Coding boot camps: 'Very empowering, very transformational'

As an alternative or supplement to a computer science degree, coding boot camps can help women get their foot in the door – or kick in the door -- of the tech workforce.

Shutterstock image (by Studio_G): female coding concept design, learning to code.

(Studio_G / Shutterstock)

When self-described extreme introvert and science nerd Isis Wenger agreed to appear in a recruiting campaign for OneLogin, the San Francisco company where she works as a platform engineer, she never imagined the ad would go viral with thousands of women in technology tweeting with the hashtag #ILookLikeAnEngineer.

Wenger is a self-taught college dropout. That’s not unusual for techies—Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg come to mind. But Wenger’s path to computer engineering involved honing her skills at a Bay-area coding boot camp. She graduated from App Academy before landing her job at OneLogin.

Today coding boot camps, usually very pricey, are actively recruiting women into tech through scholarships and tuition waivers. Course Report surveyed 42 coding boot camps and found that 38 percent of the more than 6,000 graduates in 2014 were women. In contrast, 18 percent of computer science degrees were awarded to women in 2013, according to data compiled by the National Center for Women and Information Technology from  Department of Labor statistics.

The recent hacks of the Office of Personnel Management demonstrated the federal government needs more IT and cybersecurity professionals. It’s projected in 2022 there will be 1.2 million computer-related job openings in the U.S.;  in 2014, women held 26 percent of IT jobs.

Feds hoping to enhance their skills without taking time off from work might find their best option is an online boot camp, where students can take the course from anywhere in the world and not have to miss a day at the office.

Bloc is the largest online coding boot camp. Each student has a mentor and one-on-one video sessions each week.

“There’s now massive demand for this. I think the light bulb has finally come on for society at large,” COO Clint Schmidt said.

Bloc partnered with Girl Develop It to offer two $2,500 scholarships each month toward the $9,500 tuition. They also partnered with New Relic to provide two $500 diversity scholarships to women and minority applicants each week.

“We just want to put wind in their sails. It’s something we believe in. This is a discipline and a profession that should be accessible to women,” Schmidt said.

Michelle Bonat was one of the recipients of Bloc’s diversity scholarship. She’s now co-founder and CEO of Data Simply, a tech company that analyzes company and securities data for financial firms. She worked in finance before enrolling in the boot camp in 2014 and finished the course in five months while working from home. Bonat worked so well with her mentor, John Sawers, they co-founded Data Simply together.

“My experience was very empowering, very transformational. It doesn’t matter if you are female, pink, or purple. It’s really about what you can deliver and what you’ve done. You just have to own it and you have to bring it,” Bonat said. “Computers don’t care who you are. It’s what you can contribute.”

Hackbright Academy, an all-women coding boot camp in San Francisco founded three years ago, has caught the attention of the White House. Angie Chang, vice president of strategic partnerships at Hackbright, said students taking the 12-week course include former cancer researchers, au pairs, and high school teachers. They spend the first 10 weeks learning how to be a developer and the last two weeks working with career services on their job search.

“It’s created a very strong bond among the students. They can go into the workforce and they still have these friends, these networks they communicate with,” said Chang. “They’ll hopefully lift each other up when they’re down.”

Hackbright Academy is one of 10 boot camps the White House partnered with in March as part of President Barack Obama’s TechHire Initiative, which includes $100 million in grants to train workers.

Chang said representatives from Hackbright Academy work with community colleges interested in expanding and improving training to reach underserved populations in the tech fields.

While Silicon Valley and the Capital Beltway are different worlds, Chang said the federal government is taking note of the progress being made. She hopes that in five years they’ve created “a small army” of women who will be CTOs.

Coding boot camps geared toward women

-- Tuition is $16,750 starting in winter 2016 at Hackbright Academy. $3,000 of that is refunded if a student gets a job at one of the companies in their network. Hackbright offers a Facebook Diversity Full Scholarship that waives tuition and provides money for living expenses to one woman from a historically underrepresented population (Black, Hispanic/Latina, American Indian). The Intuit Moms in Tech Partial Scholarship covers partial tuition for former tech professionals re-entering the workforce after having a baby.

-- Online coding boot camp Bloc offers two $2,500 scholarships each month and two $500 diversity scholarships to women and minority applicants each week to be used towards the $9,500 tuition. Students work closely with a mentor throughout the course.

-- Ada Developer’s Academy in Seattle is a year-long tuition-free program for women funded by the tech community. Housing and living expenses aren’t included, however. Students are placed in an internship during the program.

-- Hack Reactor is for more experienced programmers. Tuition is $17,780. They’ve partnered with Optimizely to provide a full-ride and internship program to one woman applicant.

-- Metis is located in New York City and San Francisco. The 12-week in-person program costs $14,000. $2,000 scholarships are offered to women, minorities and veterans.

-- General Assembly offers in-person and online courses, with a school in Washington, D.C., and provides fellowships for women and minorities.

-- Coding Dojo offers a $2,500 women in tech scholarship.

-- Dev Bootcamp offers $500 scholarships for women.

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