empower women in techMy inbox is inundated with requests to speak at local tech events, to help out, teach this, lead that, be part of X. Part of the reason for the volume coming through is because they want women represented. It’s great to see companies and conferences take an active role in ensuring diversity in their events. But because there aren’t many women in technology representatives, they keep approaching the same people. Let’s change that together.

Why we need more women leaders in the community

When I decline an offer and I’m asked to refer other women to take my place, I think of the same women over and over like you most likely do. There just isn’t a big pool to draw from. Imagine the possibility of a vast network where there were too many options. You want more women in tech events? You want more women speakers in conferences? You want more VCs and angels to invest in women? It’s time for YOU to take a stand.

What does that mean? Stop talking about why there aren’t many women in technology and do something about it. The best way? Lead by example. One of the most effective ways to persuade people is to “show, not tell” as marketers and other businesspeople will tell you. I’m doing that with Girl Develop It Philly (GDI) and I can’t tell you how rewarding it has been. I see members come in not knowing a lick of code and hear back about how they just got a raise or completely switched careers. It’s my favorite part and I save every email I get thanking me for bringing GDI to Philly. Since we hit 2 years old in September, I’ve seen an influx of students that started with little to no coding experience becoming teaching assistants and one of them is now even leading classes (Go Sarah Johnson!)

I recently decided to take things a step further by asking members to speak at local events, help organize them, or take a more active leadership role in the community. I keep hearing the same hesitations so I’m including ideas on how to bridge the gap and get a move on.

Overcoming your initial hesitations

Most of the women I talk to respond with this phrase when I approach them: “But I’m not comfortable public speaking.” I’ll let you on in a little secret. No one is. Ever. If they say they are, they’re lying. Think about the long-term effects of having this discomfort. How has it impacted you and others around you? Do you want to be one of the 54% that fear public speaking more than death that they actually gave it a name (Yep, it’s called Glossophobia). It’s difficult to believe you would rather end your life than speak in front of a group of people. Create a possibility of doing it and conquer it with the following:

  • Toastmasters International – A non-profit that provides educational classes in public speaking. It’s cheap, and they have chapters all over Philadelphia. You can take them by day, night, or on the weekends. Look for one that fits your schedule here.
  • Follow @ladies_in_tech on Twitter and subscribe to their blog – Co-founded by our own GDI instructor Jenn Lukas and an incredible line-up of women, it showcases stories of female speakers in technology with anecdotes and tips. Open the site on a new tab right now, it will leave you inspired.
  • Same with speaking.io – Built by a Github employee, it lays out a thorough outline with presentations you can follow along with on everything from planning your talk to reflecting on how it went.
  • Get coached by GDI chapter leader, Jen Myers - If you don’t follow her on Twitter, you should. Jen is the epitome of a leader directly contributing to changing the ratio of women in technology. She offers free virtual office hours and will help you personally. Sign up for one of her oHours slots here. And if you’re a seasoned speaker, read about how Jen goes about mentoring and consider setting up your own coaching calls.
  • Listen to Lisa Marshall’s Public Speaker Podcast – Listen to podcasts about the topic on your commute. I recently interviewed with Lisa on a different podcast she runs. I was so impressed with her energy and confidence that I subscribed to a couple of them. I’m also working on getting her to teach about the topic for GDI (she’s right here in NJ).
  • Follow these public speaking tips by James Altucher – He is one of my favorite bloggers because he writes and speaks in a way that’s instantly relatable. He doesn’t hold anything back and you can’t help but connect with him. In this article, he lists a few ways to start that are  fun as well. Do yourself a favor and subscribe to his blog while you’re at it. With all the emails I receive, his are one of the few I star and make time to read every single time.

From my own personal experience, you’ll find you forget about speaking in public when you’re talking about something you’re passionate about. If you have something in mind, get it out of the way and contact one now. In fact, let your family and friends know that public speaking is one of your goals this year. Go post about it on Twitter and Facebook. You’ll find sharing it holds you to be more accountable for it and propels you to act.

