How Learning to Code Changed the Lives of These 6 Moms
Categories: Tech

How Learning to Code Changed the Lives of These 6 Moms

For the last installment of our Moms Who Make series with GE, we’re turning our attention to six inspiring moms who also happen to be coders. Each of these brilliant women became interested in coding for different reasons, and ended up turning that interest into action with help from Girl Develop It. From sociology majors to photographers to English Lit fanatics, every mama on this list has a different story tell, and we’re excited to share each of their stories with all of you.

But wait, what exactly is Girl Develop It? Glad you asked! Girl Develop It is a nonprofit organization that exists to provide affordable and judgment-free opportunities for women interested in learning web and software development. Through in-person classes and community support in 50 U.S. cities, Girl Develop It helps women of diverse backgrounds achieve their technology goals and build confidence in their careers and their everyday lives. Their motto of “Don’t be shy, develop it!” is one that definitely resonates with the whole team here at Brit HQ.

Before we get to our Q&A with these smart women, we’re going to throw a few crazy statistics your way:

1. Women hold only 26% of the approximately four million computing-related occupations in the US. (Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013 [Occupational Category: 15–0000])

2. Women obtain 57% of bachelor’s degrees in the U.S, but only 18% of undergraduate computer science degrees. (Source: National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 2012 (CIP 11)

3. Tech companies with more women in management have a 34% higher return of investment. (Source: National Center for Women and IT Fact Sheet)

That’s why we’ve teamed up with GE to inspire the inner engineer in women everywhere. After all, moms really are the ultimate hackers :) Read on to get inspired — and don’t be surprised if you find yourself adding “learn to code” to your weekend to-do list.

Jen Myers // Chicago, Illinois

What did you study in school?

Mostly computer science, although I started out in history and didn’t finish my degree.

Tell us your story.

I started teaching myself HTML/CSS to make websites in 2000. Everything else I’ve picked up about web development has been through long years of seeing what other people built and looking at source code to deconstruct it and learn how to do it myself.

How did you get involved with Girl Develop It?

In 2011, I founded the Columbus, Ohio chapter of Girl Develop It, which was one of the first chapters. I wanted to help create the kind of educational environment that I never had: one where information was accessible, help was available and everyone felt encouraged and empowered to learn something new.

What made you want to learn to code?

I want to make things that make people’s lives better and easier. That’s pretty much it. I think that a lot of people don’t know this can be their reason. You don’t have to be a natural computer genius or just want to tinker with code. You can just want to use code to create impactful human tools.

How has learning these skills changed your life?

I’m a single mother. Without tech skills, I would not be able to give my daughter a stable life and promising future. This is exactly what I want to help other people achieve for themselves.

What was your biggest challenge and how did you power through it?

My biggest challenge is one I still deal with: how to find a places individuals can belong in the midst of dominant cultural attitudes that don’t always welcome different perspectives, skills and backgrounds. I have learned that it’s up to us to build these places ourselves.

What inspires you? Why do you love to innovate and create?

I both love to create for my own expression (having my own web platform to express my thoughts in words and design is important) and, as I mentioned earlier, for the betterment of people’s lives. I like seeing how technology enables us to solve problems and connect humans.

What’s one piece of advice you’d share with other budding female engineers, innovators and makers?

Remember that technology is not limited by the tech industry. Every industry, every aspect of our modern lives, uses technology and needs people who know how to manage and create it. Find the places that fulfill you.

Anything else you want to tell us?

My experience with GDI and being a mother of a daughter led me to create Code and Cupcakes, a series of workshops about introductory web development just for mothers and daughters.

Do you have any other creative hobbies?

I write a lot and am now learning to make digital films.

When we asked Jen to shop The Maker Shop (our special collection curated in collaboration with GE), she instantly fell for the Smartphone Projector ($27), a gadget that lets you project photos and videos right from your phone.

ANDI GRAHAM // ST. PETERSBURG, FLORIDA

What did you study in school?

Sociology, Visual Art and finally, Strategic Communication

Tell us your story.

My first job out of college led to a position doing all the marketing for an executive education arm of a local liberal arts college. I had taught myself Photoshop and Quark and was designing brochures and flyers, doing mail-merges for direct mail and generally treading water. I had started tinkering with websites back in the days of Homestead, and quickly learned that I could make something blue or bigger if I just altered the HTML accordingly. So I offered to do so for our college’s website and, in lieu of anyone else able, they let me!

As I got better and better at writing code, I started getting freelance contracts from my colleagues. One had a husband who was a realtor, another sent a friend with a small salon. I started building websites for a little extra cash, and would dive into new technologies and platforms whenever I saw them getting enough buzz from my heroes.

