Sometimes you don’t get a seat at the table, and sometime you learn to build your own amazing table.

By Melissa Pierce (Founder, Chicago Women Developers)

Last year, I showed up to an open invitation “hacking” day where local programmers were invited to work on their projects and help each other at an informal get together. New to programming, and just wanting to know enough to fix my own WordPress site, I was excited to attend.

When I arrived, every seat was taken by guys so I stood and exchanged greetings with the men I knew and announced my coding problem, a man I didn’t know said, “no room for noobs with boobs at this table!” then he laughed and they all turned their heads back to their computers, nobody offered an apology, nobody offered help.

One thing was clear to me, what had been labeled as an “open invitation” to share a table, was anything but open to anyone who was new to programming and was certainly not the kind of environment I, or my boobs, would feel comfortable in.

I would have to find a more accepting group of programmers, but when I looked for user groups in Chicago like Girl Develop It that catered to women in programming, there were exactly zero. If I wanted a support network of coders, I was going to have to build it on my own, and so I did.

Ten curious and brave women showed up to my first event, many of them were the only women in their respective IT departments, and most of them didn’t know of any other women coders in Chicago.

They excitedly threw around names like Ruby, Python, Django, and Backbone, demanded to know what “end” of programming each of us worked on, where we worked, and what programs we wanted to learn. I was definitely out of my element, but thrilled that I had facilitated connections between women who had only moments before felt like they were the lone woman computer programmer in all of Chicago.

What happened over the next 11 months for Chicago Women Developers (CWDevs) was amazing, a few wonderful women took a chance on me and not only helped me with my WordPress site and taught me the difference between a front-end program and a back-end program, but stepped up to teach classes, plan events, and mentor anyone who showed even the slightest interest in coding.

My co-founders Francesca Slade, Ri Liu, and Valerie Concepcion, showed me what it means to be part of a community, and helped me build a community that supports women in programming all over Chicago.

April 2012 marked Chicago Women Developers’ one year anniversary. With a roster of over 400 women who now meet and mentor one another at 1871 Chicago’s state of the art entrepreneurial center, I am at once proud of where we’ve come from, hopeful about where we’re going, and exhausted. The amount of work it takes to not only build a community, but to gain the trust and support of women who program without knowing how to program much myself is an excruciatingly humbling, but worthwhile experience.

Sometimes you don’t get a seat at the table, and sometime you learn to build your own amazing table.

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

About the guest blogger: Melissa Pierce is the Founder of Chicago Women Developers. She is also founded Pitch Conference and hundreds of other less well known ideas. She is an award-winning filmmaker. She believes that if you want to attract more women to careers in tech you have to shine a light on the awesome women who are already there. Follow her on Twitter at @melissapierce.