Girl Develop It Expands Access to Technology Education for Adult Women

Girl Develop It trains women across the U.S. to code through its hands-on training programs. With the help of a grant from the Twilio.org Impact Fund, Girl Develop It is lowering the barriers to training even further by expanding access to program scholarships.

Impact

91,000

Members nationwide as of September 2017

56

Girl Develop It chapters in 32 U.S. states, plus the District of Columbia

Who is a software developer? Is Alicia Carr, an African-American mother of three and grandmother of eight who builds apps in her Lawrenceville, Georgia, home office? Or Habiba, an immigrant who used her last $60 to take a coding class in Chicago, and now works as a Salesforce admin in Arizona? Is it anyone with an interest in code, regardless of life experience?

To Girl Develop It, the answer is an emphatic, “Yes!” A hundred thousand times, “Yes!”

Girl Develop It is a New York-based nonprofit that offers affordable, hands-on classes in software development to underrepresented populations. Recipient of a Twilio.org Impact Fund grant in 2017, the organization serves women 18 and older who want to code for a variety of reasons—from accessing better employment opportunities to building apps that serve underserved audiences—but lack access to high-quality training. Men are welcome at the classes, but women are the primary audience.

“We want to empower people who have been left out of technology education, primarily women from diverse backgrounds of varying races, education levels, income, and upbringing,” says Corinne Warnshuis, Executive Director of Girl Develop It. “Tech is one of the fastest-growing industries in the U.S., offering women the chance to have real earning power. We want to make sure women are a part of it.”

Girl Develop It

“Tech is one of the fastest-growing industries in the U.S., offering women the chance to have real earning power. We want to make sure women are a part of it.”

Corinne Warnshuis, Executive Director, Girl Develop It

Lowering the Barriers to Entry

Diversity is a well-documented challenge facing the technology industry. According to a 2017 Stack Overflow developer survey, 88% of software developers are male, and nearly 75% are Caucasian or of European descent. Developers also skew young. Previous Stack Overflow surveys tagged their average age as 28.9 years old.

Girl Develop It hopes to level the playing field by lowering the barriers to entry for women of all ages and skill levels. The most expensive class the organization offers is $100, and scholarships are available to people who can’t afford tuition. Classes are offered on evenings and weekends to accommodate women who work full time or who lack daytime child care. All GDI curriculum is open source and available online.

“There are lots of great organizations that teach young girls to code,” Corinne explains. “We focus on adult women from 18 to 150—or so we say—because we believe it’s never too late to learn. We’ve seen women in their 50s, 60s, and 70s coming to our classes, both to switch careers or even to start a new hobby.”

Women like Alicia, a member of the Girl Develop It community who found a coding class through an online meetup group. After learning the essentials of app building, she left her job to become a full-time app developer. Her Pevo app—a state-by-state resource guide for victims of domestic violence—helped earn her an invite to Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference in 2016, where she shared a stage with Apple CEO Tim Cook.

“People like Alicia blow our minds,” Corinne says. “She started coming to Girl Develop It classes a few years ago and taught herself to code. She ended up spreading the word to her entire community, telling people how inspiring and empowering it is to build your own apps.”

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Diversity is a well-documented challenge facing the technology industry. According to a 2017 Stack Overflow developer survey, 88% of software developers are male, and nearly 75% are Caucasian or of European descent. Developers also skew young. Previous Stack Overflow surveys tagged their average age as 28.9 years old.

Girl Develop It hopes to level the playing field by lowering the barriers to entry for women of all ages and skill levels. The most expensive class the organization offers is $100, and scholarships are available to people who can’t afford tuition. Classes are offered on evenings and weekends to accommodate women who work full time or who lack daytime child care. All GDI curriculum is open source and available online.

“There are lots of great organizations that teach young girls to code,” Corinne explains. “We focus on adult women from 18 to 150—or so we say—because we believe it’s never too late to learn. We’ve seen women in their 50s, 60s, and 70s coming to our classes, both to switch careers or even to start a new hobby.”

Women like Alicia, a member of the Girl Develop It community who found a coding class through an online meetup group. After learning the essentials of app building, she left her job to become a full-time app developer. Her Pevo app—a state-by-state resource guide for victims of domestic violence—helped earn her an invite to Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference in 2016, where she shared a stage with Apple CEO Tim Cook.