Eventually, I applied for a position at a traditional ad agency where I was hired as the “Director of Digital” … unfortunately, that agency didn’t know how to sell digital, so my days were slow, and I continued to build my freelance clientele. Eventually, I landed a client who allowed me to quit that job and start my own little agency, which I run now. We dive into all kinds of areas of web design, development, app development, mobile projects — you name it. We grew from 2 of us to 4 of us and now there are 12 of us.

How did you get involved with Girl Develop It?

I’d heard about the organization from a variety of lady-coder friends who I’d see at conferences, and I knew we needed something like this in the Tampa Bay area. I decided to go for it, and submitted a chapter application last fall. I had very little idea what running something like this would entail, but I think we’re finding our way. I knew I wouldn’t have a hard time finding teachers or volunteers; our challenges have been in finding students who aren’t like us.

What made you want to learn to code?

I am an insatiable DIYer and knew I could make the digital things in my world prettier and better if I could just figure out how to… Google is a great teacher, and the web community is especially helpful in sharing how to do just about anything. If you’ve seen it on a website, there’s a tutorial or snippet somewhere that you can use to do it yourself.

How has learning these skills changed your life?

I am self-employed and run my own digital agency! I support my family and private school and vacations and I’m STILL surprised by that every day. I attribute my success completely to the fact that I am able to convey both the HOW and the WHY of what we’re doing to our clients. I can talk the tech side and the strategy side.

What was your biggest challenge and how did you power through it?

Moving to CSS-based sites from tables and HTML was a hard transition, but I forced myself to just build a site and picked it up quickly, with (I’m sure) a lot of crazy hacks to make it work.

Responsive design and CSS-preprocessors have presented new challenges, but those challenges are why this industry is so interesting. There’s always something you don’t know; something new to learn.

What inspires you? Why do you love to innovate and create?

Everything! I’m inspired daily by the risks people take; by the women in our GDI courses who are there to change their lives and find a new direction. It’s seriously impressive.

What’s one piece of advice you’d share with other budding female engineers, innovators and makers?

Everyone thinks they’re an imposter. Everyone. Get over it. Share what you know and connect with people around you in your industry. Surround yourself with what’s going on in the industry, even if you don’t quite understand it yet.

Do you have any other creative hobbies?

I’m constantly learning new things. Stained glass, painting, ceramics, jewelry making, soaps & body products — you name it, I’ve done it.

Andi’s favorite item in The Maker Shop is our set of DIY Etched Whiskey Tumblers ($40).

PAMELA BEY // NEW JERSEY

What did you study in school?

English Literature with a concentration in 19th century British fiction.

Tell us your story.

I was a single mom moving from one unfulfilling job to the next. In spite of having a bachelor’s degree and working jobs that were considered “good” jobs, I didn’t earn enough money, and still had to work several part-time jobs to make a decent living wage. I was disheartened and felt powerless. At that time, I had an acquaintance who made $10k per month from building websites and making money through blogs with paid advertisements. I thought if she could do it, I could do it! I started teaching myself how to create blogs, and methods for generating income through them. I started selling my services to people who needed blogs. Eventually I quit my job and started my own web development company, Be Brilliant Media.

How did you get involved with Girl Develop It?

Girl Develop It was developing a new chapter in Philadelphia and I started as a teacher assistant for the WordPress class. Although I lived in NJ, I volunteered for any class that I had an expertise in and I took classes that would help me increase my skills. The impact from taking these classes was measurable. I decided it was time to provide the women of NJ with the same opportunities and started a chapter of Girl Develop It in South Jersey.

What made you want to learn to code?

After creating several blogs that made small amounts of money, I realized I enjoyed coding and building websites more than providing content to put on them. For me, code is teachable, replicable and has a definitive; it either works or it doesn’t.

How has learning these skills changed your life?

Having skills that allow me to create and control how I make a living is empowering. I have been able to make decisions for my future instead of having my future be determined by my situation.

What was your biggest challenge and how did you power through it?

My biggest challenge was to not be afraid to show people how much I knew. As a freelancer, I wasn’t around other developers in the field and didn’t know how much I knew compared to them. When I had the opportunity to be a teacher assistant with Girl Develop It, I realized I knew a lot. I started challenging myself to participate in events like hackathons and weekend-long startup events so that I could be among people of all skill levels.

What inspires you? Why do you love to innovate and create?

Sharing my knowledge and providing women, especially mothers, with access to technological skills that allow them to take control of their economic life is inspiring to me.

