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'Hacker School' Is Creating a New Generation of Female Programmers

Thanks to a partnership with Etsy, hundreds of women are eager to learn coding.

Only two in 10 computer programmers are women but if the response to Etsy's partnership with New York City-based Hacker School is any indication, male domination of the industry could soon be on its last legs. In April the DIY-oriented site announced that it was teaming up with the school to offer $5,000 scholarships to 20 women to attend a three-month-long summer program and learn coding through projects. Exceeding all expectations, 661 women applied to the program and 23—three more than the original goal—were admitted.

Marc Hedlund, vice president of engineering for Etsy writes on the company’s blog that the number of applicants received for the summer session was 100 times the number received in their first attempt to have an all-female session at Hacker School. What made the difference? Hedlund says that this time around they offered financial aid grants to applicants. That likely played a significant role in the increase since 18 of the 23 admitted students requested grants.

Hacker School is actually free but the grants cover the cost of living in New York City for the summer—an expense that's tough to shoulder even in the most robust economic times. In order to ensure that the financial need of every accepted student was met, Hedlund asked friends in the tech industry to help out. He received swift replies from two software companies, Yammer and 37Signals, whose generosity also enabled the initiative to increase the grant amount to $7,000 per student.

It's impressive that instead of giving up and believing that women weren't applying to the school because they're not interested in learning to code, Etsy and its partners actually took the time to figure out the root cause of the lack of applicants and stepped up financially. And, according to Hedlund, the financial commitment is well worth seeing the 23 female students in action.

"Walking into the Hacker School rooms and seeing a gender-balanced group of students, hacking on open source and learning to be better developers," says Hedlund, "is nothing short of incredible to me, given how unbalanced our industry has been as long as I’ve been managing." If partnerships like this one can expand, it won't be long before the goal of more women in the industry becomes a reality.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user Mike Licht,

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