May 22, 2013
“We really want to highlight that only around 26 percent of software engineers in the US are women,” says managing director Will Little. “As much as we can bring attention to that to encourage more women, we think would be great.”
Students have a choice between three-week introductory or advanced sessions. Throughout, they’ll get to learn from and connect with local female speakers and mentors.
Code Fellows programs are unique because they guarantee a $60,000 tech job after graduation: the tuition of $4,000-$5,000 is refunded if you don’t have a job in six months. So this women-only program should almost immediately start increasing Seattle’s female programming population.
The three-week courses include teaching from 9 am to 12 pm and coworking from 1 to 4 pm. In classes of 20 people or fewer, students may work in groups, listen to lectures, and get interview training.
Cofounded by TechStars Seattle cofounder Andy Sack, Code Fellows and its women-only program join a host of other tech-education initiatives for women. Hackbright Academy is a 10-week programming bootcamp for women in San Francisco; Girl Develop It offers workshops for female programmers around the United States, Canada, and Australia; and Women Innovate Mobile is an accelerator in New York for startups who have a female founder. Also, Startup Weekend held a special women’s edition in Seattle last July.
This course for women was the brainchild of Jenny Chynoweth, recruiting evangelist at Whitepages. She worked previously on Amazon’s diversity initiative, trying to hire more women and minorities. But at Whitepages, she was having trouble recruiting female engineers. Their company, founded in 1999, has around seven women among 35-40 technical employees. So she reached out to her friends at Code Fellows to change that.
Below, Chynoweth and Little explain their hopes for the program.
Tech Cocktail: Why aren’t there more women who code?
Will Little: I think it’s just been a male-dominated field for a variety of factors. Back in 1987, when it was 42 percent [women], I think it basically became cooler for men to get into the industry. And so the pendulum swung too far in that direction.
In the classic issue with the STEM industry, we’ve just seen this trend of being more male-oriented. There may be influences there, social pressures there, that would be prohibitive or a hindrance to women to getting into science and mathematics and coding in general. And we’re seeing that start to shift, and we just want to encourage that shift to happen.
There’s this “brogramming” conversation. Somebody gave a talk about this concept of not treating women equitably, and there’s this culture that needs to change, and it’s just an unhealthy culture. There may be some of that pressure on women that we just need to rally together and change to go from brogramming to equality in programming.
Jenny Chynoweth: I just don’t think that many women are as interested in it as of yet. I believe that there will be a growth in that interest as more women enter the field and more women start to feel more comfortable in the field.
We went to RailsConf two weeks ago, and there was a much larger percentage of women at that conference than when I was there three years ago, so I was thrilled to see that.
Tech Cocktail: Why did you want to do a women-only course?
Chynoweth: There’s just a sense of camaraderie amongst women when they’re together. You have a sense of comfort being around other women. The pressure is not there that is there normally when you’re not only having to prove yourself as a technical person, but a female technical person.
I attended the Grace Hopper Celebration – it’s basically a conference every year where women in technology come together. . . . It’s just so amazing to see these women get together in a conference and there’s a weight that’s lifted while you’re there. There’s no competition, there’s no preconceived ideas about you as a person because you’re female, there’s just nothing. I sit down at a table – I’m not technical myself – and people don’t automatically assume I’m not technical, so it’s a different experience. They don’t automatically assume I’m the recruiter or I’m the marketing person.
Tech Cocktail: Are women becoming more interested in technology?
Chynoweth: I hope so. . . . In our internship program, we’re definitely having more women apply for the positions. This year we participated in the University of Washington’s internship program, and so when we went to the job fair, I saw more women at the job fair for the computer science/engineering department than I had seen in a long time. But also the number of women who were just killing it on our coding problem had dramatically increased. So I’m hoping that it’s starting at a younger age, it’s starting in college, that you don’t have to be male to be in technology.
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