3 Questions With Women’s Coding Collective’s Susan Buck

3 min read
  • Education
  • Information Technology

Susan Buck is a programmer, designer, and educator with more than 15 years of web development experience, starting with her education in digital media at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunication Program and UNC Asheville’s Multimedia Arts and Sciences program. Most recently, she co-founded The Women’s Coding Collective, an educational initiative aimed at helping more women excel in programming and web development. She is also a computer science instructor at Wellesley College, and teaches Dynamic Web Applications at Harvard’s Extension School.

Tell us about your organization. What is its mission?

I helped create the Women’s Coding Collective (WCC), which is a local and online initiative devoted to encouraging women coders and creators who are working and learning at the intersection of web development and entrepreneurship.

We offer web development classes and host speakers on topics related to programming and entrepreneurship. In general, our mission is about cultivating open, supportive environments where women and girls of all ages can learn and code together.

We’ve had lots of encouraging success stories. We frequently hear from our students. They report back on finishing projects, landing new jobs, and perhaps our favorite—jumping ship from their current job to start their own business. We haven’t collected concrete numbers on success rates, but the anecdotal evidence has been enough to encourage us to keep going.

If you were asked to mentor a young woman interested in a tech career, how would advise her?

I’d start with this: Build a tribe. You’re going to find yourself at a lot of interviews, at conference sessions, and at meeting tables where you’re going to wonder, “Do I belong here?” Often, as you look around at a majority that does not look like you, you’ll really start to doubt that you do.

Because of this, having a tribe of other women you can report back to, and share your experiences with, is going to be key to powering on. Find a Girl Geek Dinner chapter, seek out a women-focused tech group on Meetup.com, or join (or start) a women-in-tech group on your campus. Do whatever you can to support yourself with a group of women who love technology as much as you do.

How can we help get more women involved in tech?

There are a lot of answers to this question, which is a good thing!

Stat talking to girls about technology when they are young. Introduce them to Scratch, gift them a littleBits kit, sign them up for an Hour of Code event, or show them how to create their own website with Neocities. If we plant seeds like this at an early age, girls entering high school will be less likely to shy away from technical electives. And, hopefully, from that experience they’ll be encouraged to pursue STEM-related majors when they get into college.

Many colleges are great about encouraging students to explore outside their comfort zone when deciding on a major. But for many overwhelmed first- and second-year college students, it’s tempting to take the path they’re most familiar with. If we put technology on young girls’ radars early, there’s a greater chance they’ll consider it as a field of study in college.

Recently, some reports suggest the problem isn’t in the college pipeline. There’s data from the National Science Foundation, for instance, that shows that slightly more than half of the bachelor’s degrees earned in STEM since 2002 have been earned by women. So you may look at that and think, “Ah, problem solved!” But if you look more closely at the numbers, you’ll see that women made up only 18 percent of technology degree recipients, and only 19 percent of the engineering degree recipients. Given this, the pipeline, especially for the “T” and “E” of STEM, still needs a lot of work.

Then the industry has to evaluate what companies are doing to attract and, most important, retain women. Companies need to critically examine everything from their hiring processes and marketing to existing team diversity to physical environments.

At the WCC we tend to get this question a lot, “How can I attract and hire more women to my team?” We love getting this question because it means the issue is being discussed, but we also find it frustrating because there’s no quick fix that can be summed up in an email message.

We usually reply to these inquiries with an assignment for the writer: Research and educate yourself on all the things that can make (or break) the building of a diverse team. A good place to start is with NCWIT’s list of workplace resources.

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