Wimblecomm Spotlight – Avye Couloute

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Avye Couloute, Genevieve Etienne-Farrell, Interview

Introducing Avye Couloute, a 12 year old girl from Merton, who started coding at just 7 years of age and has gone on to launch her own Girls Into Coding events which introduces young girls to the world of coding. Having run her very first workshop at Wimbletech, she is very much a local girl who sees no limits in what she can achieve, and has already started to gain both national and international recognition for her works. Genevieve met with Avye and her Mother Helene on a recent afternoon to find out more.

You started coding at 7, how did you initially get into it?
I went to a coding club, and at the club we learnt basic languages such as Scratch. From there, I started attending CoderDojo workshops where I got introduced to the Microbit and electronic components that could be controlled with it. I felt that they were more hands-on and exciting. After attending quite a few CoderDojo workshops, I gradually started to run them alongside someone else and after a while was able to run them on my own.

After running your own workshops, you started running your own Girls Into Coding events in Summer 2018 and crowdfunded to kick-start the first event. How did this all begin?
Yes, for the first event I crowdfunded because I wanted to give each of the attendees a physical computing starter kit, a tech-themed book, and a Micro: bit. The Micro: bit is a mini-computer and is a bit smaller than a bank card. I think it’s important to give the girls something to take back so that they can work on it at home. Sometimes you do something and even if you feel quite passionate about it at the time, once you’re back at home it’s easy to lose interest if you don’t have the materials at home to continue. In my case I was allowed to keep a servo motor that I’d been using during a workshop that I attended – I ended up using that servo at home and it inspired me to build my first simple robot. By gifting them with some kit we can keep inspiring them.

It’s fantastic that you’ve been interested in coding from such a young age. You talked about taking the lead and how important that is in influencing others and getting them involved. How has taking the lead worked for you so far?
Good – at my events, some of the girls have been coming from the start so I feel they’ve actually got
something positive from the experience as they continue to come back. Taking the lead or starting to do something new can seem risky or scary, but if you just stay positive and go for it anyway – you might just pull something great off.

Amazing. So what do you have in store at your next event?
Normally we have 15 girls, now we’re planning to upscale so we’re going for 20. We will be adding another workshop which is important because we want to try and include as many girls as possible
whilst making it manageable. We usually have speakers at the start and in the middle of the event
during the break. The speakers are inspiring role models, females doing cool things in tech, which I
feel inspires the girls a lot because they get to hear about other people’s experiences.

You’ve mentioned inspiring role models, so who inspires you?
Lots of people inspire me but generally, it’s female role models of any age who are doing things to inspire others. Mainly women in Technology because that’s an area that I’m interested in promoting.

Have you always been interested in STEM topics like Maths in school?
I’ve always felt comfortable with Maths at school but in terms of technology we didn’t cover that much in primary school. If I’m honest, it was more at home and at events. I started secondary school recently and I enjoy computing there and I attend a really cool after school STEM club.

What’s your favourite subject at school?
I do a lot of coding and I often use code with robots that I make. So I would say that I enjoy Design and Technology the most because I can use all the making skills to help my robot building.

Apart from coding, workshops and tech stuff, what else do you enjoy?
I’m a member of a swimming squad, I play football at school and at my old school I used to play Rugby, so I really enjoy sports!

It sounds like you have such a busy schedule and I’m still trying to work out how you fit all of that in at 12 because I still struggle in my 20’s. What’s it like juggling all of this and still doing everything else a 12-year-old would do?
At times it can be a little bit stressful because I know that I have to prepare a lot of things, but once it’s done, it feels good. When you’ve prepared, you focus more on the outcome, and if you decide to put lots of effort in, the outcome is going to be better, which makes it a better experience for all.

That’s a great way of thinking about it. Now I’m aware that you make robots, how do you do it?
I really enjoy making robots; it’s much more fun to visually see something physical rather than just focusing on the screen. It doesn’t always have to be robots; there are endless projects that involve programmable components. It’s just more fun for me and more hands-on. So far I’ve won a couple of competitions with robots that I’ve made.

