Charlene Hunter MBE, CEO and founder of Coding Black Females, shares her memories of Nottingham Girls’ High School.
I started Nottingham Girls’ High School (NGHS) at 12 years old, and I think the first thing that struck me was how different it was from my last school. I was really excited about starting, and I remember when I got the offer letter, posing in the mirror, practising saying, “I’m a High School girl” over and over.
And then term started. I entered a room with loads of people that I didn’t know, and I was just plain scared. But the first girl who spoke to me, I am still really good friends with today. She explained that she’d been in the junior school and she’d been asked to speak to me and make me feel comfortable. And what did I do? I made fun of her accent! And she’s never let me live it down.
‘My era was The Spice Girls. The whole girl empowerment thing was huge for me.’
My era was The Spice Girls. The whole girl empowerment thing was huge for me, and apparently my personality changed a lot when the Spice Girls came out. We all had our own groups at school and I remember one called the Grebs, who would wear really baggy jeans and corduroys, although I think this may have been more of a Nottingham thing than unique to NGHS.
It was interesting seeing the school again last year. The buildings were largely the same, but they are now used differently. So, what used to be the Sixth Form common room is now a Year 7 common room – something I found weird as I don’t know if I understand why [Year 7] need one. Obviously, we didn’t have the Squire Performing Arts Centre in my day – that used to be our dining room – but it’s lovely that pupils now have such a great theatre space.
Thinking about the education there, I enjoyed Maths and the way it was taught. I think I knew I was good at Maths before I started at NGHS, although I felt I became less good over time because everyone else was so intelligent.
‘NGHS provided an environment where we were asked for our opinions and invited to expand on them.’
NGHS provided an environment where we were asked for our opinions and invited to expand on them. And now I see the effect of this. All my NGHS friends are leaders: we are all able to walk into a room and own it. And when I made mistakes, I wasn’t punished – I was questioned. The one time I got detention was because I was reading a book in a science lesson – so my punishment was to go and read the book in the library! I think that’s the thing about NGHS: the time the teachers have and the respect they show for the students was about making sure that we learnt not just academically, but about ourselves as people, too.
After school I did Maths at university, and was heading down the accountancy route, because ‘that’s what you do’ with a Maths degree… but then I was lucky (I now realise) not to be doing well enough at the end of my second year to be able to apply for jobs. This gave me an extra summer to do some more research into careers and discover the world of software engineering.
Coding Black Females came about after I’d been a software developer for about eight years. I hadn’t met any other Black women in the industry, and so I started going to Black professional groups, learning Black history, and doing things where I would feel less isolated. Then I watched Hidden Figures, which totally inspired me. It was the first time I’d seen a film where I felt represented – Black women who were into Maths and computers and I realised that that was me: that’s who I am. So, I created the group because I wanted to find others who felt the way I did.
‘This ‘thing’ about community and drawing people together has always been in me.’
Interestingly, when I was in Year 11, a group of us set up a Multicultural Society because we wanted to change the racism that we saw happening, and for people to be more informed. So looking back, I realise that I’ve always been doing community-related things: this ‘thing’ about community and drawing people together has always been in me.
To wrap up, what I say to young people today is that you don’t need a mathematical or computer science background to get into the tech world. The industry needs all kinds of people, and the most valuable characteristics you can bring are to be curious and unafraid. Be brave enough to learn from your mistakes, and you can do anything you want.
GDST Life Alumnae Magazine 2023/24
Charlene Hunter MB’s School Memories was part of our 2023/24 edition of GDST Life alumnae magazine which also includes a whole host of features and articles including stories, tips and viewpoints from a range of alumnae contributors, GDST and school news, our latest alumnae book listings and and how you can keep in touch.