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Bay Area Girl Geek Dinner Debuts Hackbright Academy Students - Women Engineers

Posted: 12/11/2012 9:18 am

Hackbright Academy, an accelerated software programming school in San Francisco, is helping to tip the gender balance in the industry one woman at a time. And 16 graduated on Friday as the school's second class since its inception.

After 10 weeks of diving into Python and other developer tools, the women -- coming from backgrounds including literary professor, elementary school teacher, publishing, tech support, mechanical and electrical engineer -- made their appearance as newly-transitioned career changers.

Erica Chang, who graduates on Friday, said her friends were surprised at how far she had come in such a short amount of time. The back-end developer formerly worked for a pharmaceutical company in training and development.

"Are they teaching you magic over there? Because five weeks ago we wouldn't be having this conversation," they said to her.

The statistics of Hackbright's first graduating class from Summer 2012 offer an interesting snapshot. Out of 12 graduates, eight have received offers, and of the remaining four, two are pursuing startups, one is studying computer science at a university, and one returned to her former career.

For those curious about Hackbright Academy's program, fellow Margaret Morris, co-founder and VP of Product at CritSend, a STMP relay and email analytics service, offered a glimpse into the world of a women-only programming school. Which, like competing co-ed schools, centers around coding lessons, pair programming, guest speakers and more coding.

"Sometimes, especially around 4 o'clock, you're just like, oh God," she said. "You're praying for the zombie apocalypse to come and turn off everybody's computers so you don't have to code again that day."

In those moments, female bonding helps break the monotony.

"Somebody will come and like say, 'oh look at this cute animal I found [online]'," said Morris. "Seriously. We're like that."

Hackbright mentor Letitia Lew, a software engineer with a degree in civil engineering from Stanford offered a glimpse into her world. Over dinner, she gave a presentation on how after making a Windows 8 app for Flixster, a website where users share movie reviews and ratings, landed her on a panel with three men in charge of product for their companies.

"They're talking about the broad strategic vision. And I was like, you know, bugs," said Lau, who distinguished herself from the panelists as coming from the trenches.

The Bay Area Girl Geek Dinner event was held at Rocketspace, a 42,000 sq. ft. co-working facility for seed-funded tech startups in the SOMA district. Brennan Angel, operations manager, said, "We used to have one or two women in the building. Now it's one or two for every company."

The tech startups housed at Rocketspace average four employees, but can range from two to 30. These companies are looking to hire and grow, often doubling the number they currently have on staff, according to Angel. And, yes, there is a demand for developers.

Hackbright fellows who just graduated say they have already received invitations from recruiting companies asking them to interview next week.

About the guest blogger: Adelaide Chen is an independent multimedia journalist learning how to code and make data visualizations. She launched a hyperlocal news website in the Silicon Valley suburb of Milpitas for AOL's Patch.com in 2010 after graduating with a masters in journalism from UC Berkeley. She divides her time between Silicon Valley and Los Angeles. After someone hacked into her online portfolio, she is rebuilding her site here.

 

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