What’s one piece of advice you’d share with other budding female engineers, innovators and makers?

Be sure your input is heard and don’t be afraid to back it up.

Do you have any other creative hobbies?

I knit and crochet.

Pamela had a whole bunch of faves from The Maker Shop, but we had to narrow it down to two. We went with the Power+ Solar Charger and Light ($79) and Wristlet Phone Charger ($119), a clutch that charges your devices via USB.

JULIA ELMAN // RALEIGH-DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA

What did you study in school?

Bachelor in Fine Arts, Printmaking (emphasis on Intaglio processing)

Tell us your story.

Kansas. Computers have been part of my life since I was a kid. At seven years old, I was introduced to Logo on an Apple 2E at my elementary school in Kansas. I learned how to play chess on the same machine and run basic math equations. I really think that this helped make me less intimidated about working with computers. From my playing “Discovery Math” on my Amiga 500 to then building my own games with Python, I can definitely see how the original path from Logo initiated my journey into a career in tech.

How did you get involved with Girl Develop It?

Teaching. Rachel Hobbs, the founder of Girl Develop It RDU, asked me to be an instructor for their first Introduction to HTML/CSS class in January 2013. Sadly, she had to move away and asked that I take over the leadership for her. After two years, we now have over 1,500 members, hold several classes per month and have thriving community of female developers who are active members in helping develop our chapter.

What made you want to learn to code?

Science. Science has always been something I’ve been interested in! The aspect of problem, hypothesis and solution is a process that makes me think and makes me want to learn. Learning to code has a lot of elements of the scientific process in it, especially when it comes to debugging problems and solving for optimal conclusions.

How has learning these skills changed your life?

Giving back. Learning these skills has enabled me by being able to give back to my community through teaching, program + community building and mentoring. By honing my web design and development for over a decade, my breadth of knowledge spans wide enough to be able to help those who are thinking about making the career switch into tech. It’s incredibly gratifying to know that you’ve helped someone out, even in the smallest of ways!

What was your biggest challenge and how did you power through it?

Balance. As I have grown and developed in my career, my biggest challenge has been balance. How do I manage my time between work, family, social and time for myself? It’s still something I am trying to figure out, but have found that self care is (and should be for everyone) a top priority in my life.

What inspires you? Why do you love to innovate and create?

Art + nature + spending time with my daughter. I love to tool around galleries or talk long walks with my daughter in the woods in order to motivate me. There is nothing like seeing a work of art or a fragment of nature that will inspire/motivate your creative senses!

What’s one piece of advice you’d share with other budding female engineers, innovators and makers?

Don’t quit. This is hard and it’s hard for everyone. Join a community to people whom you trust and who appreciate YOU. And if you don’t have one, make one!

Do you have any other creative hobbies?

Writing. After writing a book (Lightweight Django) in 2014, I have learned that I actually enjoy the process of writing something. Not entirely sure where it’ll end up yet, but it’s something I am wanting to pursue more of.

In The Maker Shop, Julia’s got her eye on the Bheard Sound Pod ($35) and  Bluetooth Selfie Stick ($35). Good choices, lady!

ELISE WEI // PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA

What did you study in school?

Photography

Tell us your story.

I realized while in college that I didn’t want to be a professional photographer, so when I graduated, I spent a year temping. I landed a full-time gig as an entry-level project manager at an interactive marketing agency, where I worked alongside a great team of web developers.

I’d been teaching myself HTML & CSS in my spare time since college, so I eventually decided I wanted to join the web dev team. They already knew and trusted me, so they were willing to take me on as a novice and give me a lot of on-the-job training.

How did you get involved with Girl Develop It?

Probably through Twitter? I had been Teacher-Assisting for another women-in-tech group, and when GDI needed someone, I volunteered.

What made you want to learn to code?

I had friends with blogs (this was 2001), and I wanted to blog, too! But I wanted to be able to customize the look of my template, so I had to start taking things apart and putting them back together.

How has learning these skills changed your life?

It’s led to my career with much better earning potential than I probably would have had otherwise. I love the community and the chance to encourage other folks to do what I did. When I teach, I get to share my passion for technology, which is possibly the best part!

What inspires you? Why do you love to innovate and create?

The feeling of triumph and accomplishment upon finally solving a difficult problem has always been a major driver for me. I also enjoy that there are many possible solutions to most questions, and you can have a healthy debate about the virtues of one approach vs another.

What’s one piece of advice you’d share with other budding female engineers, innovators and makers?

No one knows what you’re capable of, so don’t let anyone tell you what you can and can’t do. Try it for yourself and see.

