I recently had a chance to catch up with Susan Buck and Nicole Noll, founders of the Women’s Coding Collective, who shared the story of how the WCC came into existence and why. This interview was conducted for She Geeks Out, a community for women in the STEM field. Read the exerpt below or the full interiew here.
How did the Women's Coding Collective come into existence?
Nicole: In Philadelphia, Susan and I were working on an app and running into the frustrations you have when you are trying to start something. We thought, we know other people who are working on projects, let's have a dinner party and get advice. And everybody was really excited about it, but then life happened and they cancelled on us and we were like, “well we clearly need more friends.” (laughs) So we started a Meetup, met a bunch of new people, and in talking to them about their ideas and what they wanted to do, it became pretty clear that a sticking point for a lot of people was technical ability.
They had ideas for business platforms or services - but no matter what it was - they needed some sort of web presence and didn't know where to start with that, either building it themselves or even just talking to someone who could build it for them. Since that is what Susan did, teaching web development classes at the University of Pennsylvania, we realized we could just start offering classes.
Susan: We started really simple. We found a dance studio in South Philadelphia which was basically a big open room but it had a table, chairs, Internet and a blank white wall to project onto. We started out having meetups with other women who were doing something entrepreneurial that also intersected with web and tech. The idea was to get together regularly so we could check in with this group and have a bit of accountability. But then we started to have the class aspect and people would come just to pick up the skills.
Then we both had life circumstances that brought us up here, in Boston. And then we said, "Let's try this in a different city." It became a lot more structured and finding a home at the Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC) was a big move up for us.
Why women only? What do you think a women-centric organization contributes that is different from other types of coding meetups?
Nicole: I feel really strongly about my educational experience at a women’s college and a part of what was motivating us was to contribute to addressing the gender gap in tech. The combination of having that as a goal and my own educational background just made focusing on women make sense.
The analogy that we like to use is a greenhouse. One of the common arguments against women spaces or minority spaces is that it isn’t like the real world. But there is something to be said for having an environment that is somewhat artificial but can prepare you. Speaking from personal experience going to other kinds of meetups, the atmosphere seems much more competitive and we are trying to foster one that is cooperative and supportive.
Susan: There is just a different vibe and we are really interested in that. A lot of research shows that the ratio of men to women or boys to girls in a classroom impacts who is speaking up and who is raising their hand. To get and retain people in the tech industry, which can be a bit of a cold place for women and minorities, you want to create spaces where women aren’t also combating with that feeling of otherness and impostor syndrome.
A testament to this is that with pretty good frequency we hear from men who say they want to come to our classes because they always feel intimidated at other tech events and feel like our classes would be nicer and gentler. When people say that this isn’t the real world, we respond that there are plenty of opportunities to interact with the real world. You know, our events are only a couple of nights a month.
If you weren't doing what you currently do, what else would you do?
Susan: I'd want to know how to work with wood, to be able to make stuff, and have a workshop. If I fail, I may look for the Ctrl Z on my circular saw.
Nicole: Hmm, I don't know.
Susan: Oh, you know you would be a park ranger!
Nicole: (laughs) I really like being outdoors. I’d just be so happy and I’ll have fun introducing other people to that because it has elements of teaching.