Women in Tech: Elizabeth Merkhofer with Ladies Who Code

February 2, 2015

8:00 am

The Washington D.C. Metro Area is full of dozens of organizations dedicated to lowering the barrier for women and minorities in tech. DCFemTech, a collective of DC & Metro area women and minority focused organizations is launching a series of interviews with women in tech leaders to highlight their group’s mission, culture and events. The goal is to help women and minorities navigate the local tech scene to find a group that best fits their needs. This week, we interviewed Elizabeth Merkhofer, organizer of the Ladies Who Code DC Chapter.

Ladies Who Code features technical talks and workshops from women with expertise from many languages and backgrounds.
Ladies Who Code is a language-agnostic group that highlights member’s projects and various topics. Our group very deliberately avoids focusing on one skillset or niche, instead engaging women with diverse interests in programming and technology. Our meetups are participatory – usually the second part of the meetup involves some sort of activity, like working through coding interview questions. We love to get code up on everyone’s screen. We’re creating a community of women who work and/or play with code. That’s why attendance is restricted to those who identify as a ‘female who codes’ and recruiters are explicitly banned. I think you can see that in the great questions our speakers always get – many speakers choose a more informal approach, and you can almost hears the cogs turning in everyone’s heads as we ask questions at each step of the way. Our meetups are held in downtown DC, in a conference room generously shared with us. We get anywhere from 10 to 25 participants per meetup.

Events tend to shy away from 101-type workshops and focuses on technical talks ranging from building your own 2048 game to strategies in applying for technical roles and everything in between.
We have a lot of women in their mid-twenties, but certainly not as a rule. There are always a few beginners in the room. I’ve found that, since Ladies Who Code doesn’t offer intro-to-coding type classes, but rather talks about topics and projects, we get women in a wide array of roles. Some talks, for instance, attract a lot of women who work in data or statistical programming. That’s my own background, so I love it!

Empowering women to both teach and learn from other like-minded technical minds in the room.
Our group offers really unique learning opportunities, as insight into how other women in technical roles are doing what they love to do. We’re all doing different things at work or at our side projects, and Ladies Who Code brings us together to learn from each other. I was drawn to the group, before I lead it, because I didn’t work with any other women and wanted to meet new friends and get nerdy. I hope we’re still creating that opportunity.

Ladies Who Code events offer a safe space geared toward women only.
It’s Ladies Who Code policy – Washington is one of over ten chapters in North America and Europe. Beyond that, we focus on women-only to give ‘ladies’ who code an open forum – which in practice and despite plenty of good intentions, is still not a common experience at non-women-centric meetups.

To learn more about Ladies Who Code, visit their Meetup page, follow them @ladieswhocode and if you have questions about the DC Chapter, please send Liz Merkhofer a message through Meetup.

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Stephanie is Lead Designer and co-founder of Landmark, a navigation app for walking directions based on photos of buildings and landmarks. Stephanie was a guest at Y Combinator’s prestigious Female Founders Conference and was profiled in The Washington Post. Actively involved in the DC community, she is a co-producer of the DC Tech Meetup and is actively involved in encouraging technology education and mentorship for women. Follow her on Twitter @nguyenist.

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