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Building the next generation of female IT professionals

Sharon Florentine | Oct. 21, 2014
It's no secret that women are under-represented in technology jobs. To help turn that tide, while at the same time building a pipeline of talent, some companies are putting money where their good intentions are.

CodeEd began in 2010, and currently holds courses in San Francisco, Boston and New York City. Schiavoni, herself a technology product manager and her husband, co-founder Sep Kamvar, now a technology professor at MIT, were looking for ways to use their skills and knowledge to give back to the community, she says.

While living in New York City, Schiavoni and her husband connected with a group of girls from Manhattan's lower east side and started teaching them to build basic HTML-based Web sites.

"We weren't sure how successful we were going to be. But the girls loved it. It was such a simple, yet powerful experience - they loved seeing how learning these skills could help bring their passions and their interests to life in a very public way, and we looked at each other one day and said, 'We're onto something, here,'" says Schiavoni.

CodeEd's executive team trains volunteer teachers, all with technical backgrounds, and then places them in classrooms to help teach basic skills like HTML and CSS. "We find that starting with these simpler tools is a way to gauge interest and show quick results for these kids. Many of these kids have struggled through so much just to get through middle school, and it's encouraging for them to see results right away - it keeps them engaged," says Schiavoni.

Students can choose to build sites around almost any topic they want, which does tend to revolve around 'typical' teenage concerns: boy bands, clothes, school events, gossip, etc. However, Schiavoni points out, it's not as much about the content as the process and the skills the girls are learning. "We try, first and foremost, to create a safe space for these girls. We let them come up with whatever topic they're passionate about, and they develop the sites around that. It's a great entry to the 'pipeline' - they suddenly see this as a field that's open to them and is available as a career option," says Schiavoni.

To date their program has 'graduated' close to 400 girls and initial data shows interest is growing. Partnerships with businesses like Bischke's Entelo and hosting provider GoDaddy are also helping to expand CodeEd's reach.

Bischke's Entelo solution, for example, has integrated analytics that can identify when a client makes a hire through the platform. For every hire made through the platform, Entelo will fully fund the overhead and education costs of coursework, technology and training for one girl to complete the program. "We were looking for ways to help address the skills gap, get more women and minorities involved in technology, and incentivize our clients to hire from these underrepresented groups. A bottle of champagne wasn't gonna cut it - but when we introduced our partnership with CodeEd, the client response was amazing. They love it. We are helping them not just make hires for the present, but we're making a difference for the future, one girl, one site at a time, and hopefully correcting the imbalance," says Bischke.


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