Avye Couloute & Earl Spence, The Diana Legacy Award 2019When I looked at your website, I saw loads of awards, competitions, and things that you’ve been involved in. Tell me more about those…
I recently received The Diana Legacy Award which was awarded to 20 young people from across the globe. I received my award for my works in creating opportunities for girls to engage with STEM activities and education. I got to meet Prince William, Baroness Lawrence and I received my award from Princess Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer.

What are your other inspirations? I know that you enjoy reading and do book reviews on your website so what are you reading at the moment?
At the moment, I am reading Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials and finding it really interesting. I
know it’s a bad thing to have done but I watched the episodes before I read the book! I’m really
enjoying reading it though because there’s so much more happening than in the TV version.

Seeing as you enjoy reading so much, do you write too?
Yes, I have my blog so I always write articles on there after I’ve run a workshop or attended a tech
event.

What’s the most difficult aspect of running your workshops?
Probably the preparation because although you have an idea of what you’re going to do, you need
to prepare so that you don’t forget anything, and can go on to deliver a meaningful experience to the attendees.

Preparation sounds very important to everything and you sound very organised. What has been your favourite moment of this journey so far?
Preparation is definitely important! Making my voice command robot was a highlight for me. It used AI (Artificial Intelligence.) You could speak into the microphone and ask it to perform different actions. It was able to respond to certain commands: wave arms, move arms, roll eyes, and open mouth. When you
said one of those commands the robot would carry out that action. It was one of the most advanced
and coolest things I’ve done.

Did you enter that robot into a competition, and did it win?
Yes!

Which competition?
Coolest Projects UK in 2018, where I won first place in the Hardware category. I was also invited to
demonstrate it at Maker Faire Rome. It was a big international event and people had the opportunity to interact with the robot and ask me questions about it.

Going back to your event, how can girls get involved?
Any girls from the ages of 10-14 can attend, it is free but places go quickly once they become available on Eventbrite.

Your next event is in March. Do you plan to run these events more regularly moving forwards?
Yes, we are trying to do them more regularly but I’ll have to find a balance between other projects I
am involved with, and the other monthly voluntary workshops that I prepare and deliver for CoderDojo at Kingston University. The workshops that I deliver for CoderDojo are attended by both boys and girls.

In terms of these events, you’ve previously said that there are a lot of boys there, but also that you don’t find this intimidating. Do you think that there are more girls getting into coding nowadays?
Yes definitely. I’ve seen a lot more girls attending these events now and it’s great to see. There
seems to be a good mix coming along which is great. Some new faces that I’ve not seen before and
some are returnees – continuing to attend more workshops, not just my Girls Into Coding ones.

What else are you interested in aside from Technology, coding, and your events?
I really like drawing and art and find painting quite relaxing.

Your events are sponsored by Microsoft and happen at Microsoft Reactor, what else are you doing with them?
Mainly the events but I made a short film with them to try and encourage more girl involvement in
technology. They definitely support my Girls Into Coding events a great deal and help make it possible to provide the girls with tech-themed books and physical computing kits.

What other companies and organisations do you work quite closely with?
I’ve already mentioned CoderDojo where I run regular coding and physical computing workshops.
I’m also a GenArm2Z ambassador for ARM. I’ve done some really cool stuff with them and we’ve got
things in the pipeline.

Do you run those workshops yourself?
Yes, apart from the regular CoderDojo and the Girls Into Coding ones. One of the more recent ones
was at Mozilla Festival at Ravensbourne University London where I ran a soldering workshop for the
first time with a PCB that I helped to design; The PCB was a proximity alarm sensor and the
participant got to keep it! There were volunteers involved who supported me and we delivered great sessions.

Avye Couloute, Girls in Tech, Girls into CodingWhat is a PCB?
It stands for “printed circuit board.” It’s a little board that is like a circuit without the components in.
Attendees put the LEDs, chip, resistors and other components in. Then they solder it all together. The board is basically a way of linking all the components together.

