Amelia Humfress - From couture to coding
Amelia Humfress is Founder and CEO of Steer, a company that teaches practical web development courses in central London.
We invited Amelia to the Royal Academy of Engineering to talk about Steer - a company that teaches frontend, backend and iOS development to complete beginners. One of the first things you notice about Amelia is her charm, she is incredibly nice. It is also striking how determined she is to change the way people learn to code. Her realism and practicality have been integral to Steer's success. She has taken a roundabout route into the tech industry, studying Geography at University and then working in the fashion industry, “I really wanted to be an actress but thought that I should probably get a serious degree, so chose Geography,” Amelia laughs. “I was actually a really big geek, I was fascinated by all the physical stuff - especially glaciers and tectonics.” She eventually went on to focus on the social science side of geography, and wrote her final dissertation on euthanasia and assisted suicide. This sounds like an odd topic for a geography essay. “Yes - people said I was pushing the boundaries, but I did manage to find some supporters.”That sounds a lot like starting a company.
She also had some very strong support when it came to launching Steer. “It’s rare to find people that believe in you who aren’t your parents – I was lucky”. After her degree Amelia chose to take a break from essay writing. “I was always interested in fashion and photography so I decided to go into shoemaking. I had absolutely no sewing experience though and the shoes I made were terrible!” Recognising that shoemaking was not for her, but wanting to stay in fashion, she joined Jimmy Choo as a marketing intern before being taken on full time. It was here that she discovered digital design. She took a course in Adobe Photoshop and shortly afterwards started looking into web development.
There were some evening courses and online tutorials, but really she was looking for an intensive course where she could learn the fundamentals quickly and start building her own products right away. She was working on a few projects whilst thinking about the idea of a coding school although she didn’t want to start a company just yet. “I wanted to work in the industry for a few years before I started my own company,” she says. “It was actually one of my investors who made me believe that I could do it earlier”.
“I remember one phone call where I was listing all the reasons why I shouldn't start a company, and he said that the only problem right now was me.” She was surprised at his confidence, but realises that this was a turning point.“I really needed someone to tell me to stop finding excuses and just do it.” She smiles at the memory. “I think that especially for women, it’s often a lack of confidence that can hold you back when you just need to stop doubting yourself. It’s really important to have good role models and I think that’s something that engineering needs to work on.”She feels that there is very little exposure to the great work that engineers do, although that is starting to change: “If you grow up in a family of engineers or entrepreneurs you are more likely to follow those paths, but if not, it can be hard to discover them.” She does, however, suggest that the power of companies like Apple and Google to inspire young people cannot be understated: “I would like to see some research into the ‘Apple effect’ to find out how many young people have been inspired to get into technology or start companies because of the prominence of Steve Jobs.”Amelia Humfress is leading Steer from strength to strength and they have just had a sell-out summer. She has created a welcoming and highly focused environment in the classroom, and her story is very impressive. She seems surprised at the suggestion that she is inspirational but then reflects, “I love seeing young women who have built something against the odds. Every time I read about a woman achieving her own personal definition of success, I’m inspired".
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