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Dec 13 2012

Hackbright Academy trains women to be pro developers in ten weeks

This is, frankly, a shocking pace — taking you from complete newbie to a capable professional programmer in just ten weeks is nothing short of breakneck. And the best part about this initiative? It’s for women, to give them a place to learn without stereotype threat or brogrammer culture stifling them.

Amidst all the arguments about “brogrammer” culture and the presence of women in Silicon Valley, here’s a company that’s actively working to change things, albeit on a small scale (for now) — Hackbright Academy, which describes itself as “a 10 week training program designed to help women become awesome programmers.”

The academy just graduated its 16-person second class (that’s a photo of graduation day to the left). Graduation comes shortly after career day, so it’s probably too early to talk about how many of the recent graduates actually get jobs, but co-founder David J. Phillips (who also co-founded location startup Banjo) shared some earlier data. Eight out of 12 students in Hackbright’s first class, were looking for immediate employment, he said, and all eight of them got offers from companies like New Relic, Survey Monkey, Cisco, and Bump.
[...]
Turning someone into a professional programmer in less than three months seems awfully ambitious, and Phillips acknowledged that there’s been some skepticism among recruiters. On the other hand, the stats above suggest that the program is working. It helps that Hackbright students usually aren’t starting from scratch, but have instead developed their initial skills using Codecademy or by attending development workshops. After all, Phillips said, Hackbright is for people who are serious about programming as a profession, and you can’t decide that you’re serious until you’ve tried it out.

This is a brilliant idea, and though they’ve only gotten two classes through so far, it seems to be a worthwhile endeavour. I look forward to seeing more results from this. And I only hope that this erodes the brogrammer culture, proving once and for all that the best way to fix an environment toxic to a certain class of person, created by another class of person, is to put them on equal footing from the get-go. The “meritocracy” so vaunted by those in power will suddenly work against them and become a REAL meritocracy. Almost by magic.

Okay, it’s not as simple as that, but a boy can dream.

15 comments

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  1. 1
    eigenperson

    I really, really hope that the overall result of this program is in fact to put women on an equal footing, rather than to sell them an overhyped product at a tidy profit.

    Becoming a good professional developer (or, for that matter, a good professional anything) requires a few years of experience. You can definitely get to the point where you THINK you’re good in ten weeks, but you will be wrong!

    Of course, one has to start somewhere, and this program might very well be a good place, but the way they are advertising it is a huge red flag to me.

  2. 2
    besomyka

    Ten weeks to get to an entry level skill set from scratch does seem like not enough time. If they started out with some programming knowledge (basic data structures and such a few semesters worth of college basic CS classes, or coming from a really solid high school program), then getting the industry-specific knowledge is certainly doable.

    I am VERY glad to see that it’s targeting women, though. I’ve only ever worked with two other women in a technical field. It’s getting better gender-wise, but most women are entering in art, design and production. They get paid a bit less than the technical disciplines as well.

  3. 3
    Jason Thibeault

    besomyka: Yes, they have to know something about coding to begin with. Far as I can tell, it’s introducing them to the development process, which is as rough and tumble a world as I’ve seen in IT.

  4. 4
    Jay

    Hackbright Academy does not seem to be any sort of accreddited educational institution.

    They seem to be a for profit business — they charge $7500 for their product.

    Their product seems very valuable, not just for the skills they teach, but for the networking in the SF Bay Area developer community they provide — and they tout these networking benefits when they describe possible job placement.

    So what is the legal basis for Hackbright Academy’s behavior in discriminating by refusing to offer these services to young men that would also benefit from this education?

    For what other products and services is it legal to discriminate and refuse to sell to on the basis of sex?

  5. 5
    Daniel Schealler

    @Jay

    So what is the legal basis for Hackbright Academy’s behavior in discriminating by refusing to offer these services to young men that would also benefit from this education?

    I’m not a lawyer – so can’t comment on legal basis.

    This project/product is not discriminating against men.

    This project/product is seeking to remedy systemic discrimination against women in the IT industry.

