For an industry that should strive for innovation, technology companies can be surprisingly behind the times when it comes to who they employ. According to the National Center for Women & Information Technology, even women with STEM training are less likely to stay in tech jobs than men and more than half will leave the industry. By many standards, Atlanta is a good place to be a women in tech: Georgia Tech graduates more female engineers than any other university in the country and we’ve got some seriously strong #girlboss role models. Yet even in Atlanta, female developers and engineers are still few and far between.
It’s a challenge Erica Stanley, Alicia Carr, and Beth Laing are tackling hands-on and with style. The three leaders of the Atlanta chapter of Women Who Code (WWCode Atlanta), a global non-profit organization dedicated to inspiring women to excel in technology careers, have built WWCode Atlanta to one of the ten largest chapters in the world — that’s out of chapters in 60 cities across 20 countries.
Each of these ladies is a force to be reckoned with in her own right — Erica is an Engineering Manager at Salesloft, Beth works in software development at Turner, and Alicia created an iOS app focused on domestic violence problems that was featured in Apple’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference headlining video. But together, they have formed a powerhouse team to play off each other’s strengths and build a strong backbone to support the entire female technical community of Atlanta.
Hype talked to the WWCode team to learn more about why this group has become their passion, the main challenges they face as females in tech, and how they hope to make their mark on Atlanta.
How did you first get involved with WWCode Atlanta?
Erica: Originally a friend, Oksana Denesiuk, was going to start the Women Who Code network here. Right around the time she was planning to start the Atlanta network, she found she would soon be moving to California. She reached out to me to see if I would take her place.
I was reluctant at first — I had a new job and was already doing quite a bit of work with my own nonprofit and other community organizations. I knew how much time and energy I would have to devote to a new community. At the same time, I understood how important Women Who Code could be for our tech ecosystem. I wanted to do my part in making sure Atlanta showed up to the conversations around diversity in tech. We held the first meetup in August of 2013 and I’ve been leading WWCode Atlanta ever since.
Alicia: While I was in another meetup group I asked the question about starting a women group— and the question pissed off a lot of men in the group. They didn’t understand how we are different in how we see things and how we learn. I started WiOS (Women iOS Development Group) trying to get more women into learning iOS. In January 2014 I went to my first WWCode Atlanta meetup and it was AMAZING. I knew that I was at home and never turn back. I asked Erica if I could add the WiOS group to WWCode, and she said “absolutely”.
Beth: My first WWCode Atlanta event was in 2015 when Sandi Metz spoke at a meetup during RailsConf. I had just finished the Web Development Immersive bootcamp at General Assembly and was lucky to get a scholarship to attend the conference. We had used Sandi’s first book in class, so I was really excited to meet her and hear her speak in person (yes, I totally fangirl-ed and still have a picture of us on my phone!).
I was blown away by how supportive it felt to hang out with women knowledgeable about technical stuff, so I became a regular…. And one thing led to another.
What sets the WWCode Atlanta network apart?
At over 2,000 strong, we are certainly in the top 10 networks globally as far as size and activity. We have three regular events each month that include two code jams and a meetup, which is usually a speaker or panel. We hold an Annual International Women’s Day Celebration in March and this year we’re launching the We RISE Women’s Tech Conference (taking place this June). We also started our annual WWCode Atlanta Hackathon, which usually takes place at ATDC and focuses on the process of creating a product. We provide plenty of mentorship to accelerate learning during the hackathon and also include a career fair.
We are fortunate to have amazing partners, including corporations like ThoughtWorks, AT&T, Microsoft and Google and community organizations like the Atlanta Java Users Group, Rails Girls Atlanta and Technologists of Color. Because of those partnerships, we’ve been able to send women to local and regional tech conferences with free tickets. We provide as many opportunities as we can for our members. These relationships make it possible for us to keep most of our events free, which is especially important for students and folks doing a career-change.
Our level of engagement is very high and the number of people attending events has been growing steadily. Our 2nd International Women’s Day celebration included over 10 organizations coming together to celebrate. And at last year’s hackathon we had over 100 women, many of whom had never been to a hackathon.
How do the three of you divide responsibilities?
Beth: We do spend a lot of time together, but we have a great time! We make most big decisions together and often organically decide who is going to do what. Usually, our psychic network is up and we’re all on the same page!
My best productivity hack is dead-simple but it works— always follow-up meetings (in-person or virtual) with a written to-do list to make sure that everyone is coordinated and expectations are clear.
Erica: Alicia absolutely is the one who will turn complete strangers into new friends, all while telling them how amazing Women Who Code is. Beth is incredibly organized and does a great job of keeping us on on track. I’m not sure I do much besides answer a few coding questions and greet new members like I’ve known them for 10 years. Besides that, we all use our wealth of connections throughout the tech industry, both locally and nationally, that we leverage to bring value to Atlanta’s women in tech community.
Is work-life balance important? How do you achieve it?
Beth: I don’t know if there is such a thing as work-life balance; it’s more like making sure that you spend time in all the important areas of your life. I think that sometimes you can just bring things together— I love when my children come to our WWCode events and jump into the conversation. Although, if I could add more hours to the day it would help!
Alicia: As a mother, daughter, sister and wife, we all have to balance work and life. We are superwomen all day long, taking care of everything that is put in front of us.
Describe your favorite story about how WWC has touched a member or changed their lives for the better.
Alicia: There are so many amazing stories! We use hashtag #Applaudher to share the accomplishments of our amazing members, not only in Atlanta but across the world. #Applaudher is a global WWCode celebration that celebrates women acknowledging themselves and their accomplishments — something almost all women need to be better about doing.
What is the state of the female community in Atlanta’s technology industry?
Alicia: Atlanta has a long way to go to making it great for women in the tech community. We have a lot of talented women here but the opportunities are few for some of us. Companies need to change the way they do things to be more accurate in how they evaluate diverse candidates. Since last year, there has only been a 1% increase in the number of women working in technology companies in the US. In Atlanta, the increase is even smaller.
Beth: But there is great potential here! Atlanta is growing as a tech city— the number of educational institutions, from Georgia Tech to General Assembly. along with the companies represented in Atlanta, make it a great environment with a wide array of interesting projects and technologies. There has been a lot of conversation around the need for increasing diversity in the workforce and ideas about how to make things better. Hopefully, we’ll see the landscape improve as these plans are implemented.
Why is it great to be a woman in tech in Atlanta?
Beth: We love being part of the Atlanta women in technology community and find it amazingly supportive. For example, we pull together as many of the groups as we can for International Women’s Day each year to socialize together and make connections— we love when people find the right organization to help them develop professionally and personally. I am always humbled by how generous people are with their time and how willing they are to help each other.
Alicia: We are a family. We are here to help women in tech whether they looking for a job, trying to get into tech, need help with code, or just want to connect. That’s what we do. We empower, support and believe in our WWCode