Closing The Gap

How this coding bootcamp is helping women land tech jobs at Reddit, Facebook and Amazon

Photo courtesy of Getty

In 1995, women made up 37 percent of the computing workforce, according to a study by Girls Who Code and Accenture. Today, that number has dropped to 24 percent, and it's predicted to fall to 22 percent by 2025 if nothing is done to diversify tech's talent pipeline.

One company making constant progress towards a more gender inclusive tech workforce is the all-female San Francisco-based coding bootcamp Hackbright Academy.

Founded in 2012, Hackbright's mission is to provide women from diverse backgrounds with the opportunity to launch careers in tech through their software engineering program. Unlike other popular coding organizations, like Girls Who Code, which targets young women in grades K-12, Hackbright's goal is to help working adult women transition into the tech industry.

So far, they have helped more than 700 women land jobs at leading tech companies like Facebook, Reddit, Amazon and LinkedIn.

Hackbright CEO Alice Hill

"We're dedicated to changing the ratio of women in tech," Hackbright CEO Alice Hill tells CNBC Make It. "We have a network of women who are working together and who are all in a stage where they're about to make a big career change."

Hill says that while Hackbright is for women of all ages, the average program participant is 27 years old with a few years of work experience under her belt.

Becca Rosenthal, who graduated from the 12-week program in December, knows first-hand how valuable the coding academy is in helping women gain the skills and resources needed to land employment.

Rosenthal graduated from Claremont McKenna College with a degree in Middle East Studies. After completing a two-year fellowship at The Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life in Jackson, Mississippi, Rosenthal says she was ready to explore a new career path.

Hackbright students networking with other tech leaders.

"I posted in a San Francisco women in tech Facebook group asking about bootcamps for coding, and one woman recommended Hackbright," she says. "I have always been interested in looking at big problems from a lot of different perspectives and I feel that right now the big problems in our world are being solved through tech, and I want to have a seat at the table."

Prior to Hackbright, Rosenthal had no coding experience, so she took the program's $1,895 four-week prep course to ensure that this was a career change she wanted to fully invest in. The academy's full-time software engineering program is five days a week, 12 weeks long and costs $16,859.

"It is a big financial and time commitment to do the full program, so I wanted to see if it was something I really wanted to do," says the 26-year-old.

Through Hackbright, she says she was paired with two mentors and one of them worked at Reddit. After hearing Reddit's CEO Steve Huffman speak during a bootcamp lecture session, she says she texted her mentor and told him, "We are going to be co-workers and I need your help with making it happen." She says she gives Hackbright full credit for helping her to land her current position as a software engineer at Reddit.

Hackbright alum and Reddit software engineer Becca Rosenthal

"I didn't think I would get a job right away," she says. "I just thought that having the skills will at least help me to get my foot in the door."

Hill, who has served as Hackbright's CEO since June 2017, says she's proud of the coding bootcamp's employee placement record: 71 percent of its participants land full-time jobs in tech right after graduation. Hackbright alums earn a median first-job salary of $88,000, the highest salary among schools that report their outcomes to the Council on Integrity in Results Reporting. That number is also slightly higher than the $85,629 yearly salary that Glassdoor reports for the average entry-level software engineer.

As someone who has worked in technology since college, Hill says she knows how important it is to quickly increase the number of women in the talent pipeline.

"I just started to notice over time that the ratio was getting out of whack," she says of her 20-plus year career, which included a stint as eBay's CTO. "I would have teams of hundreds of developers and there would be less than five women on the staff."

She says that Hackbright's ability to not only bring awareness to tech's gender problem but to also provide tangible solutions is ultimately what drove her to join the company.

Right now the big problems in our world are being solved through tech, and I want to have a seat at the table.
Becca Rosenthal
Hackbright grad

Having led the bootcamp's operations for a year now, Hill emphasizes how valuable its more than 40 partner companies have been to helping close the industry's gender gap. In fact, its partner company Reddit recently donated $150,000 to help cover tuition costs for select bootcamp participants. Reddit's CEO says the donation just felt like the proper next step to take.

"In the years I've been involved with Hackbright Academy as a mentor, I've seen Hackbright pave the path for hundreds of women to launch their careers in technology," said Huffman in a statement on the coding academy's website. Hill says she hopes the bootcamp teaches women that the industry has space for everyone and you don't have to be a college-aged student to get your start.

"We really want to spread the message that it's always possible to change your career and go into technology," she says. "There's such a need for female engineering talent."

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