Your website is called 10 To No Limit, and there are no limits so what would you like to achieve in the next year?
Big question – I would like to run more workshops with people and try to make coding bigger by
spreading awareness and getting more girls into coding and tech. That’s not being too big…

What would you say is the most important thing for girls looking into coding and the industry?
Don’t be afraid of trying it and don’t feel intimidated just because it might be seen as something that
mainly boys and men do. Sometimes you have to be that person who takes the lead. Just be the
person who goes for it and don’t think about what other people will think or how they might
react.

At this point, I asked Avye’s Mum how the journey is going for her as she plays an important role in supporting Avye. She confirmed that she is learning a lot and as she has gone through this journey with Avye, she has become passionate about the industry too. After she described the Tech industry as very welcoming, friendly, and a lovely place to be, I asked what they recommend to people who are interested in finding out more. Avye suggested joining a club at school (which might be the easiest option,) going to a workshop, and attending a tech event to see what other people are doing. At the workshops, you usually have a choice of what you can do.

There are loads of different coding languages, how many do you know?
I’m always trying out different languages and learning new things along the way. The one I use the
most is Python, but I look into HTML and Javascript. HTML for websites is cool to play around with.

Does a lot of the work that you do happen at home? What keeps you motivated?
I do a lot at home. I think if you’re interested in something, like the Microbit or Raspberry Pi, you
should consider buying or borrowing one or two. I have a few Microbits because I’m very involved
with it. With two, you have more possibilities of making better and cooler things. There are lots of
websites etc that have guided instructions to help you make things.

You’re still quite young but what do you hope to do with your tech expertise in the future?
I want to have my own company or business to do with Tech, or to be working in the Tech industry.

Is there anything else outside of that that you’re interested in?
I think Photography is really cool…I think being a Photographer would be quite cool.

You mentioned that you went over to Rome for one of your Tech events. Do you travel a lot?
I’ve actually been to Barcelona as well. That was for the Mobile World Congress 2019 and I was
there with a company called ARM who is responsible for a lot of the technology (the chips in
particular) that goes into mobile phones and other devices. I am an Ambassador for them, and I got to speak on stage. I spoke alongside 3 other ambassadors about how technology is impacting our
lives and what we want to see happen in the future.

And how do you think technology is impacting our lives?
I think we will be using it more and more, especially where the jobs of the future are concerned.
Robots are already being used for many roles and I think that that could be a good thing from the
perspective that you get more time to do things that you want to do, but perhaps haven’t had the
chance to.

What do you think we should be doing with Tech in the future?
Maybe more in education. In my primary school, teachers didn’t know how best to introduce it, so
we didn’t use it much. Perhaps help teachers to make it a bigger part of lessons so kids have the
knowledge and will be able to make use of it in the future.

You’ve talked about speaking at some very big events, do you ever find that intimidating?
Yes, especially when it’s a big crowd of people who are staring at you. It can be overwhelming, but I
think it’s rewarding as well.

How do you overcome that?
Practice everything! Everyone knows what they’re doing but sometimes you just forget so it’s a good
idea to go over everything and ask yourself how what you’re doing is affecting people.

What is one big thing that you’ve learnt over the years through doing all of this?
I’ve learnt that it’s really important to be resilient. You may enter competitions and not win, or
generally something may not work, but you can’t just give up. You have to push yourself even more and
eventually, you will win and it will work – so stay determined.

You can join Avye at her next Girls Into Coding event at Microsoft Reactor on Sunday 1st March
2020. Tickets are available here on Eventbrite. Keep in touch and stay up-to-date via her mother Helene’s Twitter account and stay tuned to her Instagram which she is slowly but surely using a bit more.

We hope you enjoyed this interview with Avye Couloute, Founder of Girls Into Coding, and look forward to speaking with more people from Merton who have great stories to share. Contact us if you have any good news stories regarding Merton that you would like to see featured on Wimblecomm. For more information on Avye and her journey thus far, visit her 10 To No Limit website and remember that there are no limits to what you can achieve.

Interview by Genevieve Etienne-Farrell

#WimblecommSpotlight

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