At the end of 2019, sitting down as a company and reviewing the year behind us, we decided that increasing the number of women enrolled in our program was something worth prioritizing. In an effort to do so, we decided to host an event series targeted at women with no previous programming experience.
On our first iteration, we decided to kick off the events with an introduction to software engineering: an event we rarely, if ever, saw hosted anywhere else. We figured this would be a good place to start, hoping that the number of attendees would speak to how many people had no previous exposure and/or were curious about programming as a career.
Was the Series a Success?
At the end of the six-part series, we sat down to discuss the takeways.
When the idea for this series was born, success meant that at least one woman came away with the realization that software engineering was a viable career choice for her should she decide to pivot.
In this sense, our efforts were a resounding success: with a sold out first event, we put the career of software engineering on dozens of women’s radars. Beyond that, for a good portion of those women, we went on to provide them with basic programming skills that they hadn’t previously possessed.
As anticipated, not every assumption we made was correct. But, this was also a welcome realization: it’s left us with clear areas to improve upon the next time we host the series.
Below are the main points that we were able to conclude from our efforts.
The Introduction to Software Engineering was most attended event overall.
Though we were excited to teach actual coding skills to participants (it’s what we do, after all!), we really wanted to test the waters and see who was listening.
By lowering the barrier to entry and offering the most basic introduction to all things software engineering, we hoped to find women that were just curious enough about programming to be interested by such an event. We were pleasantly surprised when this event sold out!
In terms of attendees, though the majority were new to code, a handful were already engineers or had recently completed a bootcamp and in the midst of their job search. Background and experience aside, the all-female panel of engineers was the highlight for a lot of the attendees and something that we’d like to host throughout the year as a standalone event going forward.
The Pathways to Engineering event was 95% of people who were already favorable to doing a bootcamp.
The Pathways to Engineering event featured a discussion about three ways to become a software engineer: higher education, attending a bootcamp or through self-teaching.
When surveyed at the very beginning as part of our ice-breaker, all but one or two already had the bootcamp route at the forefront of their mind. The remaining one or two were contemplating self-teaching.
In addition, nearly all attendees had degrees, meaning that they were aware of the merits and downsides of the higher education route. Given that higher education made up 1/3 of the presentation, it seemed like a waste.
As a result of these factors, we decided to cut this event from the series and instead host a bootcamp information session specifically for women every couple of months.
The Introduction to HTML was the most highly attended technical event.
Our intention was to reach women who had no programming experience and HTML is the perfect place to start if that’s the case. As such, we were hoping that this would be a highly attended event. And it was!
The theory going into the technical portion of the series was that the number of participants would slowly diminish as technical topics got more advanced. Programming isn’t for everyone and we anticipated the numbers reflecting that reality.
This ended up being the case, but, we were heartened that a core group of women not only attended all of the technical sessions, but also organized a study group between events.
There is more that we can be doing as an organization to support and facilitate this, and is something we plan to have a further discussion about.
People heard about the events mostly through friends or colleagues.
Finally, reviewing the data about how individuals heard about the events, the overwhelming majority got word by way of their personal network.
On our end, we need to be more specific in our data collection: someone indicating that they heard from a friend doesn’t tell us how that friend forwarded the information, but, it’s a good start and it bolsters the assumption that the network effect is a key factor.
After the final event had concluded, an attendee found me in the kitchen and made a point to tell me that she was particularly grateful for us having hosted the series.
As someone who’d recently moved to San Francisco that had no background in technology at all, though she was eager to learn, she found it impossible to find events that didn’t assume some previous programming knowledge. This series was the first opportunity she felt she’d been offered to finally enter the robust technical scene that our city has to offer. And she has no intention of stopping here.
That outcome, that interaction alone, has made all of the time and energy put into planning and executing worth it, a thousand times over. If we can create opportunity for just one person, it’s worth it. But if we can do so for even more women, the tech sector as a whole will be all the better. There’s work yet to be done, and, utilizing the lessons learned, we can only improve from here.