The other response I get is “But I don’t have the time for that right now.” My answer to this is always blunt and straight to the point – that is we make time for the things that are important to us. We are all strapped for time and a common pitfall I see with those that try to expand their schedule is to squeeze more things in the same period length. It’s actually a matter of deciding what matters more to you. I remember reading something that said to start by changing your language. Instead of saying “I don’t have time,” say “It’s not a priority” or “I don’t want to” and you’ll see how the impact of those words make you feel. It’s our choice of how we choose to spend our time. Take a step back and make sure you’re choosing it wisely.

My least favorite remark is “I don’t think I know enough.” Actually, you do and the best way to find out is by asking your friends, co-workers and network what they see you being an authority on. I bet you will find at least one topic. If not, that’s a talk in itself. I guarantee you’ll find something and if you don’t, reach out to me personally (yes, I’m inviting you to send me an email despite being overwhelmed with my inbox as it is because that’s how important this is) and I will find a way for you to start.

I recently met Alexis Ohanian, the founder of Reddit at a local First Round Capital event. He talked about technology, startups, and his new book “Without Their Permission.” I haven’t finished it yet but I read something that resonated with me. It said something to the effect of “I guarantee that you’ll never succeed without trying. Just start – take the first step. You don’t need anyone’s permission.” Translated another way, JFDI.

Ideas on how to get started

Okay, now that we got that out of the way, let’s talk about concrete steps you can take to be a leader in your community. I’ll use Philadelphia as an example since it’s where I’m located:

  1. There are 103 technology groups within a 25-mile radius of Philadelphia according to Meetup. Sign up to those groups that relate to you. Go to their Meetups, meet the organizers, and ask questions. Basically, show your face and contribute to the conversation.
  2. Contribute a video to the High Visibility Project. Made by GDI Chapter Leader, Jen Myers, the site collects stories of women in technology and allows them to contribute their experiences and ideas by video. Submit an entry here. 
  3. Approach one of the local tech groups about giving a “lightening talk”. Lightening talks are short 5 to 10 minute talks about a certain topic or a project you’re working on. Starting small will do wonders in helping you practice.
  4. Build up momentum and lead a whole session on a topic. Again, go with something you’re passionate about or work with a lot.
  5. Start or contribute to blogs. Establish yourself as an authority by writing about your experiences, sharing your lessons learned, or tricks you’ve come across. Don’t have time for a full-blown blog? Set up an account on Medium and you can be up and running in minutes. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just get yourself out there.
  6. Submit a speaker application. The 3rd Annual Philly Women in Technology Summit is on April 12, 2014 and they’re looking for women to lead workshops. Go apply here. The deadline is Jan 24th.
  7. Get involved with Philly Tech Week. The site is in-progress but you can join Technically Philly’s meetup and submit an event proposal here (deadline Jan 17th).

As a well-known advocate for women in technology, I’m taking a step back from directly organizing and speaking at local tech events. So ladies, bring it on. Go set the world on fire. Step it up and expand the network. Your community will thank you and you’ll thank yourself.

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Many companies offer tuition reimbursement but employees rarely take advantage of it, either because they don’t know it’s available or they’re not sure of how to approach it. Becoming a valuable asset by strengthening or building new skills is a win-win for employees and employers alike. In this post, I’ll share tips and strategies to start the conversation and close the deal.

I approached my boss about taking a design class at University of the Arts during our site redesign last year. I made it clear aesthetics wasn’t my strong suit and it would help me do a better job with the project and others coming up.  Coupled with the steps I outline below, my request was granted and I was able to take the $545 eight-week class for free.

I’ve brought up the concept to a few Girl Develop It members. Our classes are $10 to $14 an hour and it should be an easy win to ask for compensation. So far, every member that has tried has been successful. For those that are a little apprehensive, the process is similar to a negotiation. It requires pre-planning to prepare and negate any issues that may appear.

