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Meet the MotherCoders: An Excerpt From GEEK GIRL RISING

Women are dramatically underrepresented in tech, and that desperately needs to change. Alongside this truth, however, there is another story—a dynamic world of female engineers, entrepreneurs, investors, coders, and more who are bucking the status quo, making space for diversity, and finding enormous success in the process. In GEEK GIRL RISING: Inside the Sisterhood Shaking Up Tech, Heather Cabot and Samantha Walravens showcase the bold visionaries who are transforming the tech industry from the inside out.

By Heather Cabot and Samantha Walravens on June 5, 2017.
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This is an excerpt from GEEK GIRL RISING: Inside The Sisterhood Shaking Up Tech:

You don’t have to get hired by Google or any of the Silicon Valley giants to work in a range of technology jobs these days. With the digital revolution disrupting every sector of the global economy, technology touches most vocations, and technical jobs are plentiful. Technical talent is not. The oft-cited statistic from Code.org is that the United States will have 1.4 million computing-related job openings by 2020; as of late 2016, more than 523,000 positions were unfilled. Code.org reports that computing jobs are the number-one source of new employment in the United States. MotherCoders, a San Francisco part-time for moms looking to change careers or return to work after years at home, seeks to open mothers’ eyes to the possibilities.

It all started with a middle-of-the-night meltdown. It was fall 2013, and Tina Lee was stretched thin— nursing her newborn, caring for her toddler, and sneaking in weekend classes to relearn some coding. She had always worked in tech, but with her economics and politics degree from Mills College she gravitated to the business side, not the “building” side. Yet she was always intrigued by the idea of making things. By the time she had her first child, she had completed a master’s in Stanford’s Learning, Design and Technology program but still craved more practical tech skills. So she had set about relearning CSS, a programming language used to design and develop websites, while pregnant with her second child and working in the California Controller’s Office. As she sat at home in tears between breast- feeding sessions that night, Tina realized she had been trying to do the impossible: taking classes despite sleepless nights and few options for babysitting. And that’s how MotherCoders, her tech orientation program offering on- site child care, was born.

“[It’s] for women who are, like, ‘I know I want to do something but I don’t know where to start,’” Tina told us one foggy morning in San Francisco’s Richmond District two years after the infamous meltdown. “The analogy I use is it’s like immigrating to a new country, and we’re like the welcome desk that says, ‘Let’s give you some language classes, let’s teach you some of the customs and history so you understand why these people are the way they are, give you some friends so you can feed off that.’” She said that MotherCoders gives students an overview of the industry. As a finalist in the 2015 Google Impact Bay Area Challenge, MotherCoders had received $100,000 from Google for its service to the Bay Area and its innovative approach. In spring 2016 she was looking ahead to upcoming sessions in two new neighborhoods, planning to expand the program.

Sarah Doczy was one of the first women to sign up when Tina started the first class. Sarah, who had a toddler at the time, had been trying to learn to code on her own through tutorials offered by Codeacademy.com. She wanted more, but as she searched for in- person workshops and seminars, she found that their hours often conflicted with her full- time job and her family responsibilities. When she found MotherCoders on Twitter and saw the courses were held on Saturdays and offered babysitting, she was all in. From the very first class she felt like she belonged. “That was the first time during my coding journey that I never felt like I had to explain myself because, being a mom, you have all these other responsibilities. I can’t just go home and code whenever I want or learn new skills,” she told us by phone from Dayton, Ohio, where she had moved with her husband and daughter a year after we spoke with her and landed a web developer job with a local startup right away.

The initial MotherCoder classes, held on six Saturdays at a co- working space in San Francisco’s Portrero Hill, featured coursework by Skillcrush. Tina expanded the program to nine weeks and added the language JavaScript in 2016. But as the program evolved, Tina decided the women, all of whom were college educated and many of whom had been out of the workforce for as long as ten to fifteen years, needed a more human touch and a greater emphasis on their potential. She started to bring in women who were working in tech, including mothers, to share their stories and their career paths. She put her Stanford training in design thinking to work by focusing the small seminars on problem solving rather than teaching only the rudiments of computer languages.

From GEEK GIRL RISING by Heather Cabot and Samantha Walravens. Copyright © 2017 by the authors and reprinted with permission of St. Martin’s Press, LLC.

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