By Jessica Knott
Fields ensconced within the walls of academia grow more technical by the day. As Andrea Zellner of Michigan State University points out in a recent GradHacker post (“Learning to Code,” 14 Nov. 2012), programming skills have become increasingly important in disciplines outside of computer science, especially for those teaching online. If you’re like me, the idea of learning to program is daunting. I’ve taken programming class after programming class, to mixed results. Zellner’s article had me thinking about the struggle to gain technology skills and how faculty members and teachers, already strapped for time, must feel in their pursuit. I asked for insight, and my Twitter network delivered yet again.
Erin Antaya (@gypsymama75), with a 10-year background in education and counseling and experience working for her family’s business and Biggby Coffee, turned me onto a group called Girl Develop It (@girldevelopit). Girl? Develop It? How had I never heard of this before? With more research, I discovered they are everywhere, and Erin, along with the founders of the Detroit Chapter of Girl Develop It (@GDIdet), Michelle Srbinovich and Erika Carlson, were kind enough to speak to me about what it all means.
Erin took to meetup.com and found the class offered at WDET in Detroit. “It was awesome,” she says. “The class [was] a safe and comfortable environment to ask questions and network.” According to Srbinovich, the story behind the Detroit chapter is amazing. In March 2012, she wanted to learn to code before the year’s end and set about finding the means to learn. In the process, she found Girl Develop It, and, she says, “The prospect of having an in-person introduction to web development and a female support system was exciting, and I knew it would give me extra motivation to continue learning.” Knowing others would feel the same she started her own group. The Detroit chapter was born.
Soon after, she heard from Carlson and knew that she had found her co-founder. Carlson’s story is similar, beginning in 2011 when she wrote her first line of Python code. “I fell head over heels in love with programming and went back to school in the fall to study computer science full-time,” she says. “I was routinely the only woman (or one of a very few) in my classes, and the majority of the professors and department staff were male also. This wasn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but I thought it would be really great to have a community of female peers and mentors as well.” Together they found their instructor, Cara Jo Miller of Detroit start-up Are You a Human, and within the month the chapter was up and running.
The classes were accommodating, according to Antaya.“I felt a little old, but I wasn’t the oldest person in the class,” she says. “I am almost 40 and haven’t written computer programs since my freshman year of college! It makes me very happy to know this group is out there, actively pursuing females to get more in involved in coding and software development.”
According to Carlson, Girl Develop It is an international organization with 11 chapters in three countries. It has served over 2,500 students and boasts a network of 8,000 women since 2010. And, what makes Girl Develop It different from online offerings such as Khan Academy and Code Academy? “When content is brand spanking new to me, I want more handholding,” says Antaya. “I want someone physically there to answer my questions.” Srbinovich echoes the importance of solid teaching practices in building a safe environment in which women of all ages can learn. “Girl Develop It has done an incredible job of creating curriculums, best practices, and resources for their chapters,” she says. “We have a solid foundation and knowledge base to draw from. We’re fortunate to have a great deal of flexibility in the types of classes and events we offer so we can best meet the needs of our community.”
“We’ve been lucky enough to receive an incredible degree of support and enthusiasm from Detroit’s fast-growing tech scene,” says Carlson, “and Michelle and I are constantly evaluating our progress, seeking feedback and brainstorming ways to grow the chapter in ways that serve the community. We’re looking forward to offering many more classes, workshops, and activities in 2013.”
For a list of chapters nationwide, available activities, resources and events, visit http://www.girldevelopit.com.
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