Co-founder & Technical Director of TechSpring Academy
Purnima Wijendra is driving the increase of skilled women in technology in Malaysia and around the region as the co-founder and technical director of TechSprint Academy, an all-women coding school offering education and training to ladies already in the industry or completely new to it. “I believe the school creates a safe space for women to come out of their shell,” she says, noting an intimidating lack of gender parity in the tech industry. “I aspire to close this gender gap and empower women towards financial independence, which will simultaneously contribute to the growth of the economy of the country,” she adds.
The former civil engineer and data scientist also founded the Kuala Lumpur School of Artificial Intelligence. The non-profit school is geared towards educating those interested in artificial intelligence through monthly coding classes, with close to 3,000 members to date. Roughly 5-10% of participants comprise women eager to join the growing industry.
Committed to empowering women, Purnima is also the founder and president of Pertubuhan Harapan Wanita, better known as HAWA. The non-profit organisation introduces the digital economy to women in rural areas, single mothers, housewives and even students wanting to kick start their journey in entrepreneurship and gain fiscal independence.
“Ever since I was a child, I was always attracted to computers, gadgets and technology,” Purnima says. Her love of coding is rooted in an experience shared by many millennials that began in secondary school at the advent of online journaling. “Blogging was such an in-thing, and bloggers were always looking for some fancy designs for their blogs. My sister and I used to build designs using HTML codes from scratch. Through this, we managed to generate income to use as pocket money,” Purnima describes, confessing the pair had not expected to stumble on a profitable hobby.
As I grew older, I realised how tech could revolutionise and positively disrupt everyday lives, and that’s what made me venture into this field. Since then, I have never looked back.Purnima Wijendra
In 2020, TechSprint introduced the Full Stack Development Bootcamp in collaboration with CodeOp Spain. The intense 15-week course prepares women for a mainstream career in the tech industry as junior developers. Believing that education should be accessible to all, Purnima offered Covid-19 Relief Scholarships in the form of subsidies up to RM4,000 on a range of boot camps. “What I aspire to accomplish is to give women that have been out of the career loop an opportunity to build their skills and confidence to return to the workforce,” she explains. TechSprint also developed the Rebound Career Comeback Programme, giving those facing pandemic-related job losses a chance to reinvent through the pursuit of a new digital livelihood.
Looking at her efforts, Purnima acknowledges that there is much more work to be done in Malaysia. “A few months ago, I was able to meet a group of women in a village in Sabah. They shared with me how they wished for the opportunities we have in Kuala Lumpur so they too can be financially independent. They aren’t looking to be rich – an income of RM600-RM1,000 would be sufficient for them,” the Prestige 40 Under 40 alumna explains. Devastated by their plight, Purnima organised a day course, training the women on using technology to earn an income.
Education in technology not only positively impacts the suburban workforce but transforms the lives of rural women too. As such, Purnima hopes to foster greater participation from women in rural areas and other states. “The biggest challenge besides the pandemic is encouraging and educating women to try coding. Many women are still intimidated by this field because they still believe it is a male-dominated domain which is tough. But slowly, we are managing to encourage more women to participate,” Purnima confesses, patient in challenging internalised misogyny.
Having a career in a man’s world can be challengingPurnima Wijendra
As a self-professed “tech geek” with the occasional bout of impostor syndrome, she found it hard to fit in but was fortunate to build a strong support network over the years. Purnima mentions her best friend Reena, a fellow tech geek and engineer, as a critical source of support, encouragement and inspiration in her life. “When I felt low in my career, Reena was always there to give me a push,” she says. Reena taught Purnima to ignore negative chatter and to walk away from those who make her doubt her self- worth while undervaluing her efforts.
“I would like to emphasise that it is important for every woman to have a solid support network of like-minded individuals. Those with nothing but good intentions and love for watching each other grow. You don’t need many, but even just one person will make a lot of difference,” Purnima says, sharing one of the secrets to her success.