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From the circus to Planned Parenthood to CodeOp Founder: My long journey back to tech

I officially started CodeOp in 2018. But, if I have to start somewhere in explaining the convoluted journey that brought me here through studying the circus art of contortion, getting a degree in psychology, social work at Planned Parenthood, documenting the politics of falafel stands in Israel, studying a masters in cultural anthropology, and working as a data scientist, I’ll start with my best friend in the early 90s. 

It was a big and boxy PC my grandfather gave me.

I was growing up in Silicon Valley, the youngest of 6 kids and I was often the last one with whom they wanted to play. Navigating MS DOS, playing Lemmings (best game ever), this is how I passed my time—it was honestly my best friend (My mom sent me a photo of my old American Doll yesterday and I thought how banal this toy was compared to my first machine). It triggered something early on that got lost along the way, something I think a lot of women can relate to.

When I was younger math and science were my favorite subjects. In many ways, I’m a textbook representation of all the stats that apply to women in tech. Young girls and boys perform similarly in math and science and then there’s a drop off in the teenage years. I certainly dropped off. There are many theories that suggest this is to do with some of the social messaging girls experience that move them away from math and science, in turn moving them away from a STEM career trajectory.

At college I started with a major in theatre arts at San Francisco State. However, I ended up dropping out after a death in the family. I was struggling and needed a moment to process what I was going through. I actually decided to pursue circus arts as relief, an outlet for what I was feeling. I trained in contortion and had to endure the physical pain that went with that, which surprisingly helped me move through my emotional pain. I did it for a year and a half, trained my body rigorously, because I hadn’t been doing well on the psychological and physical front, and this was a way for me to repair myself. 

Still, as I got better in this respect, I found that I needed more intellectual stimulation. I returned to college with a lot of energy and focus and the idea to support people who had gone through similar experiences. I changed my major to psychology, and post college worked as a social worker for five years in the San Francisco Bay Area.

So, I’d already worn a lot of different hats before the age of 30, but at this point my career trajectory didn’t look anything like founding a coding school in Barcelona for women, trans and gender non-conforming individuals. This is the nice thing about having an unconventional, non-linear background. It prepares you for a lot and you can apply the skills you picked up along the way. None of these experiences were in vain.

Education and educational spaces have always been sacred to me, very tied into my emotions and who I am. I love to study, so next I ended up in college again, guided to study a masters in Cultural Anthropology—a really unconventional, politicised program—after woofing experiences in Argentina and the Negev Desert. As part of it, I started to study communities on the margins. I met some scholar activists and people involved with hacktivism and got turned on by the thought of what was going on on the margins of tech. Lights started turning on; I thought this would be cool to look into.

I started working at a startup at the San Francisco Impact Hub and got exposed to a lot of the cool tools being created in the analytics industry back then: Google Analytics, A/B testing, etc. I really liked it and at that point, all I wanted to do was study the data. I was 30, and I realised I’d been living with some regret that I’d never pursued the sciences. I felt like I’d missed my calling, so I decided to go after it and pursue data science, applying to a Masters in Data Science program in Barcelona.

I finished that and now I’m 36 with a lot of ingredients I’ve collected over the years—this soup I’ve been cooking consisting of psychology, anthropology, and data science; I’m ready to eat it and I don’t want to overcook it. A job in data science? I tried it out and worked in a corporate environment for a little bit. It wasn’t the right fit, but it was a helpful learning experience on many fronts.

The idea for CodeOp popped into my mind while feeling disenchanted with my experience studying and working as a data scientist in a male-dominated field. When that thought was still around after two months, I decided to crunch some numbers to see how feasible it would be to pilot a coding bootcamp for women in Barcelona. Barcelona reminds me of a young SF, and it was surprising to see there wasn’t an all women’s coding school here, being the up and coming tech hub that it is.

I realized I could test a proof of concept (POC) with minimal risk, so it seemed reasonable to test the idea out. Materializing ideas is common practice where I come from. In the Wild West of Silicon Valley, the odd one out is the person who didn’t dabble in entrepreneurial activities at some point in her life. I held the strong conviction that there were more women like me who felt intellectually understimulated at work and curious about computer science, but too intimidated to pursue it. It took me to the age of 30 to finally pursue a technical education, and despite feeling alienated as a woman in the field and unprepared to enter that space, my technical education has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I wanted to share this with other women and that was my main drive during these first few months.

The POC came together relatively smoothly. I built the website, developed a high-level full stack course with the support of various friends who were familiar with the technologies and industry standards we’d use, and with my annual bonus I was able to put some money into search engine marketing in the after hours of working full-time. 

In the first week of launching our website in July, we received our first application from a woman in Colombia. Two days later we received another application from a woman in Nigeria. My hypothesis that many women were interested in learning how to code in a supportive female-led environment was on its way to being validated.

We managed to launch our first full stack development course in October 2018—just 3 months after going to market. 

We’ve received applications from women in over 60 countries, many of whom are interested in building apps to serve society: apps to address police brutality, elder isolation, education, poverty, safety, and so on. When I read their applications, my bias that diversifying tech would transform the sector in ways that benefit us all was reinforced. And I was inspired. 

The last time I counted all-women coding schools on SwitchUp, I calculated that they make up less than 1% of all in-person coding bootcamps worldwide, and yet, the gender disparity in tech is a chronic worldwide issue. If we’re serious about getting more women, trans and gender non-conforming individuals into tech, serious about shaping a world that reflects the real circumstances of the people around us, and moves towards something better and more equitable than what exists currently, we need to create practical solutions in which men, women, transgender, non-binary individuals and businesses and governments come together to focus their efforts on supporting those on the margins of tech. Investing in and supporting these areas is the starting point for the overdue revolution we need in transforming this space.