STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths, and is the buzzword for girls going through school right now – especially in America, as the fast-growing tech industry talks more and more about how to get more women into jobs.
Technology has long had a diversity problem. In 2014, Google released its employee data, revealing that women account for only 17% of its tech employees, and women of colour are a smaller subsection of that. Other Silicon Valley giants report similar demographic statistics.
With engineering and IT particularly growing rapidly, thanks to our constant desire for newer, shinier technology and gadgets, there are more opportunities than ever before. At the same time, the industry is finally realising the need for more diversity in order for technology to be representative of the society we live in.
Which is all well and good, but it’ll take more than talk to change technology’s sausage fest.
Enter US Organisations like Kode with Klossie (organised by the supermodel Karlie Kloss) and Girls who Code, and the local Enspiral Dev Academy. Enspiral started up with the sole purpose of teaching women and girls to code. It teaches 18-week courses in Auckland and Wellington, where you spend the first nine weeks learning to code part-time from home and the last nine in an intensive boot camp where graduates get jobs as programmers at places like Trademe, Xero and Datacom.
Villainesse spoke to one of the first Auckland students through the Academy, Steph Jennings about her experience of being a badass lady who codes. Here’s what she had to tell us.
Villainesse: What was your background before you came to the boot camp, and what drew you to coding?
Steph: I had been working in travel or in office roles since leaving school, most recently in reservations for a tour company. I loved the idea of having a hand in creating something that will make people’s lives better or easier, in the way tech does. And I wanted a career where I could have an impact and see the results of my hard work. The possibility of working remotely at some time in the future, which lots of tech jobs offer, sounds good too.
What was your impression about the situation for women in tech? Were you nervous about the stereotypes of the tech sector?
I knew there weren’t a huge number of women in the field but I’d come from a female-dominated work environment so I didn’t necessarily see the reverse as a negative - just a new experience. I knew that the jobs I had been doing hadn’t satisfied me and that the ability to code would open a lot of doors. My family’s support and the welcome I got from EDA played a big part in my decision to go forward with coding.
Why did you choose the Enspiral Dev Academy boot camp?
People spend three years on their own trying to get the skills that EDA can teach in 18 weeks. I wanted targeted teaching that would set me up well to launch a career in web development. EDA student’s high successful employment rate and the ongoing support of their students was very reassuring.
How was diversity encouraged or supported at the course?
I loved the Engineering Empathy classes and found them surprisingly helpful. I thought I was a relatively self-aware person before I began the course but I have learned so much about what makes me tick and [about] communication in general. Exploring ourselves for an hour a week has also pulled us together as a group and given us a safe space to be vulnerable in the learning process.
What was the experience of learning to code like for you?
It wasn’t easy. It took sweat and tears but it was completely satisfying. I felt challenged, nurtured and respected as a person. The most satisfying moments were wrestling with difficult problems and coming out the other side a little bit wiser. I loved the lectures too and finally understanding exactly how all the pieces fit together. The free yoga classes twice a week at EDA were a definite highlight.
The biggest challenge was the high volume of new information in a short space of time. And one of the of the proudest moments was seeing what we had accomplished in six long days in our final group project, and celebrating with popcorn at midnight after we finished!
What are you hoping to do when you graduate?
I’m keen to continue learning and growing and seeing where web development can take me. I found that I really enjoyed the project management side of the group projects so that will be something that I consider.
Are there any ways you think the tech sector could be more inclusive of women?
My experiences have been positive so far. EDA has been very inclusive and the media I have taken in has been all about the need for diversity. I will be looking for a role where I can grow and be mentored while adding value.
What advice would you give other women looking at a career as a programmer, or considering learning to code?
I think it’s a thriving industry with so much potential. All the people I have come into contact with have been inclusive and so passionate about what they do which is great to see. If coding interests you then stick with it. Persistence is key. It’s a big undertaking, so don’t be hard on yourself when you haven’t learned everything in the first week. It will take time and effort and it will be worth it.
If you’re interested in learning how to code at the Enspiral Dev Academy, here’s what you need to know:
You don’t need any coding or IT experience to apply.
They aim to minimise gendered language and create a safe inclusive space for people to learn.
And the coolest bit is that the Dev Academy is offering $2,000 scholarships off the course price for people belonging to an underrepresented group in tech: women, LGBTQ+ and Māori and Pacific Island peoples.
Pretty cool, huh?