Girl: Don’t be shy. Develop it.

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Corinne Warnshuis speaking at Red Hat Summit 2016

That’s the matter-of-fact tagline of a pioneering organization called Girl Develop It, headed up by Executive Director Corinne Warnshuis.

You’ve probably heard that the number of women in technology is low. But the number of women in open source development is even more abysmal—about 11%. The industry is notoriously hard for women to break into.

Breaking down barriers to women in open source

Girl Develop It is on a mission to change that. The group is working hard to “provide affordable and judgment-free opportunities for women interested in learning web and software development.” Founded in 2010, Girl Develop It embodies the idea of the power of participation and aims to make women feel comfortable learning technology.

And it’s truly changing lives.

Classes with no stupid questions

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Corinne Warnshuis, executive director of Girl Develop It

The 67,000-member Girl Develop It group offers in-person classes across the U.S. to women from diverse backgrounds, teaching about 1,000 students per month. Students take the classes for a variety of reasons, from wanting to start a business to establishing a hobby to rounding out coding skills. They learn HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Python, Ruby, WordPress, and more.

In Girl Develop It classes, there are no stupid questions. They try to avoid using jargon
in an effort to make women at all levels feel welcome. Instructors are industry-leading technologists who spend their nights and weekends helping women learn how to code.

Throughout its history, Girl Develop It has been committed to open source. The curriculum is built by the teachers, is constantly improved upon, and is available on GitHub.

Students wanted more

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A Girl Develop It class

But soon, Girl Develop It students also wanted to be involved in contributing to open source projects, in part because hiring managers for jobs the women were applying for wanted to know what projects they had worked on. So a few years ago, Girl Develop It started a hackathon called LadyHacks, which hosted 80 women. It demystified the idea of hackathons with a welcoming atmosphere, especially for the 90% of attendees who were first-time hackathoners.

A Girl Develop It success story

Leslie Birch, a videographer from Philadelphia, attended her first Girl Develop It-sponsored hackathon in March. By April, after completing a project and making some open source contributions, she felt confident enough to sign up for another hackathon: the NASA International Space Apps competition.

There, she and her team won third place for a space wearable they built that connects astronauts with smells from Earth. Then Leslie went on to place first in the Farnell element14 Wearable Tech Competition with her solar rechargeable handbag. Finally, she was one of the first to be invited to join NASA’s Datanauts community. Talk about a meteoric rise (see what I did there?).

Mentors and mentees making meaningful contributions

To sustain their valiant ef

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Atlanta, GA, Girl Develop It “Code & Coffee” meetup

forts, Girl Develop It established the Open Source Mentorship Program. It consisted of 10 dedicated, friendly members from the community and from other user groups in the area, plus 10 mentees. They all committed to weekly in-person meetings for 3 months. Some of the projects they worked on include:

  • Unlockphilly, which works to “make Philadelphia a more accessible city that welcomes and embraces people with disabilities.”
  • The School District Budget Visualization project, which shows where a historically troubled school district of Philadelphia’s budget goes.
  • Philly Open Health, which worked to increase access to availability of already public health data for citizens of Philadelphia and surrounding areas.

 

During Red Hat Summit 2016, participants in the Red Hat Summit 5K run raised more than US$3,500 for Girl Develop It.

 

Confidence leads to success

Participants in the mentorship program not only made progress on projects, they gained confidence:

  • Four women got their first development jobs after the mentorship program.
  • One became a digital project manager and ran the open source mentorship program the next year.
  • Another became an engineering intern at Google.
  • And 1 woman went back to get her master’s degree in computer science.

Many former mentees return to be mentors, giving back to the community in true open source fashion.

How you can get involved

Girl Develop It wants to scale the program. If they can get 10 mentees in each of their 54 chapters, they’d have 5,400 women contributing to open source who weren’t before. But they need our help. Corinne asked everyone who can get involved to find a local Girl Develop It chapter, become a teacher, become a mentor, support their work, donate, or simply spread the word far and wide.

 

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