Girl Develop It

Girl Develop It

In 2016, women made up only 26 percent of the nation’s computing workforce, and it’s not because they aren’t working: women also held a whopping 57 percent of professional jobs last year, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology. Similarly, while women received 57 percent of the nation’s bachelor’s degrees in 2015, only 18 percent of computer and information science degree recipients that year were female.

Girl Develop It is addressing this imbalance head on. 

The nonprofit organization began in 2010 as a call to action for women, by women, who were tired of the low representation of women in tech and wanted to make a difference. It provides affordable classes for adult females who are interested in learning web and software development in a judgement-free environment.

The ultimate goal of Girl Develop It is to create a network of empowered women who are confident in their abilities to code and build web and mobile applications. The organization has expanded to include chapters in 56 cities and regions around the country, including the Lehigh Valley.

“Local businesses have a need,” says Kim White, leader of the Lehigh Valley chapter. “They want to hire more women, but finding the women who have what they need can be a problem.”

The program has grown slowly but steadily. Most classes, taught in locations in Bethlehem and Allentown by a team of about 10 computing professionals, run for eight hours at a cost of about $10 an hour, on subjects from HTML and CSS—markup languages that enable participants to see results right away in the ability to develop a web page—to more advanced classes in programming languages, such as Javascript.

Classes are capped at about 12 students. This small format enables each student to get personal attention. The chapter also offers two-hour programs, such as Introduction to Web Development and Introduction to WordPress, and it aims to offer six classes a year. All classes are available online, and the organization is always working on a new curriculum.

“It’s not as intensive as a three-month class at a community college, but it’s a great way to introduce concepts and programs and let people see if it’s for them—and to build a community,” says Kim, who teaches the WordPress, HTML, and CSS classes. She also hosts the chapter’s Code and Coffee events, regular meet-ups that allow aspiring and current developers to discuss and work on projects over a cup of joe.

Some students take just a class or two; a few have taken all of them. Students range from those who simply want to learn more about something they’re already interested in to those who have seen their chosen profession disappear and need to retrain for another career, Kim says.

“A number of the women are in a marketing or development position in their company and are suddenly told they have to take care of the company website or database and want to learn more,” Kim says.

One participant, Crystal Goodwin, initially took Girl Develop It Lehigh Valley classes to help her redesign her employer’s website.

“I fell in love with coding and have been taking additional classes that interest me and will eventually help me in transitioning into a job in web development and design,” says Crystal, who has taken Intermediate HTML/CSS, WordPress for Beginners, PHP & MySQL for Beginners, Intro to Git & Github, and Intro to JavaScript.

In addition to taking classes, Crystal participates in the monthly Code and Coffee get-togethers. “This has really helped form relationships within the group and also allows me to show people what I am working on, ask for help, and also learn new information in the tech field that just comes up through conversation that I wouldn’t have known to ask about,” she says. “Most of the members are teaching themselves to code through online tutorials, and it’s extremely beneficial to get together and share struggles and breakthroughs.”

“You can learn everything you need to do on the web. That’s how I learned,” Kim says. “But it very much helps to have other people around.” Especially for women, who may feel somewhat uncomfortable in the male-dominated profession. “It’s not that women don’t have the brains to do it. We’re here to change perceptions, and so people can have a safe place where they can ask silly questions they don’t feel comfortable asking somewhere else.”

The Code and Coffee get-togethers also offer Kim a way to market the program and get insight into what students and potential students want from it. “It doesn’t cost anything. It’s a good way to introduce the program and get feedback,” she says, adding that the local program is smaller and less well-known than some of the larger, older chapters, especially in larger cities. “Our biggest drawback is people not knowing about us.”

“We may have fewer classes, but we really try to focus on the sense of community. Sometimes for a small chapter like ours, it’s the community aspect that’s most important,” she says. “Once you take a class, you’re part of the community.”

The community aspect that is the strength of Girl Develop It Lehigh Valley also includes relationship with the local tech community. “A lot of the local tech businesses support us. They’re aware of us. We try to keep our ties with them,” Kim says, adding that they serve as advisors
and teachers.

These local businesses may ultimately be seeking employees with the skills taught by Girl Develop It Lehigh Valley.

“There are a lot of tech jobs in the Lehigh Valley,” Kim says. “In many cases, they want someone who has the brain power, someone they can train.”

Perhaps the time has come for more of those “someones” to be women.

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