Two-thirds through, What it’s like to learn at an all women’s coding bootcamp

Nov 28, 2018 · 4 min read
Pajama Day at Hackbright (Note: the excessive amount of stuffed animals in the room).

Before I decided to enroll in a programming boot camp I worked in education and social work. The problem was, those fields were notoriously underpaid. I grew tired of living paycheck to paycheck and developing lower-back pain from my physically demanding jobs. So, I decided to take the plunge and enroll in a software engineering bootcamp.

An old image from my days as a Professor in New York City.

When browsing through the different options, I came across two schools that I felt resonated with my political views: Grace Hopper Academy in New York City, and Hackbright Academy in San Francisco. Both schools were all women’s coding bootcamps that sought to increase the number of women in software engineering roles. Although I was impressed by Grace Hopper in so many ways, I was ultimately more attracted to the quirkiness and intimate learning environment that Hackbright offered. Plus, by choosing Hackbright, that put me right in the middle of San Francisco’s vibrant tech scene.

Hackbright’s mission statement is to “Change the ratio” in the tech industry. Their staff and instructors can be any gender, but they adhere to the rule that “they only teach women”. Growing up I had only ever learned and worked in environments that had both genders. I’m comfortable in a co-ed environment and think that gender diversity is valuable to any successful community. But I was curious, what was it like to learn in an all-women environment?

Hackbright keeps a laid-back aesthetic in its lecture halls. Stuffed animals, cozy couches and blankets help make it a fun and comfortable place to learn.

Hackbright is a safe space and puts a lot of emphasis on mental health. It means a lot to me to be at a school that acknowledges the intensity of the work you’re doing and encourages its students to express their frustrations and feelings. It feels like a lesson in courage. Since being here, I’ve learned to communicate myself more fully. My mentor taught me not to say “sorry” so much when something isn’t my fault (a trait I believe may have been conditioned into me as a result being a female in society). But with that said, learning in a female environment does not mean that it’s okay to “male-bash”. It’s a common misconception that being in an all-female environment means that any of the community partakes in sexism against men. Of course there are certain individuals who have their own opinions, but I would say, as a whole Hackbright is just downright accepting.

Another great thing about learning in an all-female classroom is that I feel like the pressure to perform my gender is near-absent. When I’m encouraged to just be myself, I naturally shed the way society wants me to be. I stand up for myself instead of worrying I’m being rude. That means not being scared to admit if I don’t understand something and advocating for myself. Male or female, to be an effective engineer you can’t be docile and thrive. An engineer should be tenacious and communicative and should express their thoughts and concerns on any given project. This doesn’t rule out that they’re not a respectful person, it just ensures that they have the right amount of confidence to flourish.

We have an anonymous wall of compliments. It’s the small things like this that keep me going when I’ve banged my head against my code for hours and want to throw in the towel.

Two months in, I’m really happy with my choice. I’m excited to show up for class each day and be surrounded by my cohort whose members support and motivate each other. Being with like-minded individuals can be that little push that gets me through a mind-bogglingly hard algorithm or a piece of code I want to give up on. Learning software engineering is a painful process. I liken it to the metamorphosis that a caterpillar experiences in becoming a butterfly. One must close themselves off from the world and die while the cells of their body rearrange themselves into a new being. It’s not easy making the transition into software engineering.

As a budding engineer, I’m proud to represent women. I’m always motivated by the statistic that women still make up less than 1/4 of engineers in the tech scene. I feel each of us at Hackbright are a spokesperson for what a woman can be. Being an engineer shatters stereotypes and it’s just another step in proving that many conceptions held about men and women are really just social constructs. Men and women are intellectually equal, so it’s time for America’s work force to reflect that.

Kat Hartling

Written by

Philosopher turned Software Engineer | Hackbright Alum | Brooklyn, NY

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