January 21, 2014, 4:50 PM — Often, when I ask people how they got started in IT, they tell a story from childhood. Dad gave them a hammer instead of doll. Mom was a scientist. Someone brought home a computer. This has spawned an industry of toys designed to spark an interest in science and technology. But this spark doesn’t always happen when you are a kid. Sometimes people get to be adults before they discover they might have chosen the wrong path. And parents aren’t the only people who have influence over this discovery.
In fact, according to Hackbright Academy’s Angie Chang, boyfriends can be pretty influential, too. Hackbright Academy is a 12-week software development program for women that teaches the fundamentals of computer science and web development and introduces its graduates to Silicon Valley companies that are hiring. It’s for adults, so the students come to Hackbright from other walks of life, often work that didn’t turn out the way they’d hoped it would: teachers, lawyers, stock brokers, and others. They come here to switch up their skills and launch a new career in IT.
“I have noticed, Chang told me recently, “That a lot of these women have had a significant other who has encouraged them to do this.” Often that boyfriend, husband, or partner is a programmer who enjoys that work, sees that she is smart, capable, and not happy in her own work and suggests that she would be good at coding. Because women are often not encouraged in this direction, it’s possible the idea has simply not yet occurred to her. “But having someone next to you who encourages you, believes you would be good at it, and suggests you do it is sometimes all you need,” says Chang.
Chang herself was not encouraged as a child to encourage engineering or anything technical. “My mom always told me that my job was to have a family and nurture a family and house,” she says. And she found a lack of any technical role models at school, in the faces looking back at her from magazines, or anywhere else. Somehow, though, she started building Web sites in high school and that took her in the direction of coding.
I hear the lament all the time, from Chang and from many others: There are not enough women in IT. The companies need more women. The ideas need more diversity. The products need to built with this half of the population in mind. And the women need more women to hang out with. So, if you know a women you think would be good at coding, tell her. She probably needs to hear it.