This past summer when we were going through a rapid growth spurt, we were put in touch with the fantastic Katie Weiss, founder of the Denver/Boulder chapter of Women Who Code. New Why is proud of the fact that 100% of our ownership team is women, and we’re always on the lookout for talented lady devs to help us build a great and diverse web development team, so connecting with Katie was a no-brainer when we needed to grow our team.
Natalie and I recently met up with Katie over margaritas to learn more about how she came to be involved in the local dev community, and why she chose to focus on women coders
Q: You’re a coder now, but has that always been your profession?
A: No! I wouldn’t even call myself a coder now! I started as a change management consultant for big corporations, and always found myself managing large teams of developers. I started picking up little bits and pieces of a lot of programming languages and eventually got serious about starting to really learn how to program.
Q: What’s your current gig?
A: I’m one of the co-founders of InsideGood, a company we started 2 years ago. We provide feedback management for non-profits. It’s essentially a way to automate feedback from donors and volunteers, and helps non-profits close the feedback loop by providing mechanisms to interpret and implement donor/volunteer recommendations.
Q: When did you first learn about WWC, and what inspired you to bring it to the Denver/Boulder area?
A: It was a complete accident! I was tired of being the only woman at all these tech/coding meetups I was going to while trying to build my coding skills. I typed in something to do with women coders into the meetup search box and found Women Who Code. I emailed Sasha, the organizer of the San Francisco WWC Meetup, and asked her if she had any intentions to expand to Denver. She said no, but welcomed me to take on the task myself.
I said no at first, but told her I’d spread the word about her group.Eventually, I’d told so many people about it that they all started expecting me to start a local offshoot. And finally, I just did! I did a bunch of research and worked with Sasha – who gave me a lot of support and suggestions for how to get the group going.
Q: Why was it important to you that it be an all-women group?
A: I was really tired of being the only woman in a group of programmers. It’s just a lot harder to relate to everyone in a room if you’re the only woman – there’s some level of intimidation in that. And I think that women are a lot more open about what they do and don’t know, and are a lot more willing to connect and help.
We had a guest observer at one of our recent meetups, a guy, and at one point he walked up to me and said “This is just so… Different.” And it really is. I think women get guided out of science and math careers early if they show a certain level of social skill, ability to communicate, and write, but those are skills that are really lacking in programming communities.
We tell girls who may have good math/science scores in school to go into business or liberal arts because they can communicate, write, talk to people – even though they may also have a high aptitude for something like programming; and we tell men to go into science/engineering fields if they show the slightest aptitude for it.
It’s like we’re pushed out of computer science programs because people think our skills are more needed elsewhere, but we really need those skills here, too. All work groups can benefit from diversity across the board, and I want to encourage more women to enter a male dominated profession.
Q: What’s the breakdown of the local group? How many folks are we talking about, and what sorts of programmers do you have involved – both in terms of skill level and platform?
A: It’s all across the board! We have a lot of women who were programming more than a decade ago, who took a break to raise kids and are now updating their skills. We have women right out of college, in their early 20s, who worked for a brief period in a job related to their major and realized they hated it, and that they have an aptitude for programming that was previously unrecognized. We have Senior Managers of big dev teams who are eager to mentor more women to come into the group. It’s really a talented group. I tell everyone that I really think that no one in the group knows less about coding than I do.
Q: What does WWC/DB provide for the women who participate? If I was a developer, what would be my incentive to join?
A: I always tell women who are interested that whatever your coding dreams are, we’ll make it happen. A lot of women want to learn these skills, but they don’t know who to call, who they can reach out to for help. We make those connections. We connect women coders with jobs, mentors, get them interviews. We bring in trainers from big companies.
A little while ago, we had a lot of questions floating around the various study groups about version control, so I reached out to Github, and we got one of their trainers to come out and talk to our group. The great thing about Women Who Code is that big companies listen when we tell them what we do.
All dev firms want more diversity on their teams, and when they learn what we’re doing, they want to help us because they know down the road it will help them.
Q: Tell me a little bit more about the larger WWC infrastructure? How does it support the local group?
A: It’s really informal. Sasha’s really hands off as far as we’re concerned. She’s got over 2000 active members in her group (and I so want to top that!), so she’s really busy. She answers a lot of my questions, but other than sharing a name, it’s a pretty loose relationship.
Q: What does the future hold for WWC Denver/Boulder?
A:I want to get over 2000 members in the Denver area. I want to make Colorado the most women-friendly tech environment in the country. I want more openness, and I want to encourage companies to figure out how to bring more women into their tech teams. I want to talk about how we handle maternity leave and things that matter to women.
Nationally, there’s a 2.5% unemployment rate in the tech sector and in the Front Range area it’s estimated to be even tighter than that! Developers are in high demand, and our companies can’t continue to cannibalize and poach from each other. We need to grow our own devs; we need to build our own talent. And ignoring – or at least not deliberately enticing – a full 50% of the population isn’t going to get us there.
Q: How can local dev shops help WWC?
A: Spread the word about WWC, invite more women to Meetups; offer mentorship and sponsorship. Right now we have a few kinds of sponsorships available – from just offering general support to food, space, and more.
Q: And what about the other way around? What do you see WWC’s role being in supporting the local tech industry?
A:I hope we expand the bank of available women coders and grow our own local talent to support the tech industry’s growth in Colorado. I hope we create a more connected community where any woman feels welcomed and encouraged to get started in this career.
Q: What has been the most rewarding aspect of the WWC experience for you?
A:Meeting tons of women coders – just having women show up! Finding out that it wasn’t just me, and that this group really is filling a need. And really – seeing women’s faces light up when they meet other women with a shared passion.
Q: What’s your coding area of expertise?
A:I am a master dabbler! But UX is really my strength. I love watching people interact with your design and integrating their feedback. You know – I really want to design the first computer interface for the first commercial flight to mars! It should be beautiful. Comfortable. Logical. And work.
So there you have it. We asked her too, what her superhero name would be if she was a CK superhero, and she couldn’t decide. So, we decided to at least give her a superhero facelift!