Paying it Forward

It isn’t easy being a woman in tech. I'm really happy to work with a great company, but it would be great to see and work with more women in my field. I had some great female professors in college who did so much to get every talented female student they met into computer science, so it's really important to me to pay it forward. It took me a few years to really get involved, but I’ve learned that you don’t need to be a CEO or CTO to mentor people in your field.

San Diego Women’s Hackathon

I got involved with Girl Develop It San Diego by signing up on meetup. That's how I found out about the San Diego Women's Hackathon earlier this year, held at Cal State San Marcos. It’s a semi-annual 12-hour event for women in high school and college - no experience required at all. (Shameless plug - our next event is October 24!)

Hackathon Sponsors speak to the group at the Spring 2015 San Diego Women's Hackathon.

This particular event is sponsored by several companies and Cal State San Marcos, and is pretty straightforward - the organizers and sponsors pick a current topic or two, the participants can brainstorm before the event, but they can't code until the day of. Their projects are submitted via a specific website, and the judges deliberate while everyone eats dinner. It's a really packed day, and a lot of work goes into an event like this! I went from volunteering to mentoring to organizing the mentors to being the Lead Mentor and organizing a good deal of the event the day of. It was really fantastic - I'd never really been involved in hackathons before, and I didn't know what to expect. The participants had a really wide range of skills. Some had no programming skills at all, some were seniors in college. Every team impressed me. I was really inspired by their enthusiasm and the ideas they came up with - and how much they were able to execute in just a few hours of coding! I was also really pleased that the organizers had made award categories that took into account technical and non-technical skills, so that some of the teams with less experience but great ideas were recognized.

Hackathon 2 I loved some of the creative team names the participants came up with.

Another important note: not all of our mentors and volunteers were coders, either. We had project and product managers, IT folks, designers - from all over the spectrum of people working in technical environments. Every one of those people had something great to add to their team, and many mentors collaborated with multiple teams as needed. When I saw a team struggling to get their project organized, I requested the help of a mentor who was a project manager. When a team was stumped with a particular technology they’d chosen, I found someone familiar with it to come over and work with them. I think a lot of people are afraid to volunteer because they don’t know what they have to offer - you’d be amazed how much professional expertise you have that you don’t think about day-to-day, and how much good you can do by sharing that knowledge with young coders and students. I spent the day working with all of the mentors and hackers, making sure everyone had what they needed and were on track. During the evening portion of the event, which was dinner and awards, I got to talk to a lot more of the girls. There was also an event for volunteers a few weeks later, where I got to talk to many of the students who had volunteered during the event. It's almost intimidating being asked for advice when you're still pretty early in your career, but I realized that I did have a lot to tell these students.

Cal State San Marcos ACM

One of the conversations led to me speaking to CSUSM's Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) - they needed a primer on Git, and I was happy to help. Giving students the information and tools they need to succeed in their field is a really great feeling, although I did have some pretty serious panic afterwards wondering why students in computer science in 2015 aren’t being taught Git basics! This was such a small thing to do, but every student left my talk with a GitHub account, a set of slides, and enough knowledge to start using Git. They also asked a LOT about career and interview advice, which I did my best to give. College students are getting a lot of mixed advice from recruiters, from what I can tell, which doesn't make the job search any easier on them. If you want to help young people in tech, your local college may be the best place to start. Nearly every CS department has an ACM chapter or something similar, and they all look to local professionals to come speak to them. Reach out!

Girl Develop It San Diego

After the hackathon, I met with leaders at Girl Develop It about becoming the chapter co-leader for San Diego. If you’re not familiar, Girl Develop it is dedicated to teaching programming to women. From the website:

Girl Develop It is a nonprofit organization that exists to provide affordable and judgment-free opportunities for women interested in learning web and software development. Through in-person classes and community support, Girl Develop It helps women of diverse backgrounds achieve their technology goals and build confidence in their careers and their everyday lives.

Our chapter is currently focusing on offering a set of about 10-12 front-end development classes over the next year, but we're still working to get those scheduled. I hosted one small, informal study group meetup, and then got the bad news that my co-leader had to step down to focus on a job search. Now I'm working to organize a GDI scholarship program for our chapter, schedule a year of classes and teachers, attend a leadership summit, meet and onboard a new co-leader, and help organize the upcoming fall hackathon - all at once! It's a little overwhelming, but it's so important to me to make sure that students and women interested in tech see women in leadership positions. I don't want to let our chapter of GDI fall through the cracks, so while we work out the kinks, I'm still engaging with our members on social media and meetup. There are now chapters in 53 cities, offering a really wide array of classes - if you're interested in teaching or learning, check out your local chapter! Instructors are always welcome, as well as folks who want to help out others at study sessions. (And while GDI is focused on teaching women, we welcome anyone to join in, though specifics vary by chapter.)

Volunteering is a lot of fun when the hard work is through - and the work itself is fun, too. I'm so grateful to have the time and support of Chromatic so that I can give back in ways beyond Drupal. A little goes a long way, and as an organizer of events like these, I can tell you that just a few hours from one volunteer makes all the difference, and is really rewarding. If you're not sure where to start, check out your local universities (or high schools) and their student organizations. Sign up for Meetup and look for tech meetups in your area. You can make a huge difference!

Do you have any great volunteer work to share? Amazing organizations in your area? Tell us about your experience in the comments!