Tech jobs are becoming increasingly more important, both locally and globally, and the Women's Foundation is proud to support LaunchCode, a standout among organizations that empower people in our region through training and job placement. Its CoderGirl program advances the economic independence for women and girls by helping them to get the skills they need for tech jobs. At a recent graduation of around a hundred women who have just completed the CoderGirl program, we spoke to two women about how learning to code has opened up a new world for them.
Gab Beckemeier, in her mid-twenties, was studying abroad and working on a thesis about Wonder Woman when it became clear to her that her creativity could intersect with a job in technology. "There's a need for people with nontraditional backgrounds who might have a different perspective on how tech is created," she says. "I thought eventually I'd be a project manager, so I'd better learn to code. I applied to CoderGirl to learn software development, but it has gone so well that I've been able to accelerate my career and just got hired as a Scrum Master for Mastercard." (Scrum is a specific framework used by software development teams).
From its origin as a meetup for women in technology to support each other, CoderGirl has evolved into a skills-based, job prep program. Participants take two six-month cycles of training in coding and project development, equipping them with the skills needed to land a paid apprenticeship or job. St. Louis' biggest corporations, from Express Scripts to Slalom, help mentor the women, and the collaboration often leads to participants being hired full-time.
Vidya Thandra Satyanarayana knew exactly which company she hoped to work for when she joined CoderGirl. "I had a dream I took my dad to West County Mall and pointed to a building across the street. I said, one day I'm going to work there on that floor right up there." Considering Vidya only arrived in St. Louis ten years ago from Chennai, India, it was a surprisingly specific goal. "As a child I had many challenges growing up," Vidya says. "Society there does not make it easy for women to challenge themselves in meaningful ways. Fortunately, I had supportive parents and a wonderful husband. When I finally got a work visa here, I joined CoderGirl and was mentored by a senior director at Edward Jones. Now I work in that very building—on the very floor—that I dreamt about."
A job in tech may seem like a long way from the creative pursuits Vidya undertook while raising her children, from painting to photography to cooking, but it turns out to be a perfect fit. She works in data visualization, creating graphs and presentations, which capitalize on her experience as an artist.
Gab, too, surprised herself by ending up where she did. "If you had asked me five years ago where I'd be now, I would have said law school." The two women reflect the wide range of backgrounds among the program's participants, all of whom receive free training, software licences, access to an outstanding business network, and an invaluable community of support. "It's thanks to organizations like the Women's Foundation that we are able to provide these things," says Leah Freeman, Public Relations Director of Launch Code. "St. Louis companies also lift us up. The cycle is supportive and so good for our city."
As the women prepare for the graduation ceremony, Vidya's enthusiasm is palpable. "I am so happy I am living my dream," she beams. "And I'm building more dreams now."
The Women's Foundation is grateful to its donors and supporters for investing in programs, like CoderGirl, that help women achieve economic independence. For more information about CoderGirl, visit www.launchcode.org/codergirl.
Thank you to Jocelyn Seagrave Fundokus for writing this story.