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How Hackbright Academy Helps Women Pursue Careers in Tech

How Hackbright Academy Helps Women Pursue Careers in Tech

Tuesday, November 8, 2016/Categories: business-development-and-sales

Take a look around a typical room full of tech and IT workers and what do you see? In many offices, the answer is the same: a real absence of women.

While more women are working in male-dominated fields – law, medicine, and physical science – the number of women in computer science is steadily decreasing.

According to a report by NPR, in 1984, women made up more than a third of college students preparing for a career in computer science. Today, less than 20 percent of students majoring in computer science are women.

Hackbright Academy (@Hackbright) is working to reverse that trend by offering quarterly engineering fellowships exclusively for women. We spoke with Paria Rajai, director of marketing at Hackbright Academy, to learn more about the program.

The transcript below has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Why do you think there has been such a drop in the number of women majoring in computer science?

It’s a complex issue. As a marketer, I do see the unfortunate effect that mainstream media and advertising have had on this drop.

Companies started selling personal computers around the time we began to see a decline in women pursuing this field. One of the main ways you could use a personal computer at the time was to play games, which is associated with boys and men. As a result, personal computers were primarily targeted toward that demographic. I think the association of computers and programing with men really catapulted from there. 

As a society, we've forgotten that many of the first programmers – Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper, and Jean Bartik, to name a few – were women. I do feel that if more people knew the impact women have had on programming, we'd see a higher percentage of women pursuing the field. [Editor's note: For more about Ada Lovelace, check out our article "Happy Ada Lovelace Day!"]

What do you think prevents more women from majoring in computer science?

Again, a very multi-faceted issue, but the fact that women are often excluded from the picture can't be underestimated. Men and programming are so closely associated that it's not a surprise that girls and women don't even consider the field.

How is Hackbright Academy encouraging more women to pursue careers in tech and computer science?

If you look at our website or ads, it's women programing and it's women enjoying it. We are changing the image of what a software engineer looks like. If you come to Hackbright, we create an environment where you are encouraged, you are supported, and it's a safe space for you to learn. There are pictures of women programmers throughout the halls. If you truly enjoy software engineering, Hackbright is here to help you feel empowered and give you the resources to pursue it as a career.

Tell us about your accelerated software engineering fellowship.

It's a 12-week immersive program. For the first five weeks, students are focused on lecture and lab. The second half of the program is focused on projects and building your portfolio. The last two weeks are career-services oriented: preparing students for interviews, learning about various positions in the industry, salary negotiation, etc.

How much contact do students have with mentors and potential future employers during the program?

Each student has up to two to three mentors within the first few weeks of the program. One huge advantage of the mentor support is these are mentors from all over the industry. It's really helpful for our students to get that industry support and insight. In addition, there is dedicated time for students to meet various companies and network. There are hundreds of companies that are dedicated to ensuring their workforce is reflective of the diversity seen in their customers – which is fantastic.

What is your job placement rate?

We recently published the latest version of our Outcomes, which offers details on our 99 percent graduation rate and information on the over 90 percent that receive jobs in tech or tech-adjacent roles within six months of graduating from the program.

We're incredibly proud of our outcomes. Hackbright is an intense program! It's not easy and it is a big life decision to decide to pursue a career change. We really attribute the success to the program and the graduates themselves. There is a lot of hard work behind those outcome numbers.

Why do you think Hackbright is the best choice for a woman interested in pursuing a career as a software engineer?

The curriculum, dedicated staff, professional network, and the supportive environment are one of a kind. It's a powerful combination that we've seen really work. The world needs more women engineers and we hope more women who enjoy programming decide to pursue it as a career. It's never too late!

To learn more about preparing for a career in IT, read "How to Launch a Second Career in IT in 3 Months" and "The 4 Biggest Mistakes Information Technology Majors Make in College."

About the Contributor

Paria Rajai

Paria Rajai is a marketing and communications strategist, specializing in human rights, tech, and female empowerment programs. She has worked on projects for Yahoo! Business and Human Rights and the UN, and participated in US State Department women in tech initiatives. She has a deep passion for using tech to create change.

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