In a 2014 report, the White House estimated there would be one million new computer science-related jobs by 2020 – but only one percent would go to American women. These are bleak statistics, but even more-so when you consider the history computer programming – a field that was pioneered by women. In fact, a 1967 article in Cosmopolitan once read, "If it doesn't sound like women's work, well – it just is. ... Women are 'naturals' at computer programming."
Years later, our generation is left with a great task: getting women equal access to high-paying jobs in an industry they helped create. David Yang, Co-Founder of Fullstack Academy of Code, is one man that wants to write women back into the history of programming. His newest project, Grace Hopper Academy, teaches women the skills they need with financial incentives – so it's easier than ever to make the switch.
Yang talked to Feminist Weekly about his new program, the state of women in tech, and what we need to do to change the course of computer technology history.
Programming was indeed once considered a woman's job. Why do you think has that changed over the years?
Thirty-seven percent of Computer Science bachelor’s degree recipients were women in 1984, so while still a minority, the incredible disparity we see today is actually more recent than we think. I attribute this to culture and environment. Somewhere along the way, the classic archetype of a programmer became a young, somewhat nerdy man. That popular image doesn’t exactly inspire people from different backgrounds to enter the field. And as the field became more male-dominated, the effect snowballed into creating a potentially unwelcoming environment for others. So we need to reframe the picture.
How are Fullstack Academy and Grace Hopper Academy doing that?
No students leave Fullstack Academy thinking that what they’ve done for the past seventeen weeks was a “man’s” job. The female developers Fullstack has already graduated are now out in the workforce, doing incredible things. Increasing the visibility of these women will help create a cultural chain-reaction, as will opening more channels for women to enter the field. We’ve already seen many Fullstack women graduates lead mentorship events with great organizations like Women Who Code. We see Grace Hopper Academy as the channel to bring more women into the field and create a positive feedback effect.
Of all the women who were involved with the early development of computer technology, why did you name the school after Grace Hopper?
There are almost too many reasons to list! Grace Hopper was a true pioneer in computer science - She literally created a new programming language, COBOL, which laid the foundation for many languages still in use today. On top of her technical accomplishments, she also was a life-long teacher, and made it her mission to teach programming to students throughout her career. Grace Hopper also broke through gender barriers in the male dominated fields of education and the military. She earned a PHD in Mathematics from Yale and achieved the rank of Rear Admiral in the Navy, in times when both of those areas were predominantly men and unwelcoming to women.
Given her passion for teaching, incredible computer science achievements, and achievements in breaking gender barriers, we could not think of a better namesake for our school than Grace Hopper.
Why did you decide to create this program, and why now?
The tech culture is currently not inclusive toward women. Minority-majority demographics create a sense of isolation and an unwelcoming climate. By creating this program, we want to build an environment where women can feel comfortable learning and creating together.
My cofounder Nimit and I have both worked as professional software engineers. We’ve seen the gender disparity firsthand. Shanna Gregory, Grace Hopper Academy’s Dean, has been helping women enter the tech field for years, and is also familiar with the challenges they face. With our success at Fullstack Academy, we now find ourselves in a position to do something uniquely impactful in the Tech World: help solve the gender gap. My mother is a college professor, and at an early age she instilled in me the idea that education is one of the most powerful tools for creating social change. Public awareness of the tech gender-gap is at an all-time-high, and we feel Grace Hopper Academy has the potential to add enough fuel to the fire to really help address the issue.
Are there ways men can help women in the tech industry – outside of education?
There are a few key ways men can help women in tech. Some of them are internally focused, like reading literature on the gender gap and taking time to understand the challenges faced by women who are in the field or considering entering it.
Then there are external changes. Men need to be proactive about stopping “brogrammer” culture, a certain macho, male programmer mindset. Male-dominated environments and cultures in tech can be unwelcoming to women, but often this isn’t done intentionally. Rather, it is a result of groupthink and unintentional subtleties. Men need to recognize the negative impact all of that has and actively identify and stop that type of behavior.
Is there any advice you'd give to women who are thinking about making the switch to programming?
For someone considering a switch to programming, my advice is to jump right into the learning process. There are a lot of great free resources online – If you think you might want to become a developer, there’s no risk in trying out Codecademy and seeing how you like it. The best way to tell if coding is for you is to spend a few weeks studying it.
I’d also recommend looking up the amazing stories of Grace Hopper and Ada Lovelace for inspiration. If you like coding but are worried that you might not be able to succeed as a programmer, reading about Grace Hopper and Ada Lovelace with show you otherwise. I can also say first-hand that some of the best students we’ve had at Fullstack Academy have been women.
And finally, it can be very helpful to study coding with other people. There are many women’s groups around the country focused on programming, like Women Who Code and the Anita Borg Institute. I’d recommend joining your local chapter and attending events – You’ll see that there’s actually a large, supportive network of women in Tech to help you.
What would you say is the single most important thing we can do to create equality in tech?
I think the most important thing we can do to create equality in tech is to build avenues for women to enter the field, from coding schools like Grace Hopper Academy to educational programs in grade school and specific workplace initiatives designed to attract women to tech companies. Women currently hold around 30 percent of position is tech and even less in programming-related roles. That’s in no way due to lack of ability. Women are just as capable as men to fill these roles - I’ve seen that firsthand, and there’s a lot of research to support that. Creating educational pipelines and workplace initiatives to counter those issues will help us achieve equality.
Is there anything else you want to mention that we haven't asked about?
Yes! Grace Hopper Academy is accepting applications for our April 2016 cohort. If you’re interested in programming and learning more about our school, visit GraceHopper.com.