Shannon Luney and Megan Beck never imagined they would get into coding. And that’s exactly why they decided to open a Fargo chapter of Girl Develop It, an international non-profit organization that provides coding classes designed for women.
“[Learning to code] is something you don’t really think about,” Luney said. “I never really thought about it.”
“That’s the point,” Beck said. “You were never told you could do it.”
Luney and Beck are here to tell the women (and men) of Fargo that you can do it. You can learn to code. And Girl Develop It gives you that opportunity.
Luney first heard of Girl Develop It two years ago through female developer Jenn Lukas, who came to Fargo and spoke about a chapter of the organization in Philadelphia. The idea of getting more women involved in the coding and programming field immediately captured Luney’s attention. But what really called her to action was her transition from web designer to front-end developer, and the new material she then had to teach herself.
“I just realized how difficult it is to learn on your own, and how having some sort of programming classes to take locally would be awesome,” she said.
She began to research what it would take to open a Girl Develop It chapter in Fargo. She found a co-leader in good friend and fellow web designer Megan Beck, who was on board right away with the idea.
“[Coding] is something I wanted to learn just for myself, and I was thinking, well if I want to know this, I’m sure other people do,” Beck said.
One application and an interview later, and Girl Develop It Fargo was official. The first class offered is Intro to HTML/CSS, a coding language that Beck describes as “the basics of everything.” The class begins Tuesday, October 21 and will be instructed by MSUM Graphic Communications professor, Alex Fogarty.
“I love the mission of Girl Develop It, and I love teaching web technologies,” Fogarty said. “There is nothing quite as empowering as the ability to create something, and web coding allows you to do that, and share it with the world.”
Luney and Beck opened enrollment up to the public on September 19, and within two weeks the class was full. The Girl Develop It Launch Party scheduled for October 9 had an equally enthusiastic response, with 100 people currently signed up to attend.
“It’s been bigger than I ever thought so far,” Luney said, recalling how she announced the project two months ago at 1 Million Cups. “I announced it and immediately got people coming up to me afterwards offering to help, offering to teach, offering to volunteer, and even people that just want to learn.”
The Girl Develop It course consists of a two hour-class once a week for four weeks, and will be held Tuesday evenings from 7-9 at the Super Studio. The course costs $92 and takes about 25 students, who are required to bring their own laptops. Although the format of the class is aimed at bringing more women into the industry, men are equally welcome to enroll.
“It’s mentorship and hands-on, as opposed to learning online or from a book,” Luney said. “You have people there to help you along.”
The mission of Girl Develop It, which was founded by Sara Chipps and Vanessa Hurst in 2010 and now has over 30 chapters throughout the US, tackles the fact that women have a diminishing presence in the tech industry workforce. The recent release of diversity reports from Silicon Valley giants like Google and Facebook show the tech workforce to be at 30% female, 70% male, with Apple at 20% female 80% male, and Twitter at 10% female, 90% male.
“You just ask, why?” Beck said.
That question bears even more weight as we enter an era where the tech industry is dominant. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be 1.4 million computer science jobs available in the US by 2020. A recent article from The Guardian entitled, “Why Every Child Should Learn to Code,” states that, “Software is becoming a critical layer of all our lives. It is the language of our world.”
There’s a problem when the ‘language of our world’ is understood by only half of the world’s population. Why more women aren’t entering the tech industry is a question that’s been addressed many times over recent years, with many different answers.
“Traditionally it’s not been a field that women have been encouraged to go into or groomed to excel in,” Fogarty said. “It’s an extension of the ‘math is hard’ mentality that is pervasive, and may discourage women from even considering it”
Luney speculates a big problem is the misconception of coding itself.
“I think there’s a lot of people who would say right off the bat, when asked about coding, oh that’s not for me,” Luney said. “I even felt that way at one point. But having the opportunity to just do a little bit…it can change your mind.”
This is why Girl Develop It offers “a taste of coding,” as Luney put it. They want to offer women a fresh perspective on what the tech industry has to offer.
A similar message is given in a video by Code.org, which features multiple familiar faces, all proponents of learning how to code – from founders of Twitter, Facebook and Dropbox, to Will.I.Am of the funk group The Black Eyed Peas, to co-founder of Girl Develop It, Vanessa Hurst.
“I think if someone had told me that software is really about humanity, that it’s really about helping people by using computer technology, it would have changed my outlook a lot earlier,” Hurst said.
Contrary to popular belief, coding is not something reserved for a nerd in a basement. It does not require high-level math or an abnormal amount of intelligence. It simply requires a desire to learn. This, perhaps most of all, is what Luney and Beck hope to show the women of Fargo.
“You can do it,” Luney said. “I did it!”
“And it’s fun!” Beck and Luney said. Simultaneously.
More women taking programming courses now, Beck said, will also mean a more balanced workforce in the tech industry for future generations
“We’re making things happen now,” she said. “Like maybe we can get that female boss in there before this younger girl gets up in the industry.”
As far as job opportunities, those who know how to code are in high demand.
“Our [Facebook’s] policy is literally to hire as many talented engineers as we can find,” said Mark Zuckerberg in the Code.org video. “The whole limit in the system is that there just aren’t enough people who are trained and have these skills today.”
Taking classes offered by Girl Develop It is the opportunity to learn those skills, Luney and Beck said. It’s the chance for women to start increasing that 30%.
“[The tech industry] is just huge,” Luney said. “It’s only going to get bigger. And they’re going to need jobs.”
“And they’re going to need females,” Beck said.
To meet the leaders and learn more about Girl Develop It Fargo, sign up for the Launch Party this Thursday, October 9, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Loretta Building. Attendees will have the chance to win a free coding course.
Classes will also be offered again in January and February with instructor Blaine Booher from Clifton Labs, and a “code and coffee” event is being planned for the near future. Follow Girl Develop It on Facebook and Twitter to stay tuned on the latest events.