Step 1: Have a plan

  • Align it with a project and lead with the interests of the company. Your chance of success will increase if your proposal is framed in terms of benefits to your coworkers or your company.
  • Demonstrate how your new skills will increase productivity and revenue. In my case, I mentioned our project pipeline and how improving my design skills will help us when we create new tools, redo our mailings, revamp other elements and so on.
  • Show studies of how it will impact the company in a positive way. These two links from NBER and eHow explain how tuition reimbursement attracts new talent, increases loyalty, reduces turnover, creates advancement opportunities, and improves productivity.  No one can argue with stats!

Step 2: Anticipate problems that may arise

  • Reassure her or him you will not leave right afterwards. It’s a valid concern and you can offer to sign a contract if necessary (and if you’re comfortable with the idea).
  • Let them know it won’t impact your time at work. The last thing an employer wants to do is sign off on something that will take you away from your responsibilities, regardless of the long-time benefits. Look for options that allow you to attend night or weekend classes.
  • Guarantee a good grade. My company’s policy required I pay for the class upfront and my level of reimbursement directly correlated with my grade. A “B” or higher provided me with the full compensation while a “C” would give me half. A lower grade would mean I would NOT be reimbursed. It’s a fair policy as it ensures employees are taking the course seriously despite not paying out of pocket.
  • Offer to train other employees. As an added side-benefit, you can also suggest teaching other employees your newfound abilities to save money & to help them boost their talent.

When the answer is “No”

  • Offer to split the cost. When it’s clear the answer is no and you really want to attend a class, suggest dividing the bill before you pull out your check or credit card.
  • Don’t give up.  If the answer is still no, try again in a few months when the right opportunity arises. You’ve already won because you’ve showed initiative and your boss will file this away mentally for your next performance.

It doesn’t have to be a long or nerve-wracking conversation. Bring it up during a status meeting or when the right moment presents itself. The more you focus on the benefits and advantages it’ll provide to your employer, the more successful you’ll likely be. What do you really have to lose?

This post was co-written by Corinne Warnshuis & Yasmine Mustafa
ladyhacks-hackathon

A picture from the first Philly women’s hackathon, LadyHacks.

The main goal of most of the tech-related groups in Philadelphia is leave a measurable impact on their members. Whether it’s to educate, network, build/create or grow, they revolve around strengthening the community.

Are you part of one of these groups? If not, take a look at the plethora of choices listed on Technically Philly. Running one of organizations takes time, dedication, passion and love from volunteers. In this post, we’ll provide specific ideas you can utilize to assist your favorite technology group as an individual, company, and even as another tech group.

As an individual, here are some ways you can help:

  1. Volunteer: Every meetup requires setup of some kind – whether it’s setting up the space, picking up refreshments, or coordinating with the space host – the list goes on. On top of planning the event itself, the organizers are usually tasked with these logistical tasks. Get involved by sending group organizers an email or a tweet offering your help. It may mean showing up a few minutes early or staying a few minutes late, but it’ll make a big difference. At Girl Develop It for example, we’re always looking for teacher assistants (TA’s) to answer questions and reinforce what our students are learning. A well-organized event is usually a result of the volunteers, and it’s a job that makes for a great experience.
  2. Lead a session: Sign up to lead a talk about a topic you’ve just learned or something you’re passionate about. You don’t have to be an expert. We’ve found the best teachers are those who have practical experience in the industry, have a specific skillset, and can impart real world experiences and industry best practices to the students. If you’re not comfortable with public speaking, look out for “lightning talks” – five-minute talks – to begin. Getting up in front of a crowd of people is the best way to become a better presenter. What is in your repertoire that you can share?
  3. Host a project or hack night: We all need to make time to learn something new or dedicate time to a project we may be procrastinating on. At GDI, we hold project nights for our students to practice the new skills they’ve just learned. Typically, they’re at a cafe with free WiFi like Chapterhouse or Good Karma. You can help by taking the initiative to suggest a Meetup to your group (a lot of groups on meetup.com let you do that directly), garner interest, and meet to go through something that interests you, study with a group of people, or develop something. It’s also a great way to make new friends. Company sponsorships provide more incentives to groups by allowing them to subsidize their costs, streamline signups and of course, host affordable events.

