• Women 2.0 HowTo Conference San Francisco, September 30 - October 1, 2014

Are You Aspiring To Code? Join The Club, Literally…

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A conference attendee said she didn’t study computer science in school and didn’t know any code a year ago, but is now working as a full-time developer.

By Melissa Tinitigan (Founder, Event Digerati)

I’ve always been fascinated by technology, and I was hoping to learn more about the booming tech industry in San Francisco by going to O’Reilly’s Fluent conference: JavaScript & Beyond. I was naïve enough to attend the event thinking that I could do justice in highlighting the technical presentations and impart wisdom shared by the female speakers such as Nicole Sullivan, Lea Verou, Sarah Mei, Estelle Weyl and Sara Chipps.

The three-day Fluent conference, whose mission was to spread the knowledge of innovators and surface the bestideas in technology, was held at the Hilton Union Square on May 29-31 and was attended by 1,000 software engineers, developers, and other technical folks.

The first presentation I sat in on was Lea Verou’s /Reg(exp){2}lained/: Demystifying Regular Expressions (yes, that was the actual title). As I tried to jot down notes, I realized in one horrifying moment that this was all Greek to me. I believe Lea is Greek, but she was, in fact, speaking English the entire time. To give Lea her due credit, the Twittersphere has deemed her presentation to be one of the best sessions at the conference.

As a female whose technical experience was limited to WordPress, being at the conference where 90% of the attendees could cast the next Revenge of the Nerds movie (and I mean this very admiringly, by the way) made me feel like an American tourist in a foreign village where no one spoke English.

You can bet that at this point, I doubted my abilities to cover this event for the Women 2.0 blog.

However, a saving grace shortly arose that evening: the Women’s Communities Meetup organized by the O’Reilly team. At the meetup, I discovered that there’s a wealth of resources for aspiring female coders out there (like ME). I was ecstatic to meet the cool developers from Women Who Code, DevChix, RailsBridge, and PyLadies SF (just to name a few).

I learned that these women’s organizations hold regular meet-ups and workshops with the purpose of teaching more women how to code, whether they just want to dabble with it as a hobby or start a new career in programming. All you need to do is bring your laptop to one of their weekly meet-ups, and they’ll teach you the basics of HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Python, or Ruby on Rails. You’ll have the opportunity to work with a mentor to help you hurdle through the arduous learning curve. They also have lightning talks and hack nights for the more experienced women programmers.

Suzanne Axtell from O’Reilly Media says, “As the evidence mounts for diverse teams creating more successful products, the demand for technical women can only increase. One attendee I spoke to at the conference said she didn’t study CS in school and didn’t know any code a year ago, but is now working as a full-time developer. Wow! That inspires me. I think I took the wrong career path.

Mozilla Product Manager Jennifer Arguello spoke at the meetup, representing Systers, which is the world’s largest email community of women in computing with 3,000 members from 54 countries, and Latinas in Computing. She exclaimed, “I’m part of the 1%… there was a study done in the US in 2009 that [showed that], of all the professionals in computing, only 1% were Latinas.”

As the conference wrapped up, I had the opportunity to chat 1-on-1 with speaker Sara Chipps, founder of Girl Develop It and CTO of Levo League. Girl Develop It produces four-week workshops to teach women or any adult to learn to code at a very low cost – only $20 per class, which is just a little bit more than the drop-in rates at my yoga studio.

Chipps says, “One thing that tends to discourage women [to learn to code] a lot: they haven’t been coding since they were 12. However, most men who take computer science programs have been coding for several years at that point… there are studies that show most women enrolled in computer science programs only started programing in college. So it can be intimidating. But I never think you’re too old for this.”

Finally, Chipps gave me great advice on learning to code: make a shitty project.

“Go out there and just make a shitty project. I know a lot of people who have gone from non-coders to coders, and they will all tell you the same thing. Make something that’s useful to you, and from there, you’ll make a less shitty project. Over time, slowly, it will get much easier for you,” Chipps advises.

I came home from the conference absolutely fired-up, feeling empowered, and inspired by these amazing women to learn how to code. I don’t believe that learning to code will be a piece of cake but having all these resources and community support available will definitely make the journey 10x easier.

For resources on learning to code online, I came across this interesting blog post by Pamela Fox, Girl Develop It SF’s co-organizer.

Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.

About the guest blogger: Melissa Tinitigan is a freelance event manager for tech and startup conferences in San Francisco. Her portfolio of events include the SF MusicTech Summit, Future of Money & Technology Summit, War For Talent conference, and the upcoming FailCon. She volunteers as one of Women 2.0′s SF Founder Friday organizers. Prior to working on events, Melissa handled advertising and operations for media and tech companies. Follow her on Twitter at @eventdigerati.