Michelle Sun, Co-Founder, First Code Academy

By Channy Lee

Michelle Sun is a talented young woman. At 28 years old, she is an experienced investment analyst, growth hacker, software engineer, and her resume continues to grow relentlessly as she pursues a career in digital literacy education. Following the conviction that coding is the new universal language in the digital age, Sun co-founded First Code Academy in 2013.

First Code Academy is a programming school based in Hong Kong and Singapore that aims to empower the next generation to become creators using technology. The courses offered regularly are designed for kids and teens of age 6 to 18, where students are met with the chance to create their own software in a whole new medium. The courses equip the students with the ability to analyze and solve problems structurally as well as transform ideas into a product with creativity.

The educational start-up converges perfectly with Sun’s two prime interests – technology and education. Although it is an innate quality of hers to enjoy problem solving, being the first initiative of its kind in Asia meant an ordeal just looking for people interested in partaking in the initiative.

However, she finds no productivity in thinking about what to complain about. Accordingly, Sun also has no particular complaints about limitations she might have faced because she is a female entrepreneur.

“It’s hard to say there were problems I encountered in the process because I’m a woman, because I can’t really tell them apart from all the other problems any entrepreneur would face,” Sun explains. She adds that her inclination to always focus on opportunities in things rather than limitations has helped her significantly in always striving for the best results.

Sun initially saw the need for an educational institution like First Code Academy as she observed how digital natives interact with technology. When she was volunteering to teach programming to primary and secondary school students during her time working at Silicon Valley as a software engineer, she realized that children with early exposure to technology learn the relevant skills without much inhibition to the realm of technology. They approach technology just as they would approach learning how to dance or a new language.

The experience of teaching digital natives also made her reflect on her own experience of growing up in an all-girls school in Hong Kong. It came to serve as the primary reason that she settled back in her home country with the initiative.

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“Asian education – the ones I’ve gone through – is very limiting in terms of creativity. I think technology is a newly emerging tool that can solve a problem and help students be more open in creating things and expressing themselves by building their own software,” she explains.

Sun was first exposed to coding at a women-only programming bootcamp at Hackbright Academy. Mirroring the experience, she taught coding in Hong Kong for the first time at a female-only workshop. “There’s not enough women in the technology field,” the lead coding instructor at First Code Academy says. “I’m a huge beneficiary of encouraging more women to go into technology.”

Women Who Code Hong Kong is another initiative she co-founded that exemplifies such passion. The non-profit organization offers workshops for women and provides a platform where they can pursue a career in technology. The mission statement put forward by the organization is that innovation is driven by diversity and that the quality of output from the industry will be heightened with less underrepresentation of women in the field.

The significance of pushing for diversity driven innovation – having a higher number of females in the tech industry – is that it would benefit both men and women in the workplace as well as consumers on a global basis, Sun says. To illustrate the relationship, she explains that when numbers show that women are just as active, if not more, on social media platforms than men, a more gender-balanced workforce in building these platforms would result in an improved overall user experience.

“Empowering women has always been very close to my heart. What I hope to become is an example – not really an example – but more female entrepreneurs and people will follow suit. They should start with what they can do. Mine was technology and teaching. Others will have their talent in something else and they need to use that to empower themselves and the future generation,” she says.