Girl Develop It’s Detroit Chapter Teaches Women to Code

It’s no secret that the tech world—in Detroit just as much as Silicon Valley or anywhere else, really—is a man’s world. Go to any local tech event to see the demographics play out. Even in a budding tech community like Detroit’s, which can be open and welcoming in its newness, female tech founders and CEOs are scarce. But if Girl Develop It Detroit has anything to say about it, those demographics could be changing.

Girl Develop It is an international organization that aims to teach women how to code and offers them a safe space in which to learn at their own pace, a place where there is no such thing as a “stupid question.” Detroit is one of its newest chapters and the only chapter so far in Michigan. Local co-founder Michelle Srbinovich says the organization has taught beginning website development classes to more than 50 women ranging in age from 15 to 67 since the chapter started in November 2012.

“Our students are often people interested in learning something new or who work in digital but don’t have programming knowledge,” Srbinovich says. “It’s a huge range of people seeking a female-friendly, in-person learning environment.”

Srbinovich is the digital director at the public radio station WDET, but she wanted to expand her programming expertise. After trying and not really connecting with Codecademy, she found the Girl Develop It website and sent an e-mail to the national office pitching Detroit as a chapter location. “I mentioned TechTown and the Madison Building, and the disconnect between the city and the suburbs,” Srbinovich explains. “I said I wanted to make sure women were included up front as we incubate Detroit’s tech community from the ground up.”

Girl Develop It’s organizers loved the idea and asked her to find a technical co-founder. Srbinovich joined forces with Erika Carlson, a software developer at Pillar Technology and what Srbinovich describes as a “unicorn”—a “very rare” female back-end developer—and Cara Jo Miller, a self-taught front-end developer who works for the local software company Are You A Human. Atomic Object, a software development shop with an office in downtown Detroit, volunteered its office as a place to hold classes, and the Detroit chapter was officially off the ground.

Srbinovich says the trick is to communicate to young women that they don’t need to like “boy things” to code. “We want to demystify programming so more girls might consider a career in STEM,” she adds. “We’ve had incredible support from the community. There aren’t a lot of women in tech, but it’s not a boy’s club because they don’t want us here—they just don’t do much to make it appeal to young women.”

The Girl Develop It Meet-Up page currently has 377 “nerdette” members, and that number continues to grow. The next class, HTML and CSS for beginners, will be held June 3 and June 5 at Atomic Object. The eight-hour class costs $80, and attendees will walk away from it knowing how to build a website from scratch. Srbinovich says financial aid is available for qualifying students. (Click here to find out more about upcoming classes.)

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