Not only is it important for companies to understand that they need to prioritize gender and racial diversity in order to thrive, (and that “more white women does not equal tech diversity”) but it is also imperative that people from marginalized groups are able to visualize themselves as computer engineers and are given the opportunity to learn the skills that will help them break into the tech industry.
From recycling to working in computer science, there are many things that “Black people [apparently] don’t do.” Enter groups like Code2040 and Black Female Coders that are working to change that misconception by spreading awareness and helping to provide coders of color with advice and valuable connections that will help them break into the industry.
In order to get those programming jobs that are both highly paid and in demand, Black women must first learn the trade. Luckily, there are now a few options at prospective software engineers’ disposal.
For some people, like Kaya Thomas, the best introduction to coding was available online. One winter break, the Dartmouth College student was surfing the Internet and came across two videos that struck her: Black Girls Code founder Kimberly Bryant’s TED Talk and “she++: The Documentary.”
“Kimberly Bryant was specifically talking about women of color getting into technology and kind of crossing over from just being a consumer to being a creator. That really stuck with me,” says Thomas. She did some research and stumbled upon Codeacademy, a free, interactive online resource that teaches users how to build websites and use several different coding languages.
Thomas learned Python using Codeacademy, and became hooked. An undeclared freshman planning to study environmental engineering, Thomas switched gears. Now a sophomore, Thomas is currently the only Black woman at Dartmouth who is a declared computer science major.
With help from Codeacademy and several other online resources, such as App Coda, and Code With Chris, Thomas used her new-found skills to build We Read Too, an app that helps parents and educators find diverse young adult and children’s books by authors of color. The app, which is available on iTunes, boasts over 350 books by Black, Asian, Latino and Native American authors. Not only has it proved to be a valuable resource to parents and teachers but First Lady Michelle Obama honored Thomas during this year’s Black Girls Rock special.
Going the more traditional route, i.e. returning to grad school for a degree in computer science, it’s also an option but there are two major factors to consider: time and money. Graduate programs are costly and since the majority of us are already saddled with a good deal of student loan debt from undergrad, it’s understandable that prospective coders might not want to incur more debt, leave the work force, or juggle graduate studies and a full-time job.
That’s where coding boot camps come in. They provide the interactive and/or in-person experience that you would get in a more traditional setting, but in less time and with less cost.
Programs like the national non-profit Girl Develop It and the California-based Hackbright Academy specifically focus on increasing diversity in tech by providing female coders with the skills needed to succeed in the field.
“It’s what drives the staff and what drives a lot of our students is this deeper desire to create change in an industry that has lately been not-so-female-friendly,” says Paria Rajai, a cause marketing strategist at Hackbright.
Rajai says that Hackbright takes a two-pronged approach toward reaching that goal by helping women “envision themselves as software engineers” and by creating a safe, welcoming space in “where people feel comfortable asking questions and feel like ‘I can go down this path and I have the support that I need.’”
Hackbright offers a 10-week, full-time software fellowship complete with a career day in which graduates meet with 20 to 30 tech companies including big names like Facebook, Google, Indiegogo and Eventbrite as well as a newly-launched part-time track that provides the “Hackbright experience at night, or after work.” The program also pairs each student with three mentors from major tech companies, matching them based on their interests.
“We’re kind of this vehicle for them to get to where they want to go, especially in this industry that feels intimidating that they’re perfectly capable of doing a great job in,” says Rajai.
And the efforts to improve diversity in the tech industry seem to be paying off.
“Look at Hackbright’s success story of empowering more female engineers. Look at how CODE2040 has been able to place Blacks and Latinos in tech companies around the Bay Area,” says Jessica Egoyibo Mong, a Hackbright graduate from Nigeria who now works as a software engineer at SurveyMonkey.
“The impact that these tailored programs are having on the tech industry is very evident, from my perspective and will start to propagate. I’m a proof of it,” says Mong, who does not believe she would be in the Bay Area working in tech if not for the Hackbright program.
Mong planned to study computer engineering while in college in Nigeria and fell in love with programming her freshman year of college. She discovered Hackbright while searching for a summer program in New York that would teach her how to build web apps. She applied to Hackbright instead and began classes in June 2013.
“I love how Hackbright took interest in making sure that I was able to attend the program after my acceptance. The Hackbright community went out of its way to help with my tuition payment and housing search,” says Mong, who lived with another fellow during her time in the program.
Large companies have taken notice of the popularity of coding schools, hiring graduates and even partnering with some schools to provide free classes. In 2014, Google’s Women Techmakers Initiative partnered with the Orlando-based Code School, paying for three months of the service for “thousands of accounts.” The tech giant has also given away Code School promo codes to developers at conferences.
“I think we ended up giving away 2500 three-month subscriptions. I would say publicly it was a success at bringing visibility to the cause and highlighting it,” says Code School’s Director of Marketing and Growth Mark Krupinski. Code School matched Google’s giveaways.
“Our community efforts have always been, if anybody comes to us that supports coding literacy, we tend not to give money, because even before we were purchased by Pluralsight we never really had the budget for sponsorships, but we’ve always given away and shared free Code School to help out,” says Krupinski.
“I’ve got a daughter myself and I want to make sure that when she goes into the workforce, she has every opportunity ahead of her. I think we all feel that way at Code School,” he says.
By providing welcoming learning spaces, more affordable course and flexible schedules, coding schools may be able to help the tech industry reach that goal.