As a company, here are some ways you can help:

  1. Volunteer your space: We’ve had a lot of great spaces for our workshops, such as Indyhall and WHYY, but we are always looking for more to increase our options for hosting classes. Do you have a conference room you don’t use weeknights? A training room set up with a projector? Let the tech community know by leaving a comment or contacting those that are relevant to your interests.
  2. Sponsor food: This is an easy one. Pick up the tab for pizza and drinks or send a check for a specific amount. Many groups allow 5 to 10 minutes for the sponsor to speak about their company or a position they want to fill. It’s the best way to grab the attention of a bunch of developers in one room.
  3. Make a donation to a group or event: Send the group organizer an email letting them you would be interested in sponsoring their next event. We usually have to track down companies to do this – anything you can do to make it easier would be vastly appreciated. Speaking of, we have to plug GDI’s brand new Scholarship Fund that helps unemployed women attend our programming classes.

Finally, tech groups can help other tech groups!

  1. Promote each other’s events: Notice another event that your members may be interested in? Tweet it, share it on Facebook or even better – email your group about it. We’re not competing against each other; let’s spread the love.
  2. Collaborate on sessions: Throw a joint-event or happy hour (something we want to do more of). Think of some ways you can work together to reach a bigger audience and host better events. After all, two groups can be better than one…or something like that!
And hey, even if you can’t help in any of these ways, you can always spread the word about local tech events to your network and mention any of these options to your employer, acquaintances, or friends.

We’ve officially been around since September 2011, or 15 months in total. In all, we’re one of eleven Girl Develop It chapters worldwide.  It’s exciting to see the organization grow, especially from the inside. We recently held a GDI retreat in NYC to discuss plans to standardize our material and process as well as grow to 40 (Yes, that’s FORTY) chapters by mid-2013.

Our Philly chapter specifically has held 35 Meetups including 18 classes (16 of them in 2012), 8 study groups, 2 happy hours (I didn’t realize the number was that low – must change that ASAP!), 5 party organizer meet-ups and one smashing party to celebrate our one-year anniversary (slideshow below).

Our member signup rate has been steadily growing as evidenced by the graph below. The blue line represents the number of members (we’re at 689 with the writing of this post) and the red line is the number of active members, that is, those who have visited the Meetup page or RSVP’d to an event. In the last year, we’ve grown by almost 225%!

GDI-members-growth

Besides the number of returning students, perhaps the most meaningful metric are the stories I hear from members of how our classes have benefit their personal and professional lives. Either how empowered they felt coding something on their own, tackling new responsibilities at work, completely switching positions, getting a new job or raise and so on. These keep the wheels turning and with that, I’m pumped to announce what we have coming up in 2013.

In short, we’ve grown to three organizers in total, we’re starting a Girl Develop It Scholarship Fund of which $900 (which will pay for 10 classes) has already been committed thanks to Bear and &Yet (a software development shop), we’re launching a Mentoring Program, a front-end developer track, programming track, and a mobile track. We’re also offering more advanced classes, introducing soft skill workshops, and collaborating with other tech groups.

Before I go more in-depth in each of those areas, I’d like to introduce two co-organizers who are helping make all of this happen. Corinne Warnshuis has been assisting since late Summer and Lisa Burgess just came on this month. I met both of them through our classes at Girl Develop It. Corinne is the newest Event Coordinator at Technically Philly and Lisa is the Marketing Manager at Uhuru Furniture in Center City. They’re great ladies who are passionate about our goal of increasing technical literacy among women – get to know them!