“People like Alicia blow our minds,” Corinne says. “She started coming to Girl Develop It classes a few years ago and taught herself to code. She ended up spreading the word to her entire community, telling people how inspiring and empowering it is to build your own apps.”

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“Tech is one of the fastest-growing industries in the U.S., offering women the chance to have real earning power. We want to make sure women are a part of it.”

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Girl Develop It

Spreading the Word to More Communities

At its core, Girl Develop It is a community. With a permanent staff of just a few people, the organization relies on the support of passionate volunteers and members to teach courses across the country on HTML/CSS, JavaScript, PHP, MYSQL, Ruby, and many other languages and topics. The classes set the tone for broader connections.

“Everything is focused on in-person community building,” Corinne explains. “You can go to a class and meet somebody, then see them again at a study group. Soon you’ve built a network of support as you’re learning to code.”

These community members have spread the word to cities around the U.S. Founded in New York City in 2010 by Vanessa Hurst and Sara Chipps, the organization now has 56 chapters in 32 states, plus the District of Columbia. Corinne expects membership to reach 100,000 by the end of 2017. “We’ve been able to scale quickly based on people’s passion and brand recognition,” Corinne says.

Now Girl Develop It wants to serve a bigger audience by reaching into communities that word of mouth doesn’t reach. That’s where the Twilio.org Impact Fund comes into play.

“We want to serve women who have no clue we exist, or who will never meet someone who knows about us,” Corinne says. “That might include underserved communities or low-income communities, or areas with high immigrant populations. We believe women turn around and pull the next person up with them. So we really want to reach the women we haven’t reached yet. We want to find the next Alicia.”

Twilio.org Impact Fund grants support organizations whose communication strategies make it easier for people to access services or engage with communities. Girl Develop It intends to use the Twilio.org funding in a couple of ways. First, the grant will support the organization’s bid to reach more people more effectively. The organization currently uses communications channels like email and Slack to keep in touch with its volunteers and people on the ground. Going forward, it wants to expand its marketing outreach. This includes sharing student success stories more broadly, and working with chapter leaders, volunteers, and members to spread the word about Girl Develop It courses.

Second, the grant will help fund Girl Develop It’s expanded scholarship program. Currently, 10% of the income that Girl Develop It generates through classes goes to scholarships—about two scholarships for every 20 students. These scholarship funds are maintained by individual chapters.

Girl Develop It’s long-term vision is to expand the fund so no one is turned away for lack of funds. This will be accomplished through an organization-wide “diversity scholarship fund” that any chapter can access. “Twilio.org’s grant is one of the first seeds of that fund,” Corinne says. “The goal is to engage women from traditionally underrepresented minority communities, including African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and people with disabilities. So we’ll market to these communities directly while providing scholarships so the people we reach can attend our classes.”

Girl Develop It also hopes to use the fund to remove other barriers, such as paying for child care for moms and transportation for people without cars. “Whatever it takes to get women to be part of our community,” says Corinne.

Serving Women, Not the Tech Industry

Girl Develop It is more focused on empowering women to build stronger technology skill sets and confidence than on building a diverse pipeline of talent for the tech industry. “We like to say we’re not serving the tech industry, we serve women,” Corinne says. “We empower them to do whatever the heck they want with the opportunities we provide.”

Nonetheless, Corinne believes diversity of experience can help the tech industry achieve more for more people.

“I think we’ve gotten past the days when women in tech were valued for overgeneralized personality traits, like being more collaborative, creative, or friendly,” Corinne says. “It’s more about the fact that women and people of color from underrepresented backgrounds have lived different experiences than the dominant figures in tech. When you have different lived experiences, you’re going to solve problems differently.”

In addition, many of Girl Develop It’s members bring other professional training to the table. “We have members who are librarians, or data scientists, or have 30 years of corporate experience in HR,” she continues. “There’s just such a huge, deep well of knowledge out there, and we’re excited to help reveal it.”

Girl Develop It is currently focused on opening new chapters in the Southeastern U.S., and expanding the team at headquarters to support that growth. The organization has doubled the size of its membership the past few years, at a rate of 2,500 to 3,000 people per month.

