Diversity in tech is something that I have been passionate about ever since I started learning how to code. It’s an issue that affects everyone, since the people designing and creating products need to do so for all different types of audiences. Everyone has their own biases that they’re not aware of, so the more voices and opinions you have in the industry, the better, right?
I found out that even though every tech company claims that they support diversity, they don’t always put it into practice—or, that the diversity they’re willing to embrace doesn’t necessarily include those with nontraditional training backgrounds. For example, most companies hiring for internships will only accept candidates who are currently enrolled in a four-year university studying computer science. At first glance that totally makes sense, but what about candidates who are self-taught? Or developers who attended a coding school outside of a four year university? This is just one of the many ways that companies can inadvertently put up barriers to candidates that are underrepresented in tech.
On May 22, I had the pleasure of hosting an event with NationBuilder in partnership with Women Who Code, Girl Develop It, and Learn Teach Code. The event focused on learning about Algorithms and Data Structures in order to prepare for an interview at a tech company. The audience included both new and seasoned developers with nontraditional backgrounds who were either self-taught or graduates from coding bootcamps. NationBuilder developers were there to assist with questions or go over problems.
We were learning about trees and recursion
This event meant a lot to me because of my history with learning how to code. My first experience with coding was playing around with the HTML of my MySpace page back in the early 2000s, though I never really gave much thought to web development or programming until I married a Software Engineer and moved to San Francisco. Programming always felt like some kind of magic that only the greatest minds alive could master and I never felt that it was something I could do. I saw my husband and his guy friends hacking away into the night to make something out of nothing, which always left me dumbfounded.
My last job was at a non-profit where I was hired in a support role for the fundraising team. I did everything from cleaning the office to fixing people’s computers. When I was assigned the job of editing their email blasts, I realized that I needed to know more HTML and CSS in order to have real control over how my emails looked. The web developer at the organization suggested I take a class with Girl Develop It in order to learn more.
I had never heard of anything like this before, and I didn’t even know that they had affordable programming classes targeting women. It opened a whole new world for me. It was fascinating to see a room full of women learning from other women, who were all badass software engineers. It totally broke the stereotype I had that programming was only for men.
A few years later, I graduated from Hackbright Academy, which is a coding bootcamp focusing on teaching programming and computer science fundamentals to women. This was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. It was full-time, all day, and all evening--even my weekends were gone for an entire three months. Every day, I questioned my decision and worried that maybe I wasn’t good enough or smart enough, and that I should just quit. I stuck it out thanks to the support of the incredible women I met who encouraged me and paired with me on my projects, presentations, and homework assignments. I also had the support of my amazing husband who stayed up with me into the late hours coaching me on how to communicate with the right technical terms and to step away from the computer to really think through a problem first.
My cohort at our graduation celebration
After my graduation, my husband got a job in Los Angeles and we moved from San Francisco. I was interested in getting more involved in the LA tech scene while I looked for a job, and I really wanted to find a community that understood the struggle of finding a technical job without a computer science degree. I met two amazing women who were in the same situation I was in and we decided to organize a monthly meetup. The idea was to come together and meet other people who could keep us accountable and show us new, different ways of thinking through programming problems.
After six months of job searching, I became a Data Services Engineer at NationBuilder, where I get to use my new skills to help other organizations do more, continue my learning, and keep solving complex problems. I know that I will continue to learn and grow in my new technical role. I look forward to organizing more Girl Develop It classes in order to give back and empower more people to code, because it really is for everyone.
If you’re interested in getting more involved as a student, instructor, TA, and/or mentor; message me or look for an event near you. Join me in changing the tech industry!