Women in Tech: Shannon Turner with Hear Me Code

January 26, 2015

9:00 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 Shannon Turner, Founder of Hear Me Code.

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A packed room at Hear Me Code’s Lesson 1

In just one year, Hear Me Code grew from 4 to over 700 women.
Hear Me Code offers free, beginner-friendly coding classes for women in the DC area. I started Hear Me Code as an informal class with just four women around my kitchen table in September 2013, but we quickly outgrew my apartment.  Just one year later, Hear Me Code has over 700 women learning and growing together. I’m self-taught in Python, and I remember how difficult it was learning on my own.  All I wanted was to be able to reach out to someone and ask basic questions, but I didn’t know anyone to reach out to.  Now I can help others! In designing the curriculum, I’ve tried to remember all of the parts I was really frustrated with and make it easier to digest.

These free classes are offered to teach women how to code and provide a safe environment to ask questions.
Most of our events are classes ranging from 20-50 women depending on the lesson.  The room is arranged in tables of 5-6 women, so it’s easy to lean over and ask a friend if you missed something or need a little extra help.  From the very beginning, members are encouraged to teach others and share what they know — it’s the heart of Hear Me Code, and I think a big reason people come back.

Ranging from 20-88 years old, 90% of members taking the class have no prior coding experience.
Hear Me Code is a women-only space for all women. Most of our members are in their 20s or 30s who work for nonprofits, government agencies, or are journalists.  But lately, a lot of women from area universities have joined, and just recently, a teaching assistant brought her 88-year-old grandmother to class!  Some have had a little experience with HTML, or other coding languages, but Hear Me Code’s beginner-friendly curriculum definitely attracts people who haven’t coded before.

The workshops are powered by the community: Members become mentors and teachers in training.
I think there’s this perception that you have to be an expert and if you’re not, you can’t do anything or answer any questions, but we do a lot of work to break down that misconception. Leadership development has been a critical part of Hear Me Code from the beginning. I want to create the next set of leaders in this community, and it’s really empowering for a lot of women to see other women who have only been learning for a couple of months teaching and helping others. It removes the barrier between student and teacher, because you might be learning lesson three one week and coaching at lesson one the next. Over 30 students have become teaching assistants and six have become teachers — and that number grows every time we run another class.

Hear Me Code is an incubator to build up our skills and confidence in a safe environment.
Hear Me Code is more than just a women’s coding class, it’s a community of women learning and growing together. Hear Me Code is less about churning out cookie-cutter programmers. It’s a place for us to build our leadership skills alongside our coding skills. I love teaching and designing the curriculum, but most of all I love spending one on one time mentoring and serving as a teaching assistant during lessons.  The best part about being a teaching assistant is helping people have “lightbulb” moments where everything clicks.

Hear Me Code relies on supporters in the DC Tech Community for food sponsors and space. If you have either, please reach out!
We are always on the lookout for food sponsors and space.  Hear Me Code is free and always will be. But by not charging any money, we also don’t have a budget for space or food and we rely on the generosity of sponsors. If you would like to sponsor space or food, please reach out to us on twitter (@hearmecode). Other than that, new members are always welcome to join and can sign up at hearmecode.com/class. Women interested in learning more or signing up can check out our website: hearmecode.com.

 

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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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