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Girl Develop It Instructor Calls Out “Bogus Stereotypes”: Girls CAN Code

jmozenJennifer Mozen helps lead software development teams and would like to see more women in her field. By day, she is a delivery principal at Chicago-based web development and digital consulting firm Table XI. In her spare time, she is a volunteer coding instructor with Girl Develop It, a nonprofit organization with chapters in 15 U.S. cities, Sydney, and Ottawa that provides software development training and mentorship for women.

In this Q&A, Mozen tells Techonomy’s Andrea Ozretic that she sees a big shift coming in the demographics of software development.

What made you get involved with Girl Develop It?

Building and delivering software is fun, creative, and rewarding. It can be intimidating if you haven’t done it before, so I wanted to help make it more accessible, to help more people, especially women, know what it’s all about and feel like there is a safe place where they can go to learn about it.

What happens in the training sessions?

The class we just finished had 25 women. A lot of them work in tech companies around Chicago, but aren’t developers. We have account managers, people in marketing, and some from recruiting. They work with developers all the time, they see what they do, and want to understand more. This class was an introduction to HTML and CSS, which helps you build websites.

Why do you think fewer women than men pursue software development jobs?

It’s hard to say, because I pursued it. It didn’t dawn on me that this was something I shouldn’t do. At some point between junior high and high school girls get turned off from this career. There are a number of things: the bogus stereotype that girls aren’t good at math and science, and the stereotype that coders in general are anti-social.

How can we then get more girls pursuing careers in coding?

A big change needs to happen at a younger age, and we need to place more emphasis on the creative aspect of programming rather than the math and science aspect. There’s plenty of, “you have to be able to solve problems.” But let’s get kids excited about it when they’re creative, and teach them how to code as a new form of art. The same way they learn to paint and to build things with clay and Legos, let’s teach them how to write code so they can make websites that do what they want them to do. Kids today are used to being able to control their environment and customize things. This is a natural extension of that.

Are tech companies actively seeking women for jobs within software development?

Yes. Just about every company out there is actively seeking women, which is one of the reasons it’s becoming harder and harder to find them.

Should there be equal opportunity employment initiatives at tech companies to try and get more women recruited for jobs?

If you know that you want to hire a certain number of women, then you need to spend more time trying to find them. You have to cast a wider net.  Because there are fewer women developers out there, you need to work harder to find them. I don’t think you should have different standards when it comes to actually hiring. There are plenty of women out there who are good and qualified, they’re just a little harder to find.

Is there anything different that women offer to the development environment?

Some women are more collaborative and better team players and really help a team gel. There are men who do that as well, but I think it’s far more common for women to do that. They bring a different dynamic to a team.

When I was in college I was involved in organizations that were trying to get more women involved in engineering. The discussion has been going on for a long time, but it’s gaining momentum. There’s a lot more activity in the space, and I see a big change coming. There are more kids and girls getting involved in coding now with summer camps, and there are good iPad apps to teach you how to code. There are 5–year-olds coding programs. There’s going to be a big shift.

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