    For what other products and services is it legal to discriminate and refuse to sell to on the basis of sex?

    Here’s one example.

    (Note: This is gender-specific, not sex specific – important distinction.)

  6. 6
    Jay

    Thanks Daniel for the response.

    Taking women’s gyms into account, I did some googling a day or so ago, and yes, that was about the only example I could think of. It turns out in the US though, the answer to “are women only gyms legal” is that they may not be and in many locations have required local governments or state government to pass specific laws allowing them.

    Here is a 1998 NY Times article about that http://www.nytimes.com/1998/01/26/us/lawyer-s-suit-challenges-women-only-gyms.html

    It states, for instance, that:

    “The state chapter of the National Organization for Women, after much agonizing, opposed single-sex health clubs. It said that they would open the way to restoring the kind of all-men golf and squash and social clubs that for so long excluded women from important deals and connections.”

    It also notes that

    “Massachusetts’ public accommodations law prohibits establishments that serve the public from refusing admission based on sex. If men cannot close their doors, he says, neither can women.”

    And many states have similar laws, and it is these sorts laws that have stopped discrimination against women, and against the LGBTQIA communities. (It is one reason why wedding photographers cannot discriminate against gay marriage for instance.)

    Re: your first point, no, hands down, they sell their educational program for $7500 to women and to women only. They clearly discriminate against men, the question is is that discrimination legal?

    There has been claim re: the women’s gyms that if they are a private club and not taking gov’t money they may be able to do as they please, ala Augusta Golf and similar. It’s an interesting claim. Perhaps that’s what they can do.

    (I am not a lawyer either.)

  7. 7
    Sophia, Michelin-starred General of the First Mediterranean Iron Chef Batallion

    “Fucking affirmative action, how does it work?”

  8. 8
    CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain

    @eigenperson #1:

    Becoming a good professional developer (or, for that matter, a good professional anything) requires a few years of experience. You can definitely get to the point where you THINK you’re good in ten weeks, but you will be wrong!

    I’d consider 2.5 months to go pro insulting to the profession… Except a crash course in syntax and effort-negating frameworks, plus liberal use of jargon, are enough to get hired in IT.
     
    Often managers don’t understand or care how the project gets done, only that it does. And if someday it’s discovered not to have been done well (functional, secure, flexible, migratable), that’s either someone else’s problem or another opportunity to look busy improving reimplementing things.
     
    A colleague described the demand for Crystal Reports as people having been abused so long by the terrible sql-obviating database frontend that stolkholm syndrome set in. On the other hand, years of experience can get you rejected for being overqualified, out of fear that plentiful intern-level employees won’t be able to maintain anything after you’re gone. /Jaded rant, *sob*
     
    Video: OnionTalks – Social Media

  9. 9
    Daniel Schealler

    @Jay

    I disagree strongly about this project being discriminatory towards men.

    I get where you’re coming from regarding the discrimination thing. At a shallow level of analysis that doesn’t take the greater context into account, it does seem to be the case that the project is discriminating against men.

    Systemic discrimination against women in the IT industry is a real problem. It’s particularly acute the more technical expertise is required in the domain area. Programming is a clear area where this is an issue – but it is not the only such area.

    Taken in context, programs such as the one under discussion should be viewed as an attempt to bring things to an even footing. Systemic pressure is placed against the scales where women are concerned. Actively leaning on the other end to bring things up to an even setting is a good way to break the stereotypes that currently misinform the systems and cultures surrounding IT that make it unfairly difficult on women to enter.

    In a world where women and men really were on an even footing regarding IT, then I’ll change my mind and agree with you on whether or not programs such as this are genuinely discriminatory towards men. But until that day arrives I will continue to think that programs such as this are good ideas.

    Although, if you have better ideas as to how to overcome the systemic inequalities of gender in the IT industry, I’m very much open to hear them. Constructive criticism would be a breath of fresh air.

