SheCodesOKC Strives to Change Tech Landscape

While technical innovations have driven the progress of humanity since the invention of the wheel, the landscape today looks different than ever before. Instead of teams of Egyptians dragging limestone across the desert, or the Wright Brothers hauling out to Kitty Hawk on a Thursday morning, most cutting-edge technology today occurs in front of a computer screen. One thing that has not yet changed, however, if the fact that the tech industry is predominantly male. SheCodesOKC, a group meeting monthly at StarSpace46, wants to help improve that by offering education and support to local women interested in programming.

The statistics are shocking, no matter how many times I read them. After reaching a high point in 1991 of 36 percent, the ratio of women to men in computing roles has been in constant decline. Of all the computer science degrees earned annually, only 28 percent of the graduates are women. Those are bleak numbers, considering approximately 74 percent of young girls are interested in computer science and STEM careers. Helping women find a place in tech is a big job, but SheCodesOKC is contributing to the change.

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The Nerdy Girls codeClub was organized by Carmen Bourlon, bringing together female programmers and coders to share ideas and gain insights. Over time, the club grew, and in August 2017, became SheCodesOKC. The new group, now co-organized by Bourlon and Caitlin Stewart, strives to develop the skills of local coders, as well as teach those who have an interest but need to get a solid start. “The thing I love most about coding is building something. Writing code lets me be creative and solve problems at the same time. Most new SheCodes attendees are not currently in the industry and are just starting. My very favorite thing about SheCodes is seeing women progress and gain confidence in their abilities,” Bourlon said.

SheCodesOKC offers a wide variety of meetups, focusing on JavaScript and front-end frameworks. A few times per year, the group hosts lightning talks, events which feature members sharing 15-minute speeches about a diverse set of subjects. Lightning talks are designed to build community by giving members a chance to share ideas and skills they are developing, or shed light on a new topic. A favorite recurring event among members is the “Hackternoon.” These get-togethers are all about finding a safe place to practice your technical skills but have a social component as well. Later this year, SheCodesOKC will be offering holiday-themed meetups that feature programming using Raspberry Pi computers.

Melissa Timmons, a front-end developer that recently relocated back to Oklahoma City, said SheCodesOKC was an “awesome” way to return to the tech community here. “I really appreciate the space SheCodes provides for networking and getting to know other women across the industry.  I’ve enjoyed great discussions with brilliant women who have a range of strengths, expertise, and experience,” Timmons said. “I recently attended the React.js workshop led by Carmen. The workshop was a great source of inspiration and exactly the push I needed to get going on some projects of my own.” One of the biggest benefits of SheCodesOKC, according to Timmons, is the solidarity of developing her craft among other female programmers. “I’ve also been encouraged to step out of my shell and participate in lightning talks which I’m really excited about! I’m looking forward to hearing more from this great group of women, as well as sharing some of what I’ve learned along the way.”

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Co-organizer Caitlin Stewart enjoys bringing together a community of like-minded individuals. “I love being a co-organizer of SheCodes because I get to meet a lot of amazing women in the programming industry who are willing to share their talents in a friendly, nonjudgemental space,” she said. “The community and knowledge we have are amazing.” Stewart attended several meetups before she stepped into a leadership role. “I thought it was important to continue that work [of teaching women about technology] and have an inclusive place to learn. It's important for women to see role models in their local community. Not just unattainable internet famous women but real, approachable, and fallible.”

It is important to point out that female computer coders of any age and experience level are welcome. Stewart’s daughter, Vesper, a 6-year-old budding programmer, said “I like going to SheCodes because I get to learn SQL and databases.” In 2017, only 7 percent of startups were owned by women. I have a feeling Vesper is on her way to increasing that measurement in the very near future.