And with each new chapter comes new opportunities to improve students’ lives. Among the new classes that Girl Develop It is working on is an API workshop in partnership with Twilio. “There’s so much potential right now,” says Corinne, “and we’re focused on taking advantage of all of the opportunities that are coming our way.”

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At its core, Girl Develop It is a community. With a permanent staff of just a few people, the organization relies on the support of passionate volunteers and members to teach courses across the country on HTML/CSS, JavaScript, PHP, MYSQL, Ruby, and many other languages and topics. The classes set the tone for broader connections.

“Everything is focused on in-person community building,” Corinne explains. “You can go to a class and meet somebody, then see them again at a study group. Soon you’ve built a network of support as you’re learning to code.”

These community members have spread the word to cities around the U.S. Founded in New York City in 2010 by Vanessa Hurst and Sara Chipps, the organization now has 56 chapters in 32 states, plus the District of Columbia. Corinne expects membership to reach 100,000 by the end of 2017. “We’ve been able to scale quickly based on people’s passion and brand recognition,” Corinne says.

Now Girl Develop It wants to serve a bigger audience by reaching into communities that word of mouth doesn’t reach. That’s where the Twilio.org Impact Fund comes into play.

“We want to serve women who have no clue we exist, or who will never meet someone who knows about us,” Corinne says. “That might include underserved communities or low-income communities, or areas with high immigrant populations. We believe women turn around and pull the next person up with them. So we really want to reach the women we haven’t reached yet. We want to find the next Alicia.”

Twilio.org Impact Fund grants support organizations whose communication strategies make it easier for people to access services or engage with communities. Girl Develop It intends to use the Twilio.org funding in a couple of ways. First, the grant will support the organization’s bid to reach more people more effectively. The organization currently uses communications channels like email and Slack to keep in touch with its volunteers and people on the ground. Going forward, it wants to expand its marketing outreach. This includes sharing student success stories more broadly, and working with chapter leaders, volunteers, and members to spread the word about Girl Develop It courses.

Second, the grant will help fund Girl Develop It’s expanded scholarship program. Currently, 10% of the income that Girl Develop It generates through classes goes to scholarships—about two scholarships for every 20 students. These scholarship funds are maintained by individual chapters.

Girl Develop It’s long-term vision is to expand the fund so no one is turned away for lack of funds. This will be accomplished through an organization-wide “diversity scholarship fund” that any chapter can access. “Twilio.org’s grant is one of the first seeds of that fund,” Corinne says. “The goal is to engage women from traditionally underrepresented minority communities, including African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and people with disabilities. So we’ll market to these communities directly while providing scholarships so the people we reach can attend our classes.”

Girl Develop It also hopes to use the fund to remove other barriers, such as paying for child care for moms and transportation for people without cars. “Whatever it takes to get women to be part of our community,” says Corinne.

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Girl Develop It is more focused on empowering women to build stronger technology skill sets and confidence than on building a diverse pipeline of talent for the tech industry. “We like to say we’re not serving the tech industry, we serve women,” Corinne says. “We empower them to do whatever the heck they want with the opportunities we provide.”

Nonetheless, Corinne believes diversity of experience can help the tech industry achieve more for more people.

“I think we’ve gotten past the days when women in tech were valued for overgeneralized personality traits, like being more collaborative, creative, or friendly,” Corinne says. “It’s more about the fact that women and people of color from underrepresented backgrounds have lived different experiences than the dominant figures in tech. When you have different lived experiences, you’re going to solve problems differently.”

In addition, many of Girl Develop It’s members bring other professional training to the table. “We have members who are librarians, or data scientists, or have 30 years of corporate experience in HR,” she continues. “There’s just such a huge, deep well of knowledge out there, and we’re excited to help reveal it.”

Girl Develop It is currently focused on opening new chapters in the Southeastern U.S., and expanding the team at headquarters to support that growth. The organization has doubled the size of its membership the past few years, at a rate of 2,500 to 3,000 people per month.

And with each new chapter comes new opportunities to improve students’ lives. Among the new classes that Girl Develop It is working on is an API workshop in partnership with Twilio. “There’s so much potential right now,” says Corinne, “and we’re focused on taking advantage of all of the opportunities that are coming our way.”

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