  10. 10
    Brad

    @ 9

    It’s not discriminatory in a harmful way on its own (though it is rather obviously in literal sense, like gendered facilities are), but it might be if there isn’t an equivalent way for anyone to get whatever equivalent certification in a similar timeframe and the exclusivity is a disadvantage to those who cannot partake. I’d be miffed if I were interested in such a thing for myself and wasn’t able to get jobskills on account of my gender.

    I certainly wouldn’t say it’s unethical, but they would do better to run, or license the curriculum to someone else to run, a non-discriminating (literal) open course. Excluding men wholesale ignores intersectionality. When we improve equality for marginalized groups, we should take care that our efforts are not hurting members of other marginalized groups.

  11. 11
    steve84

    Tens weeks is enough to learn become familiar with a language. That’s it. I’ve done a C# course for example and that was pretty cool. But you need some foreknowledge and be somewhat proficient in another, similar, language already. It’s certainly not enough to teach general programming paradigms and project management to a newbie at the same time. Basically they are code slaves who program exactly what they are told instead of coming up with their own solutions. It’s a job, but the absolute lowest rung.

  12. 12
    F [is for failure to emerge]

    ‘This won’t make you a real programmer.’ Of course not. Only you can make you a programmer. But what a dood-free way to get a start in programming.

    Nothing to do with it be technically “discriminatory”, but something similar for men would be great, run by the same type of establishment: Dood-free, no dood-culture to absorb. Input more non-dood men into the coding pool as a complementary force.

  13. 13
    left0ver1under

    Jay (#6)

    It states, for instance, that:

    “The state chapter of the National Organization for Women, after much agonizing, opposed single-sex health clubs. It said that they would open the way to restoring the kind of all-men golf and squash and social clubs that for so long excluded women from important deals and connections.”

    That is a very stupid argument – I’m referring to that speaker as stupid, not you.

    Anyone who says “women only” services or products discriminate against men should go ask women in Japan, the Philippines, Brazil and elsewhere why women-only train cars became necessary. Inevitably and predictably, some “men” in those countries complained under the pretext that it was “discrimination”, though in reality some thought it was a “right” to assault women.

    I live in Taiwan where such train cars exist and can tell you it’s not a problem. The women only cars are actually further away from the exits than the general cars, so no one can claim it’s inconveniencing the majority. And I saw on visits to Manila that the first car of every metro train is the women-only car, and it’s not a problem there either.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women-only_passenger_car

    Regarding the original topic of programming courses for women, I’ve heard and agree with talk that there should be girl-only classes in high schools and women-only science classes in college. I saw harassment and patronizing attitudes towards girls and women in my science classes…though strangely, I did not see harassment in the math and comp-sci classes I took.

  14. 14
    nakarti

    Dude, I want one!
    That said, ten weeks of concentrated training on something you’re interested can make you quite skilled at it. Professional? We’ll have to see results, but with smart, interested students it’s definitely possible.

    @left0ver1under: As one of the geeks in the math and programming* classes, we were trying to avoid the girls distracting us because the guys who weren’t barely passed the required classes.
    (*I don’t remember any girls in the programming classes in high school.)

  15. 15
    Daniel Schealler

    For what it’s worth: Depending on the project, I’d prefer an eager, enthusiastic, trained, positive recent graduate who can take instruction over a few of the jaded, negative, ego-diva ‘professionals’ I’ve had the experience of working with in the past.

    Experience is important, but it’s not the full story. Attitude and the ability to work constructively as part of a team are important too.

    Depends on the project and the people of course. But don’t be so quick to dismiss the newbies on account of their lack of professional experience. Don’t let developer’s arrogance* blind you to capitalizing on a keen young mind.

    ———————-

    * A short digression on the subject of developer’s arrogance.

    Mother’s Boyfriend: Dan, I need something delivered. Can you ride a motorcycle?
    Dan: Probably.
    MB:
    MB: What?
    Dan: Yeah, I can probably drive a motorcycle.
    MB:
    MB: Have you done it before?
    Dan: No. But if end-users can do it, it can’t be all that hard.
    MB: *laughter*
    MB: I think I’m going to wait for your brother to come in. But thanks.

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