Last night I went to an Ada Developers Academy information session. The panelists talked a lot about personal journey and how crafting a narrative is key to success in their application. I think this is just true for all professional goals. So here I detail what got me inside that room last night, and why I am so committed to the type of community Ada is trying to facilitate.
Around six months ago, I was working in Pune with the digital ops team for Pratham and started to become interested in programming for the first time. I looked around (Googled) for different programs and bootcamps in Seattle that might be helpful in this journey. I wanted a bootcamp that was, above of all, intellectually rigorous. I wanted to my cohort to push me. More than that though — I wanted a program that matched my personality and values, that emphasized issues beyond the code. During this search, I found Ada Developers Academy, a year-long program just for women that looked both incredibly intense and put strong emphasis on communication, dialogue, and having the conversation about diversity in tech (not just talking about the conversation).
When I found Ada back in February, I became momentarily obsessed. Unfortunately for me, I found it exactly when the application opened up for the next cohort which started in May, and I was stuck in school until June. Five credits and some certifications stood between me and graduating with an economics degree. And everyone, I seriously considered dropping out of school to pursue programming right there and then.
Have you ever found something that felt so right it made you nervous and excited at the same time? That’s how I felt when I found Ada. However, it wasn’t Ada that made me excited in and of itself. Ada looks fantastic, yes — but one program or product alone cannot cause an existential crisis or make feel like I need to drop everything and change my life. Ada’s tagline and mission were manifestations of a certain philosophy. You can find this philosophy in many organizations I have come to love in this journey: Girl Develop It, Code Newbies, and Women in Tech to name a few. Reading over Ada’s requirements and application sparked my enthusiasm and not just to apply. It gave me this strong feeling that I could actually do this. The amount of support for the organization told me something as well: people wanted me to do this. I didn’t need a CS degree, I just needed my own willpower and the ability to foster a community and support networks.
So I didn’t drop out of college, obviously. I let the deadline come and go for the application and the opportunity slipped away. I knew there would be a cohort for me in the following months, but didn’t know how far off the organization would announce that. I wasn’t going to wait around for the application to open up again before I starting seeking out this community. I returned to Seattle to finish my thesis. School had become pretty dull at that point. All the excitement last quarter happened for me outside of school, at meetups and in conversations with mentors about this change. I took a class on feminist theory and wrote my senior thesis using R, which I enjoyed, but left me with only more desire to start coding and to meet other women in STEM.
I picked up some books on code (borrowed a lot from friends) and delved into online materials. I quickly realized something that I’ve heard many times before: coding is really really really hard.
And that made me love it all the more. I started out studying philosophy in school. I was intensely passionate about making arguments and delving into the depths of different writings to support ideas I had built from scratch. After a while though, I craved more opportunities to have a tangible impact and became interested in economics, where I could use math, statistics, and algorithms to support my models and arguments. Constraints and utilization curves had data behind them! I soon realized even economics had its share of faulty assumptions, inaccuracies, and often fundamentally mischaracterized human psychology. I started studying math. I like to tell people that I started out a philosophy major but if I had eight years to go to school, I probably would have become a math major. All this is to say, I began to realize that rigor and the constant search for more efficient (read: lazy) and powerful means to build arguments is at the core of what I wanted in a career. I never want to stop learning. In school there always seemed an end to the learning: the end of the syllabus, the quarter, getting a 4.0 in economics, graduating, etc. and I think a lot of academia is trained that way. In this new world, however, the possibilities are endless. We can pivot and pivot and pivot and no assistant dean is going to tell us “But six months ago you said you were going to teach Ruby and now your teaching Go? What is this?!?” Evolution in learning is not constrained by a syllabus anymore.
This has all been in my mind for the last four months since I returned from India. I immediately set up coffee dates and happy hours with every developer or tech adjacent person I know. My friend Martina Welke gave me great advice about being a woman in tech. Kristina Lenova introduced me to amazing developers at her company Tune, and showed me what working at a tech company could be like. My friend Ben, a semi-recent graduate from App Academy, told me about his journey and discussed the culture. The countless amazing people I’ve met at Girl Develop It and Seattlerb gave me advice on learning materials. Finally, I reached out blindly to about four Ada students in their class or internship phases and all of them immediately responded “Yes. When?” I was able to have great conversations with them about Ada, and more generally how the mission of Ada compares to the community at large.
All of this brought me to Galvanize downtown last night for an information session. The application for Ada opened about a week ago and there are less than two weeks left in the process. The session was amazing, and the women from the cohorts spoke brilliantly about their experiences. I loved everything Amira, Loraine, and Kari said about community and their cohort. It reminded me so much of the Sullivan program at Seattle U. The panel also discussed creating positive culture and the ability to trust other classmates and work as a team. At one point, Rebecca Mark said she hopes the women and Ada will “be brave and unbounded” in tackling problems in tech and the world. At one point, a prospective student in the audience asked about intersectionality. I was relieved that the executive director’s answer came from a place of understanding. Cynthia spoke of Ada’s “no woman left behind” policy and how they try to build a constructive and open environment. Rebecca perfectly framed why these things are so critical when she said that this is was makes these women not only amazing humans, but “empathetic programmers.” If you cannot communicate your work to other classmates, how are you going to be able to communicate with users of your product? How are you going to be able to see if your product is applicable or accessible to people outside of yourself?
The session ended with a discussion of self-care and healthy habits while in the intense classroom phase, which I personally found comforting. In that moment I was so happy to have found Ada not only because of their program, but because this is exactly the culture I want to create, foster, and learn from in this line of work. So regardless of what happens in the coming months, I am glad to have this community and thankful for what they’re trying to do for women like me in trying to enter this field. I hope that even if I don’t become part of their cohort, I can still be part of the community and support its growth in the future.