January 12, 2016
Five years ago, Girl Develop It started holding classes in New York City for women to learn coding skills. The real point of those classes, however, was to learn confidence.
Now the nonprofit organization has reached a major milestone: in half a decade, it has taught 60,000 students across the United States. Nearly half of those students signed on in 2015 alone.
While the focus is on helping women, men can attend the classes too. There is a fee, but scholarships are available and all the learning materials are free online.
As co-leader of GDI in Philadelphia, Corinne Warnshuis helped make her group one of the most active chapters in the country. She’s now Executive Director of the entire organization. On Tuesday, she and co-founder Vanessa Hurst celebrated GDI’s birthday with an “Ask Me Anything” Q&A on Reddit (while also asking for donations, of course).
Here's how Hurst and Warnshuis responded to several questions from curious Reddit users about Girl Develop It and how women can thrive in the tech field.
What are the top challenges from women in the technology industry?
“It's always hard to be one of few people like you in a room, and women entering tech fields are in the minority. We try to help women get comfortable with their skills so that they're more confident, even in situations that would cause anyone to question if they belong."
Does everyone who takes a Girl Develop It class want to be a developer?
"Some students are interested in leveling up or updating their existing skill-sets, some are interested in pursuing a career change, some have a business idea or a website they want to create themselves, and some just want to figure out what coding is all about."
What’s a good starting project for someone who’s learning how to code?
"A good starting point is to build a website for your professional portfolio (like [yourname].com) or something you're passionate about, such as cats or Harry Potter."
Aren’t you setting up unrealistic expectations when you teach a class mostly for women since the tech industry is mostly men?
“Our goal is for Girl Develop It classrooms to provide judgment-free learning opportunities. We don't claim the industry will be judgment-free, but rather want to create a safe on-ramp for women who are interested to get started, and then use the community and skills they develop within Girl Develop It to propel them when they engage in the broader industry. Basically, we think trial-by-fire is a rough way to get started learning, but that people further along in their professional paths can withstand it with strong community support.”
Why teach classes to adults instead of to young girls?
"Our founders chose to focus on teaching adult women for a few reasons. One, impatience. We didn't want to wait 20 more years just relying on programs for younger girls, especially because the representation of women in computing has declined since the 1980s. ... Two, role models. We believe by educating and empowering adult women, we're creating role models who can influence future generations of technical women. Three, to prove a point. We heard over and over that people need to start programming in middle school in order to be successful and we couldn't disagree more. We've proven that point with the 60,000 members who are learning now and making things happen, regardless of what they knew about computer programming as kids."
Can women still go to the classes on top of having a full-time job or going to school?
"Girl Develop It is all about reducing barriers to entry, so we design the courses to be really accessible to anyone. Specifically, most of our classes are in the evenings and on weekends and run from 2-8 hours per class. Also, most of our students have full-time jobs!"