Today’s Bullish features a letter from a reader who is, for once, NOT anonymous, because she did something awesome and everybody should know about it.
I’ve emailed with you a couple of times, the last time was in November of last year after I’d been laid off and was considering starting my own business. Anyway, I ended up sending myself to a six month program to learn web development/programming, and have secured a job making $27,560 MORE than I was in my last position. I got the job one month before I even graduated.
The reason I write is that I’d love to reach your readers and share my story, because we need more women in this industry, and I don’t think a lot of people outside the tech world have any idea that these jobs exist, pay really well, and have a TON of openings. More women like me, who are looking to be part of a new paradigm and are unhappy with slogging through the old one, would be a perfect fit. Those same women are undoubtedly Bullish readers! There are lots of web development programs in NY, Chicago, San Francisco and the one I went to in Denver.
Let me know if you’re into it.
Bullish: I am so into it! Your new job pays $27,560 more than you were making previously! I love your exact figure here. As you know, I am all about talking openly about money. On that score, what did you pay for the web development program? Would you factor in lost income as part of the cost of the program? (Was it full-time?)
Jen E.: The program was $20,000; however, I got a scholarship and a grant from the state, so I will only end up paying about $12,000. They offered a payment program so I didn’t have to pay it all up front or anything, just a deposit. Also, I was on unemployment and received higher benefits than usual (50% more) because I was in a training program, so that paid living expenses. That is the much harder cost to cover, six months of living, than even the tuition.
The program was Monday – Friday, 9-4, but an additional 20+ hours per week of project work on top of that. We had weekends “off” (as in no current project to work on) every 2-3 weeks.
Bullish: Were there many other women in your program?
Jen E.: Yes, four others, about 25% women in the program (24 students total). This percentage is higher than industry average. This becomes apparent at meetups and visiting the development offices of some (most?) companies.
Bullish: How about at your new job?
Jen E.: No other women, but still 25% since our team is small, only four developers.
Bullish: I think a lot of women shy away from tech training because they assume, not incorrectly, that the men in those programs will not be total beginners. There’s a long and storied tradition of teenage boys teaching themselves to code in their childhood bedrooms. I had a somewhat similar experience in an Intro to Computer Science course in college — I definitely felt that the other students, mostly men, were light-years ahead of me, and I felt dumb and dropped the class. (I subsequently taught myself HTML and started a web development company, but I certainly didn’t want to be the “dumb girl” in class.) Thoughts?
Jen E.: Um… YES. I was mostly ignorant to this assumption, and have worked mainly in male-dominated industries, so it’s normal and less noticeable to me. I was in the construction industry for a few years, both private and public sectors, and at every conference I went to, I would be in at least one session where I was the only woman. No one ever treated me poorly. This training program also had men who were totally new to programming, and one woman with a CS degree, so that helped set expectations re: gender I think.
Not all men are the typical ‘brogrammer’ and have been hacking on things since they were 11. Most of us hold the attitude that we’re actually better off being the ‘dumbest person in the room,’ in the sense that being surrounded by very experienced/talented/smart people lifts us up and keeps the bar high for our own journey. There is a lot of talk in the industry about ‘impostor syndrome’ (SO many articles & conference talks out there about this) and from my observations it’s very prevalent (at least with beginners). I know some very skilled people who are afraid of being found out as a ‘fraud’ even though they could code circles around others.
I have experienced first-hand an incredible amount of support in the Ruby community, and so many people that are willing to help people learn, on their own time and with no pay. I reached out for tutoring and ended up with more than I could handle. There have been few people who “made me feel dumb” — definitely the exception, not the rule. Everyone who tutored me was a senior developer and could have charged an arm and a leg for tutoring, and it would have been worth every penny. Besides being supportive of all beginners, a lot of people care deeply about diversity and go out of their way to support minorities and anyone under-represented. Companies are also trying to diversify, women may even have an advantage being hired.
Bullish: This is great. Maybe you can also tell me a little more about the work you expect to be doing. As in, what kind of person would enjoy being a web developer? Someone who likes to work alone? Someone who likes to collaborate? Someone who likes cracking problems?
Jen E.: Developers have a stereotype for being very socially awkward, the guy hacking away in his mother’s basement, rocking a neck beard. The reality is that all personality types can be part of this industry. Communication and being great on a team, especially if you plan to pair program (where two engineers work on the same computer together), is actually really important and makes for a more successful developer. Companies are looking for a good personality and culture-fit as much as they’re looking for skill.
