, coding is the building blocks of computer programming. Everything you view on your computer, online or on your mobile – from your OS to your social media – utilises code, and Amelia’s business teaches you exactly how to build it and use it. Put simply, coding is the sole of the shoe. It’s essential to our lives.
Amelia explained why she tapped into what is quickly becoming one of the world’s most competitive industries.
“When I learnt how to code, there weren’t any high-quality courses on the market,” she says. “There were a few different options, but nothing comprehensive or intensive enough. There was a gap in the market, and I’d had so much fun learning, I wanted to help more people discover coding.”
Knowing how to code is like knowing how to drive; it can get you places, and this is exactly what Amelia wanted to show people. And if she’s any example to go by, coding is not just the geeky tool it’s commonly perceived to be; it’s accessible and useful to anyone, even those with completely different interests. People just like Amelia, who, at the age of 10, had a subscription to Vogue and expressed a passion for fashion and intricate designs – worlds away from science and technology.
“I used to love looking at the advertisements and fashion editorials in Vogue,” she says. “I’ve always been involved in the arts. I’ve been drawing since I could hold a pen, and I had the opportunity to study theatre, photography and fine art all the way through school. I feel like I developed an eye for detail that, without knowing it at the time, has helped me develop Steer.”
When faced with the prospect of going to university, Amelia moved away from her love of fashion. She studied human geography, and while she admits that a lot of what she learnt isn’t used in her day-to-day life now, learning about demographics and cultural trends led her to start imagining a future that combined her newly learnt skills, her deepest passions and her inherent creativity.
“After university, I decided I wanted to make something with my hands, and I knew where my interests lay, so I went on a short course and learnt how to make shoes from scratch,” she says.
“They were absolutely awful, but having that experience on my CV is what got my foot in the door with Jimmy Choo to start my career.”
Working at a company that was this year valued at $877million gave Amelia the industry knowledge and experiences she needed to launch her own company, but like most would be, she was apprehensive about the move.
“Shoes are big business,” she says. “The most important lesson I learnt at Jimmy Choo was that you have to create a product that people want. That’s how Jimmy Choo has become one of the most recognisable luxury brands in the world in less than 20 years.
“When I decided to launch Steer, it did occur to me that I’d never started a business before, and had no formal training,” she explained. “When you start a business, there’s no-one to tell you what to do and you’re often working alone. You’re creating something from scratch and you have no idea if it’s going to work, but you have to keep believing that it will!”
Driven by Amelia’s belief in making technology education accessible to everyone, Steer has flourished and now boasts graduates working for some of the biggest technology companies in the world, including Apple and IDEO.
Following a range of high-profile tech acquisitions and the introduction of coding into the national curriculum in the UK, Amelia is more determined than ever to make the skill popular amongst young people, and particularly girls.
She explained: “People talk about the importance of being able to code, but despite the competitive job market, we’re seeing a real gap developing between the number of roles requiring technically skilled people and the number of candidates able to fill them.
“As our lives become increasingly shaped by digital devices, successful tech entrepreneurs have become celebrities. This has really changed the perception of coding, but to encourage more young women to try coding, we need to see more female coders and technology entrepreneurs in the spotlight.”
And far from being a skill open to just the computer literate, coding, Amelia says, is much simpler than it sounds.
“One of the biggest myths about coding is that you have to be great at maths or science,” she says. “It can definitely help, but it’s not a prerequisite. I’m dyslexic and I’ve never been good at maths, and look at me; I can do it!”
Coding may not be as glamorous as the world of high-end fashion, but the possibilities it can deliver are certainly as attractive. Amelia is a model of this, abolishing the geeky stereotype that seems to go hand-in-hand with coding and, whilst doing so, creating an extremely successful business. Coding is mounting up to be one of the most desirable skills worldwide and, since the success of Steer it’s safe to say Amelia’s Jimmy Choo collection must be looking pretty desirable too.