Even though there has been an increase of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) occupations since the 1970s, women in the computer sciences remain sorely underrepresented. Just 15% of software jobs are held by women and 1.5% of open source contributors are women.
The Ada Developer’s Academy (Ada) — named for Ada Lovelace, purportedly the founder of scientific computing — is addressing this skill gap by training women to become software developers.
Ada is currently accepting applications for its second class slated to begin September 2nd.
“Ada is increasing opportunities for women in the traditionally male-dominated tech industry while addressing an acute and ongoing shortage of local developer talent,” said Elise Worthy, Program Manager & Co-Founder of Ada. “Our program is providing women with a solid footing in technical careers and tackling head-on the gender imbalance at local software companies, who recognize that Ada is a great opportunity to create a more equitable, diverse culture in tech.”
Established in 2013 as an intensive software developers training school exclusively for women, Ada offers six months of classroom-based instruction followed by a six-month internship with Puget Sound-area tech companies. The internships prepare students for the transition into junior developer positions. Students completing the program also receive a certificate from Bellevue College.
Because of the immense time commitment (classes meet from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays), the women are awarded a monthly stipend.
Why a full year program?
Search the web and you will find 8-week hacking programs, but those programs are not sufficient enough to prepare students with limited or no technical background.
“We want to make sure that students are fully prepared. Learning to program in a classroom only gets you halfway there. The internship component is key: students experience being on software teams, working with legacy codebases, deadlines, and production code,” said Bookis Smuin, Lead Instructor at Ada. “The internship is just as important as the classroom experience in preparing the students to be productive and successful developers.”
The first class of students numbered 16. For this upcoming class, 24 students will be admitted.
Potential students do not have to possess prior programming experience, but should demonstrate technical aptitude.
According to Worthy, a majority of the women interested in programming are novices and have had limited access to technology education in high school and college. In fact, many of the students in the previous Ada class were switching careers. They held bachelor’s degrees in everything from theater to linguistics.
Of this first class, 25% relocated to Washington State from as far away as Florida and half were women of color.
Ada did not release any information as to the specific ethnicities of the first class; however, according to a 2013 government report, African-Americans and Hispanics, regardless of gender, have been consistently underrepresented in STEM employment. In 2011, 6% of STEM workers were African-American and 7% were Hispanics.
So, Ada may be helping fulfill an ethnic diversity deficit in STEM jobs as well.
What do the women learn in the classroom?
The curriculum covers web development, how to work on agile development teams and lead software projects. Students work on projects that simulate real applications under real deadlines.
“We’ve been so impressed with the student’s progress over the past six months. They’re developing full, production-ready applications on agile teams. They’re not only becoming fluent in code, but in the development process,” said Scott Case, COO of EnergySavvy and Ada Co-founder.
In May, the current class of Ada students held a demo of the civic apps they created as part of they’re coursework.
How can this education be offered for free?
As part of the Technology Alliance, Ada relies on sponsorships from Seattle-area tech companies who cover the students’ tuition, actively engage as mentors, and provide hands-on experience through internships.
Sixteen Seattle-area tech companies, including Expedia, EMC Isilon, EnergySavvy, Zillow, Marchex, Redfin, and Nordstrom, are now sponsoring Ada students.
Ada is on its way to training software developers who will fill a few of the 20,000 open STEM positions within Washington State.
Perhaps other organizations will take note of Ada’s approach to training software developers and duplicate the model. The need for diversity in tech is nation-wide.
Interested in applying to Ada Development Academy? The application deadline for the upcoming class is June 16, 2014 at 5 p.m. PDT.
Women interested in making a career change to software development are encouraged to apply.