Do you have any other creative hobbies?

Gluten-free baking, sewing, making stationery.

In terms of faves in The Maker Shop, Elise is all about the Slate Mobile AirDesk ($98).

Susan Metoxen // Minneapolis, Minnesota

What did you study in school?

History, music, and education for undergrad, and I have an MBA.

Tell us your story.

After working for 30 years in healthcare administration, I started to look around for something different to do for the next phase of my working life. At this point, I discovered and absolutely fell in love with programming. A few years ago I quit my job as a Compliance and Product Director in order to pursue my passion full time.

How did you get involved with Girl Develop It?

A friend sent me a link to the volunteer form. I met with the Girl Develop It leadership, and I could tell right away it was a great match for me. I have a passion for education as well as for programming. The founders of Girl Develop It has set up systems and infrastructure that make our organization sustainable. For example, the fact that we offer low-cost classes means that I can hire and pay the teachers. This keeps the teachers motivated to continue teaching. It also means that students have a stake in their education because they pay a small fee for classes. For our paid events, we have nearly 100% attendance.

What made you want to learn to code?

The first time I hit the build and run button, my application crashed. Of course, I had a lot of bugs in the program. One by one I fixed the bugs. After much effort, I ran the program and it compiled. It was a video game tutorial, and monsters were moving all around the screen. I fell in love at that moment. There is something about working hard at something, and then having it finally work, that is addictive. Programming is like beating the boss in a video game.

How has learning these skills changed your life?

I already had a successful career before I started coding, so it didn’t lead to financial gain in my case. However, I have found the way I plan to spend the rest of my career — I absolutely love making apps and websites.

What was your biggest challenge and how did you power through it?

When I first started my career as a programmer, I took on a huge project that was way outside of my ability level. I had to rely heavily on a programming mentor (David Book, in Monterey, CA, founder of Buzztouch.com) to help me get through the project. I learned PHP and mySQL through that project. I could not have accepted the project without the backing of my mentor, and all of the help and training he gave me me made me indebted to him for life.

That is why Girl Develop It is so powerful — it provides built-in mentoring via the Code and Coffees.

What inspires you? Why do you love to innovate and create?

I love seeing the steps of progress throughout a project. The build and run (or publish) process is so much fun.

In my case, I have learned that I work for appreciation more than for money. When clients are appreciative, I work so much harder for them. In fact, I have done some pro bono work for clients, and one in particular was so appreciative that I know I went way farther than I should have for a pro bono client.

What’s one piece of advice you’d share with other budding female engineers, innovators and makers?

If I had to do it over, I think I would have gone to a Bootcamp. It would be better yet to get a Computer Science degree.

Why Girl Develop It is so important is because they fill the gap. Not everyone has the luxury or the money to attend a Bootcamp or get a Computer Science degree. I have largely taught myself to code. My learning path would have been so much better if I would have started with Girl Develop It.

Another thing that Girl Develop It does right is that they start by teaching HTML/CSS first, and then build on that knowledge. I started with iPhone development, and it would have been better to start with HTML/CSS.

Do you have any other creative hobbies?

I play bass guitar, I like to hunt for Lake Superior Agates, and I love encouraging kids to learn about geodes at GeodeKids.com.

Susan’s favorite item from The Maker Shop is the one, the only, the SKEYE Nano Drone ($49)!

Now that you’ve heard six more inspiring stories, we want to enable you to unleash your inner engineer. GE and Girl Develop It are offering the first 150 customers who sign up one seat (up to $100) in any coding or tech course near you! The Girl Develop It courses are in-person and available in 50 cities across the country — so it should be no prob to find one close to you. How awesome is that? To redeem this course, simply register here using the code GDI4Moms. (Note: The Girl Develop It course offer is only available to the first 150 customers who redeem their gift code. So don’t delay!!)

In addition to curating The Maker Shop (in the B+C Shop), GE and Brit + Co are also offering the LED Electronics 101 E-Class (taught by our founder, Brit Morin) for FREE with every purchase! To redeem your free LED Electronics class, look for an email from Brit + Co shortly after you make your purchase — everything you need to to know will be in your inbox.

It’s all about bringing out mom’s inner tinkerer, maker and engineer. These classes are meant to serve as stepping stones for women to invent world-changing products. We’re in a new era of building, and what it means to make is constantly being redefined. It’s up to us to learn these skills to change the world.

We want to hear from you, too! Use hashtag #MyMomMakes on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and tag @britandco and @generalelectric to share your stories.

This post is a collaboration with GE.