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CodeScouts Helps Female Hackers Avoid 'Locker Room' Mentality While Learning to Code CodeScouts Helps Female Hackers Avoid 'Locker Room' Mentality While Learning to Code

CodeScouts Helps Female Hackers Avoid 'Locker Room' Mentality While Learning to Code

by Celeste Hamilton
March 30, 2013

At the kickoff event for Code Scouts—a nonprofit providing support and resources to women learning to code—founder Michelle Rowley Grlická stands in front of a room of almost all women, welcoming both new and familiar faces in the Portland, Oregon tech community.

She confesses how, at first, she didn’t feel smart or empowered enough to become a software developer. And how it wasn’t until her developer ex-husband said he’d help her learn that she traded her geography and French degrees for hacking.
 
To get to this point—being one of the 18 percent of developers today that are women—Michelle had a few things in her favor: a father who didn’t think twice about teaching her computer skills when she asked him growing up, a partner who believed in her, and friends in the scene who encouraged her to attend conferences and meetups.
 
She had hands helping her; now she wants to do the same.
 
“I want to take the experience and privilege I’ve had and give it to people who haven’t. Just for fun," she says. "And I think it would change things."
 
It’s no secret that knowing how to code comes with all sorts of benefits: good pay, flexible hours, and esteem in the eyes of colleagues and peers. But it’s also an industry known for its competitiveness, locker room atmosphere, and lack of diversity.
 
That’s where Code Scouts comes in. Michelle, who has been helping lead the Portland Python User Group since 2008, came up with the idea last year as a way to bridge the gap between the people creating the internet (mostly men) and the people using it (mostly women). By creating a safe space for learners to play around with 1’s and 0’s, and, more importantly, be okay with messing up, Michelle hopes to spread the coding love, and wealth, to new faces.
 
“Code Scouts exists to pull more people out of the woodwork who are thinking about doing it but are scared to even approach the situation," she says. " It can be a scary jungle. We’re guides in Code Scouts. We’ll go in that jungle with you.”
 


Founder Michelle Rowley Grlická and her Code Scouts troop
 
Women have come to the monthly event with varying skill levels and backgrounds. Marta McCasland, for one, has been learning coding on and off on her own for the past year. She works as a loan processor at a credit union, and hopes the skills she's learning at Code Scouts will help her better serve her customers. She also wants to develop a geolocation-based apartment finder app in her spare time.
 
To do this, her Code Scouts guide will lead her down a path of available resources like Treehouse and Codeacademy. Over the course of the afternoon they'll work together to find the right starting point, form learning circles with others at her level, and hopefully, make long-lasting connections.
 
“It feels like I’m surrounded by people who might actually have the same questions I have, whereas in other groups it feels like, 'Should I ask this? Is everyone going to be like, Why are you asking that?”” Marta says. 
 
While the nonprofit’s formal mission is to get more women in the tech industry, Michelle is also addressing a deeper issue: newbie shaming. Cliques are common, and more often than not, she says, expertise becomes the marker of whether you’re in or out. “Dumb” questions are usually cause for ridicule.
 
It can be uninviting for outsiders. And not just women.
 
“Guys are coming out to me and saying they don’t feel welcome in that scene either,” she says.
 
Michelle allows some men to participate in Code Scouts, and there are some male mentors. The values listed in the code of conduct—respect, kindness, generosity, growth, community—make it clear that no jerks are allowed.
 
At the start of the event, Michelle makes it a habit to encourage everyone to embrace the mistakes they're bound to make in the next four hours—as well as in the rest of their coding lives.
 
“Be willing to do it wrong a thousand times,” she says. “This is the space to be wrong and still feel good about it.”
 
Image of code via Shutterstock
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