Portland Code School points to growing number of women among its ranks

As Executive Director of Portland Code School, I’m getting out and about a lot these days into Portland’s increasingly robust tech community, which is bristling with venture-funded entrepreneurial life. Our graduates are a foundational part of the ecosystem, helping to provide continuity of brain power for all these new enterprises.

The other day, walking through one of our classes, I was struck by the number of women in attendance, which prompted me to take a closer look at our total enrollment. To my surprise, the clear majority of students in our current cohorts is female. Our Web Foundations and Front End classes are predominantly female, while at the advanced end—like JavaScript immersion—women are still outnumbered. But not by that much!

It occurred to me that I was getting a different impression in my jaunts through all these entrepreneurial companies. I admit my sample size is small and my counting imprecise, but I don’t recall seeing many female faces in the tech ranks (or the executive ranks for that matter). But it’s hard not to wonder what this all means.

It’s not exactly a secret that historically programming and engineering have been heavily male dominated professions. But that appears to be on the verge of a real sea change. Women—particularly young women—appear to be flocking to the perceived opportunities that tech represents—vastly better compensation than almost anything else that doesn’t require a professional degree in particular.

But I can’t help but think that there is an empowerment associated with becoming a programmer/web developer that has to be part of the attraction. That is, a level playing field with men in a very performance-specific work environment. And then there is the freedom of a profession which often doesn’t require strict office hours.

The trend I’m seeing is clear. The entry ranks of programmers and web developers are seeing a rush of women and the long term effect could and should be revolutionary.

I polled some of the PCS women about their motivations for making the commitment to learning to be developers. The range of answers was enlightening.

Lori Zanotta is a mother of two small girls, who made a career change decision to learn programming. Two core reasons were (1) to make more money, and (2) to have the work leverage to have more time with her family. But more than that. In her own words, “I am also a big believer in the STEM initiative and I figured the best way to get my girls to learn more about the field was to live it myself and lead by example. If Mom can do it, they can.”

Andrea Moulding got a BFA ten years ago and spent a decade looking for work that not just paid the bills but gave her the sense that she was “working for a place that made the world better.” The decision to quit her job and enroll in code school was the culmination of five principles she had formulated:

  1. To have more control over who I worked for
  2. To work where I can grow
  3. To be able to take my skills to other companies
  4. To contribute to a community, like in the open source movement
  5. To make more money!

I am looking forward to the day in the very near future where the presence of women in the ranks of tech professionals is entirely unremarkable.

Randall Stickrod has been an entrepreneur, magazine publisher, media executive, and technology executive. The founder and publisher/editor of Computer Graphics World magazine, which helped launch the vibrant computer graphics industry, he went on to become founding executive publisher of Wired magazine, and consulted in the launch of many others. He served as executive vice president of a major technology publisher, led over $100M of M&A activity with another, and has advised a broad range of media enterprises through the present.