There are some people who prefer to work alone, headphones on, and there are definitely places for them. A lot of people who prefer working alone also do remote work, where they work from a home office, traveling, etc. Working remotely doesn’t necessarily mean working alone, however, a lot of people work remotely but pair program a lot or exclusively. Pair programming is pretty big these days and a lot of companies stick by it, so for that kind of position, obviously collaboration is critical. The industry allows for more flexibility than I’ve seen in any other job, so people can really make it work however it suits them.
Problem solving is all we do, all day long. If you practice “test-driven development” (TDD), you actually write a chunk of code that exists just to test the behavior/outcome of the “real” code, so you start with a failing test then work to get it to pass. Once it does, you clean it up then write another failing test. You just keep inching along, solving tiny problem after tiny problem. You learn how to become really comfortable with failure, fast!
Bullish: Thanks, Jennifer!
How great is all this success and optimism?!
You might also be interested in Bullish: Tech Skills Are Not Optional For Your Career and Bullish: Reg Braithwaite On How Tech Can Help Women, Minorities, and Non-Schmoozers, which contains a pretty inspiring story about a woman programmer.
Also: I would encourage anyone thinking about this path to please keep in mind the following: when entering a male-dominated field, you may be actively discouraged by others (see Bullish: How Do You Improve When Friends and Family Tell You to “Be Realistic”?), and you may feel that temporary setbacks are not only a reflection upon you, but upon all ladykind. This is stereotype threat, and you have to tell it to fuck itself. If you feel this applies to you, here are some suggestions from the aptly named ReducingStereotypeThreat.org.
Please also keep in mind that, while it is very helpful to surround yourself with excellent people you can learn from, actually, most people mostly suck or don’t care. (See Bullish Life: You Know What I Find Inspiring? Mediocrity.)
Note, there is a backlash against the idea that everyone should learn to code. Personally, I feel like a better thinker for having studied formal logic in college, and then — after learning HTML — briefly attempting C++ and Perl, and then noticing in Dartmouth’s course catalog that, if you want to continue studying formal logic past the course offered by the philosophy department, you proceed to a course in logic … in the computer science department. (Keanu Reeves face: “Whoa!”)
But I’m not recommending that everyone learn to code. Just people who want better jobs and who are willing to put in the time. Most people who are complaining about the “everybody should code!” trend are a bit insulted that anyone would think that their profession can be learned casually, or in a short bootcamp. They want you to know that you have to put in 10 years, or the proverbial 10,000 hours, in order to get really good. Sure. That’s cool. I don’t write advice for lazy people anyway. But you’ve got to start somewhere, and it’s never been easier to do that. When people take beginner’s figure skating classes, no one gets all pissy and complains that you can’t expect to compete in the Olympics after just a few lessons. Yeah, we know that.
My husband is an IT guy. (I have a long history with lanky IT fellows, but anyway.) I have heard plenty of stories about dolts he has worked with or who have worked for him, including tech support people who literally cannot so much as google a common problem and implement the steps suggested by other professionals. (The developer of the FizzBuzz Test claims that 99.5% of programming job candidates cannot, in fact, program at all.) These have all been male dolts. These dolts have all had the gumption to apply for positions for which they were wildly unqualified. And it worked! Some of these people have since been let go for rank incompetence, but they were hired!
So when attacking an intimidating task that others may not expect you to succeed at, please keep in mind that most men have a much greater sense of arrogance and entitlement about this sort of thing than you do, and that most people, in general, suck and don’t care.
And even if you really were only ever going to be a B+ performer (I don’t believe that, but let’s take it as a thought experiment), I’d rather be a B+ performer in a field that’s actively hunting for people than in a field that’s swamped with overeducated, underpaid people driving down wages.
Let’s end with some links:
Lifehacker’s Programmer 101: Teach Yourself How to Code
TEDblog’s 10 Places Where Anyone Can Learn to Code
CNN’s Learn to Code, Get a Job
Coursera’s free Learn to Program: The Fundamentals (add yourself to the watchlist for next time the class starts)
Udacity’s free Introduction to Programming
In Toronto, there’s Ladies Learning Code. In NYC, here’s the CodeCrew Meetup and Hacker Hours and The Flatiron School. In cities from Austin, Columbus, Detroit, Sydney, and more, there’s Girl Develop It. I’m sure if you live in the Bay Area, you do not need me to google this shit for you because you probably walk right into it when you just want to buy a latte or pants or something.