At Hackbright Academy, No Men Allowed


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Hackbright Academy is software development school in San Francisco exclusively for women. Launched in 2012, Hackbright has since graduated 163 women from its 10-week program. According to its blog, 90 percent of graduates land jobs in tech and 73 percent as software engineers.

Hackbright is one of dozens of new developer “boot camps” that have sprung up in the past few years to teach the essential skills of software development. Students in these short, fast-paced programs learn the basics of coding within a few months and soon after pursue, and often take, jobs at technology companies eager for more qualified applicants. According to a New York Times survey of 48 programs like Hackbright, over three quarters of graduates are now employed.

What’s distinctive about Hackbright, though, is that only women need apply. Deliberately acknowledging the gender gap—or what they refer to as the Dave-to-Girl Ratio (the ratio of guys named to Dave to women in computer science programs) on their site—Hackbright founders think a women-only computer science school is one way to start closing this gap.

Jane Williams graduated from Hackbright in August and recently took a job as an implementation engineer at OPower, a tech company that builds software for the utility industry. Jane had had some exposure to data analysis in her previous job, but felt she was missing out on the kinds of tools she could be building herself to make her work more efficient and also, more creative. Jane considered several programs but ultimately found Hackbright the most appealing because of the community it fosters. “They’re clearly committed to women,” she said.

Small classes, dedicated mentors, and a strong alumnae network all help shape this community. “The space that’s created when it’s all women tends to be nurturing, friendly, and supportive” said Paria Rajai, who works in marketing for Hackbright. “That just happens naturally.” And alumnae, like Jane, attest to this: “It’s a no-question-is-stupid kind of environment.”

Part of Paria’s job at Hackbright is to attract potential students by dispelling myths about learning computer science that discourage women from entering the field. “One is you have to be good at math,” Paria said and listed off others: that you need have been coding since you were young, that you’re introverted, that you’re the white guy in a dark corner at his computer all day. For many women, such perceptions are a deterrent from even considering a career as a software engineer.

These perceptions run deep in our culture, yet many women are shrugging them off altogether to make their way to Hackbright and other coding programs. Students range from recent college graduates seeking more employable skills than what their majors offered, mid-career women looking for a change or mothers hoping to re-enter the workforce with a new kind of expertise.

Hackbright’s 10-week program (which costs $15,000, though scholarships are available) includes structured content in python, javascript and other coding languages, plus algorithms, best practices and interview skills, followed by 5 weeks of project work. In those final weeks, students build their own tools and apps, then exhibit them at a demo day attended by prospective employers.

And employers are hiring from these programs. Hackbright has alumnae at Facebook, Pinterest, Indiegogo and Eventbrite. These companies are not only dedicated to hiring more women on their engineering teams, but are also devoting resources to continued training and mentorship, recognizing that graduates from accelerated coding schools--and any computer science program, for that matter--still have much to learn. Even so, Jane acknowledges she would not have been qualified for her new job without the skills she attained at Hackbright.

Woman by woman, Hackbright’s graduates are part of a movement to tilt the scale of gender equality in tech nationwide. It’s programs like this one that are lowering the barriers to entry, changing perceptions and empowering women with the skills necessary to be contributors and eventually, leaders in technology.