Sara Chipps, Girl Develop It!, Woman Entrepreneur shaking up engineers
I sat on a panel at the NWCIT conference in NYC a few weeks back and had the pleasure of meeting Sara Chipps who sat on my panel. I was thrilled to hear about what Sara had accomplished and made sure I contacted her after the event. I love what she is doing for many reasons, teaching women to feel comfortable and confident about coding can only result in a positive outcome if they choose to run companies, be COO's or just become engineers. A win win in my book. Sara is one of the two entrepreneurs behind Girl Develop It! an organization that teaches women to create their visions on the web offering classes in coding as well as leveraging existing technology to feel comfortable as engineers of the tech world.
Sara grew up in NJ about half an hour from the city but pretty much stayed to home. Her social life existed around home and church. She was home schooled until HS and found herself immersed in computers. She was adamant that she went to HS outside the home and spent the first experience overwhelming as the school was large and it took a lot to adjust. She moved to a smaller private school and found her groove.
After graduation she went to Penn State, although a large school, she was on the smaller campus called Mount Alto which was intimate and more her speed. Graduating college in 2001 was no exactly a booming job market. She took a job through a friend who was working at a temp agency working at a help desk for computer issues. The company was Philip Van Heusen. She befriended someone who worked in the application develop department and told him what she really wanted to do was work in that area. After her gig was up, they moved her into that area. She initially did internal support for departments and then was involved in building an app that would help them track fabrications from start to finish. How many yards, what are the colors, what factories the fabrics go to to be cut, etc helping the business to be more profitable. She stayed there a year and a half.
Next stop was Bradco, a leading supply company like Home Depot for contractors. This job was developing all back end tools like data warehousing. It drop her crazy and although she originally thought that was what she wanted to do, she decided it was not for her.
It was the next job that really changed everything. She went to work for Paylock. There were only eight people in the development department and she immediately clicked with the entire crew. They had a patent on self released car boots. So if you car gets booted, you call and 800 number and they give you the code to unlock the boot. Think of Zip Car around car boots. Once they hired her as a joke they had a boot put on her car in her driveway so she could go through the process of unlocking the boot. She had no web development experience so they paid for her to learn how to develop websites. Unfortunately a private equity company came in, bought the place, fired the entire development team and sourced it out. So she began to consult. It was 2008.
Working from home and then eventually moving into a co-working space in NYC opened her eyes that there were a lot of people like her out there. Friends recommended she meet Vanessa Hurst who is a database engineer and analytics engineer. They started to have conversations about how difficult it is for women in the computer programming space. When they were in classes, many times they felt uncomfortable asking questions as they might be perceived as they didn't belong. This goes back to women second guessing themselves although I am sure there was no reason to that is how they felt. So they decided to teach a class to women only and see what would come of it. If you build it, they will come and both Vanessa and Sara realized that they had hit upon something. They called their business Girl Develop It!
They go somewhere new every week and create a class. Many places have donated spaces to Girl Develop It including Pivot Labs, Etsy and Meetup. The classes come in a series of four at $20 a piece. That $80 gives them enough money to get good teachers. Pamela Fox took what they are doing and launched it in Sydney. Jen Meyer is launching a chapter in Ohio.
So far they have graduated 450 unique students. That is impressive. As they drill down on their business model there are thoughts about mentoring after people graduate. Just because you have learned the skills doesn't mean you feel comfortable just jumping in and this might be a great way to help more people enter the world of engineering by having a professional developer be a mentor to a graduate for a limited time. They also did a project with Iridescent Learning that taught teenage girls how to built android apps this past year. They started doing craft night where professional developers can come and look at projects that people are working on. They are creating a community.
Soon there will be another chapter in Philadelphia. Also this summer they are running a three day hackathon in the Hamptons in a large house. I definitely plan on going by. The classes are not just relegated to women but you have to be comfortable in a class that is mostly going to be women.
I am so excited about what Sara and Vanessa are doing. How can their be chapters across the country, how do they create after school programs for girls 9-12 who are looking for something after school and writing code could change their life, how do you help mentor more women going into this field, how do you create a larger community around this.
Really looking forward to talking more with Sara and helping Girl Develop It! grow. I have two words, Girl Power.