I was supposed to spend yesterday in an airplane, hurtling from San Francisco back to Boston. Instead, I ended up in a fifteenth-floor conference room in Chicago with 30 aspiring web developers, getting them excited about coding.
What? How? Rewind:
It’s April 2011, and Jesse Farmer and I meet for breakfast at Stacks in San Francisco. We’ve reached a critical mass of friends in common, and so we decide to connect two more dots. Our conversation ranges from Chicago to Tumblr to fashion, but the part that sticks with me is the moment when Jesse asks: “but how do we get more women into coding?”
May 2012, and an email from Dave Hoover shows up in my inbox. We have a lot in common, not least our shared interest in mentoring and apprenticeship. It takes a while for us to hop on Skype, but once we do, it’s evident that our wavelengths are even closer than we thought. We resolve to stay in touch.
January 2013 finds me sending out my latest letter about what I’ve learned lately. In the letter, I write:
I’ve heard from a handful of people that my posts about programming have inspired them to give it a shot, or to get back in the saddle. And yes yes yes, that’s half the reason I’m doing this at all! I want more people to know what it feels like to make it to the edge. But the writing has gone about as far as it’s going to go on its own. If this work is to travel further and mean more, I need help. Will you tell people it exists?
The letter lands in Dave’s inbox; he’s been reading along. I receive a note from him in return:
If you ever find yourself in Chicago, I hope you’ll come spend some time with us at Dev Bootcamp. We push people to the edge every day and try to instill in them the ability to remain comfortable with confusion.
“Dev Bootcamp” rings a bell, and loudly: Jesse is one of its founders! Dev Bootcamp is a 9-week intensive intro to web development, and Dave is starting up the Chicago campus. Two more dots, connected in a surprising way.
Two weeks after Dave’s note about the letter, another note shows up. He’s wondering, too: how do we get more women into coding? Not just in, but into. We set up a Skype call for the afternoon of Wednesday, February 13.
On the call, I learn that Dave’s made significant progress: he and Elliott Garms and Jen Meyers have organized a day-long introduction to the Dev Bootcamp way. Through careful planning and the efforts of a supportive developer community, over 50% of those who’ve signed up for the workshop are women. But there’s still the question of how to make the most of the momentum, and how to keep it going.
This is something I think about all the time, so we dig into brainstorming. I float the idea of bringing in speakers who will tell their stories. “If I were to give a talk, it would be about how it took forever for coding to click for me…but once it did, I was hooked for good.”
“Wait. Do you want to give a talk?”
“Are you free this Monday?” Monday is the day of the event.
We both laugh. The absurdity of the proposition is self-evident. It’s too soon! Unless…
“Actually, maybe. I’m supposed to be in an airplane all day. But if you can get me from San Francisco to Chicago on Sunday and from Chicago to Boston on Monday…I’m there.”
It’s getting real. We start looking up flights. “Could you stay and mentor the students all day?” I’d love nothing more. Okay! Lunch talk plus mentoring. “I have to run to a meeting,” I say, “but let me know what you think. I want to make this happen.”
By 9pm, the flights are booked. This is really happening.
Yesterday, it happened.
This one’s for you, Marie:
How do we get more women into coding? This is the answer that took me to Chicago yesterday: by telling our stories, and by seizing every opportunity to share what we’ve learned.
Thank you, Dev Bootcamp. And thank you to Dave, Jesse, Jen, and Elliott for building the momentum that made yesterday possible.