  • Scholarship Fund. Unemployed or can’t afford our already low-cost classes? Members can now apply to win a scholarship sponsored by a local company. And of course, if you’re part of a company that wants to extend their brand and provide opportunities for members to enrich their skill-set at the same time, you can also sponsor them easily using this form.
  • Mentoring Program. The biggest hurdles in learning how to code are not practicing enough and not having someone around when you’re stuck. That’s where the mentoring program comes in. Newbies will be matched with experienced developers and they will work together on a project for a non-profit that they can then add to their portfolio to show work experience. Sounds like a win-win situation, right?  We’re getting this geared up with the help of Chariot Solutions and the Scholar Program they currently have in the works. Stayed tuned for more information in January.
  • Front-end Developer Track. Want to improve your front-end skills, planning a career change or want to become a freelancer building sites? Starting in January, we’ll be offering eleven classes through May on everything you need to learn to do just that. Visit our Meetup for the classes we’re starting with. Included in the lineup so far are Intro to HTML, Intermediate HTML, Typography, SEO, Advanced CSS, JavaScript, UX, JQuery, API, Advanced JavaScript, Negotiation, and Photoshop/Illustrator.
  • Soft-skill Classes. As you probably noticed from the above bullet, we’re also expanding to offer soft-skill classes that will help you become a stronger developer. E.g. learning how to structure your site for SEO purposes, how to design better, how to create visually appearing graphics, and even how to negotiate (who doesn’t wants a raise?!).
  • Programming Track. Starting with a workshop on the basics of programming with Alice, we’ll move on to a Java course and then Android to segue into the mobile track below.
  • Mobile Track. Fueled by an idea from Corey Latislaw, this is also something we’re going to offer in March/April. We’ll be starting with Android and iOS. More information to come on that once we have our planning meeting in a few weeks.
  • Advanced Classes. We’re also going to offer courses for back-end developers such as PHP and Ruby. Look for those late Quarter 1/early Quarter 2.
  • More Collaboration. We partnered with GirlGeekDinners in one of our study groups and we want to do more of that in 2013. There are so many great tech groups in Philly, it only seems appropriate to work together. Look for more project nights, happy hours and maybe even hackathons.

It’s nice to look back and see how much we’ve accomplished and all the new things we’re about to embark on. We couldn’t have done it without the support of the Philly tech community, volunteers, teachers, members and media. Thank you for everything. Let’s rock it in 2013.

Questions? Leave a comment or contact us at philly@girldevelopit.com.

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  • April 1, 2012

My favorite Holiday is tomorrow. April Fools Day may seem like a frivolous day to most people but it holds a special place in my heart for a few reasons. Mostly because you can prank people and have a legitimate excuse for it. The others reasons are sentimental – I left my previous Company and started full-time at 123LinkIt on April 1st of 2009. We launched the first version of 123LinkIt on April 1st of 2010 (it was a pure coincidence). This past April Fools, I joked about getting acquired by GSI Commerce and it actually happened a few months later (be it to another Company).

I DO have a point to this…realizing April Fools is coming up forced me to stop and question where the first quarter had gone. Time seems to be flying by because I’m involved in a lot of things. And I mean A LOT of things. Here’s a breakdown of some of the events coming up. This doesn’t include TechGirlz or GirlDevelopIt events either. Friends, family and my inbox – I’m sorry I’ve neglected you. My life will resume in May and I’ll make it up to you!

Thursday, March 29th – Temple University Young Alumni: Moving Forward Series – Entrepreneurship: The Alternative Career Path. A panel of alumni fielded questions about the audience in how we started our businesses.

Friday, March 30th to April 1st – Philadelphia Lean Startup Machine – I’m mentoring Philly startups to help them build a product or service customers want. This educational weekend is to validate assumptions and determine MVP.

Friday, April 20th – Philadelphia Startup Weekend – I’m also acting as a mentor at this event to leverage my experience from being an attendee three times (Past StartupWeekend posts: Recap of Startup Weekend Baltimore event with tips for future participants and Startup Weekend Philly 2011; Hangplan takes 2nd place.

Saturday, April 21st – Philly Women in Tech Summit – I’m proud to be part of bringing the 1st Women in Tech Summit to and it includes panels, speakers, hands-on learning workshops and a networking tea. Philadelphia. The theme of this women-only event is “Getting In, Surviving, Thriving and Giving Back”

Sunday, May 6th – Broad Street Run – I honestly do not know what I was thinking when I signed up for this. My training has been minimal and my competitive nature is not happy about it. In fact, I’m thinking of intentionally coming in last so I can be the best at being the worst. Maybe I’ll kill two birds with one stone get a lapstrap and attempt to reach the ever elusive inbox zero at the same time (I may just have convinced myself to do this, especially with how attractive that picture is).