Digital Underground: Chicago Women Developers

February 20, 2013 3:48:33 PM PST
At Chicago Women Developers, you can learn to design your own website, and it all started with a simple quest by a Chicago entrepreneur.

You probably know that behind every website, there is the code, a language telling the computer what to do. And that's about how much Melissa Pierce said she knew about computer programming when she had an idea.

"I had just finished a documentary film, and I was trying to build a website for that," she said.

It was a simple idea to build her own website, and she knew enough to get started.

"I saw one of my friends who said, 'Come to open hacking, everyone's welcome, bring your project," she said.

So she went off to an open hack night, a sort of a support group for programmers. But she never expected the response from the group of men.

"This shouldn't be happening, there should be space for women who are beginners who want to find people to teach them," Pierce said.

And that was the foundation for Chicago Women Devleopers. Now, her brainchild is a full-on computer workshop for women. Taught by women, like Francesca Slade, a software engineer with Google.

"The terminology around tech can be intimidating if you're not familiar with it," Slade said. "The hardest part is not writing the program, it's to figure out how to set up your computer."

So they teach you how to set up your computer with programming languages like Ruby, Python, or HTML. Classes are laid back, just once a week. Who attends? Women like Angeleah Daidone, hairdresser turned computer programmer, and LaToya Allen, a bartender working on her own app for craft beer.

"I've learned so much, they've been teaching me several languages, framework, been doing a project I would never have done for myself," Allen said.

So a simple question about creating her own webiste is now helping hundreds of Chicago women discover a potential career in tech.

"We have been recognized as a place that's welcoming, friendly, you can ask what you might think is a stupid question, we'll answer," Pierce said.

Daidone, who was a hairdresser for 10 years, is now transitioning to a new job as a computer programmer. By the way, the cost of the class? Four sessions in one month will cost $80. Depending on your progress, you can learn the basics of creating a website in a few months, which is a fraction of the cost of having someone do it for you.

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