Meet our Grand Rapids DEVELOP(her) Graduates

coding bootcamp graduates

women in techWith just 25% of computer programming jobs held by women, the tech industry has a lot of work to do to create equal opportunities. Grand Circus is committed to changing this narrative. In 2016, we launched our DEVELOP(her) program to equip women with the skills and resources they need to start a career in tech. Coupling our tech training with funding and support from amazing community partners, we’ve launched this initiative in Grand Rapids, Detroit and Flint by providing full scholarships to select women interested taking our coding bootcamps.

This fall, our first cohort in Grand Rapids launched, and we’re proud to have graduated eleven amazing women. Here’s a little about their journey:

The Grand Rapids DEVELOP(her) women come from a variety of backgrounds—government, retail, marketing, nonprofits and beyond. This class trained students to be entry-level back-end developers. Before the class, a few had some tech training, most had none. This doesn’t phase Tommy, our amazing instructor. “If anything,” he says, “it makes them more creative coders. I see code come out of some students in this class that’s really unique. I never would have thought to do some of these things. I learn things from them.”

Grand Circus DEVELOPher graduate
Amy (Program Manager), Tommy (instructor), Rebecca (graduate), John (Campus Director) and Kelsey (Assistant Campus Director)

The paths that brought these women to Grand Circus varies. Many of the students harbored an interest in tech, but feelings of not being qualified kept them from making that leap.

“Imposter syndrome is one of the biggest reasons I got out of IT,” says DEVELOP(her) grad Rebecca Allard.

Rebecca has a degree in Information Systems, and worked in IT for several large airlines for years. Despite her skills, she constantly felt like she was faking it. “I thought it wouldn’t be long before my clients found out they knew more than I did! I know a few men have felt like that, but I think [imposter syndrome] can really plague women in IT.” For her, DEVELOP(her) is a refresher and update on her existing skills, and the right fit for preparing to re-start her tech career. “DEVELOP(her) has been a dream come true!”

For other students—especially the women of color of this class, they’ve never seen someone who looks like them in tech, something that’s equal parts intimidating and motivating.

“I have never been in the majority in any of the workplaces I enter. I’m a native Spanish-speaking first generation Mexican-American. I’ve gotten used to being one of the only people of color in the places I work, but I don’t want to get used to it! I want more women, women of color and people from diverse backgrounds in the places I work,” says graduate Karina López.  “For me, that means making sure that I’m creating inclusive cultures in my workplace so that people who do come from different backgrounds don’t feel pushed out. It also means I seek out communities outside of work to connect with other people like me that share similar goals.”

Grand Circus believes that tech should be equitable, and that’s exactly why the DEVELOP(her) program is so exciting: it makes space for those who’ve been excluded from tech in the past, in this case women and people of color.

“Being a black woman in any industry is a challenge,” says Jonaca Hudson, a graphic designer who wanted to expand her portfolio and transition to being a full-stack developer-slash-designer. “While we don’t want to believe discrimination happens, it is very real. In a male-dominated career path, finding your way can feel nearly impossible. Determination and persistence is where I place my mind instead of focusing on the negatives. And the fact that I am surrounded by a support system of powerful, intelligent women in this class is amazing.”

women in tech
Tammy, Tanvi and Anel from the DEVELOP(her) coding bootcamp

This spirit of determination and camaraderie is perhaps what most defines this DEVELOP(her) cohort. The world might see them as unlikely programmers, but their collaboration and dedicated to support each other and their communities illustrates their drive for success. Their motivations always point back to the question of “how can I use my skills to help my community?” From working together on homework to dreaming of ways to building apps for underserved populations, this group of ladies strives to improve the world around us.

“I have consistently found myself limited in what I can do with my GIS work, and I know it stems from not having a foundation with programming,” says Anel Guel. “And as a working professional, I appreciate that the bootcamp is only 10 weeks. I’ve often thought about pursuing a degree in Computer Science – but another four year degree is just not feasible for me.”DEVELOP(her) cohort

“In my programming classes at community college, I was often the only woman in the room. My ideas were often discounted if I was not insistent, andI had to advocate for myself in a way that I would not have had to do in a less male-dominated room. At Grand Circus, I found being in an all-female cohort refreshing. The diversity of backgrounds makes for diversity of ideas, which leads to better solutions.”

The DEVELOP(her) women prove time and time again that women have a place in tech. That women belong in tech, no matter what their background or education. Not only is there is space for them at the table, but it’s a table that’s being redefined, one DEVELOP(her) at a time.

A huge thank you to Women’s Resource Center, Michigan Council of Women in Technology, Start Garden, TekSystems and The Source for your support in making this program happen. We couldn’t have done it without you!