Finding the female techies

Much has been written about the lack of female engineers, developers and other STEM occupations, but now online craft marketplace Etsy is collaborating with New York City’s Hacker School to do something about it.

This month, Etsy announced that they would be hosting the summer 2012 session of Hacker School as well as provide scholarships for ten qualifying women to attend.

Hacker School is not a technology school, but a kind of “writer’s retreat” for programmers. The students spend three months with other coders sharing development tips and tricks as well as working on open source software from which they can learn. Currently, only one of their 20 enrolled students is female, and not many women apply; Etsy is hoping to change that.

As a craft marketplace with largely female users, Etsy’s Vice President of Engineering Marc Hedlund is concerned that only 11 of Etsy’s 96 engineering and operations employees are female.

This is no surprise — tech employers all over the country have a difficult time finding female applicants — but Hedlund believes that Etsy is the perfect place to get more women involved.

According to Hedlund, Etsy “supports the businesses of hundreds of thousands of female entrepreneurs through our marketplace, which sells a majority of all items to women, and which already has many talented and amazing women working for the company — should be one of the single easiest Internet companies at which to correct this problem.”

To make it happen, Etsy is hosting the summer 2012 session of Hacker School at its NYC headquarters. They will accept 40 applicants and hope that 20 of them will be female.

Though the Hacker School program is free, living in New York City is not, so Etsy is offering a scholarship of $5000 to ten female applicants that can demonstrate financial need. Hedlund has also said that he plans to recruit several coders from the course, if possible.

There is one major requirement to attending Hacker School: a serious love for programming. The women attracted to this program are likely already interested in software engineering and computer science. But even if Etsy is only saving recruiting dollars by bringing female coders to their doorstep, they are increasing the visibility of female coders and taking a step in the right direction. Hedlund admits that to really make a difference, girls need to be reached early, but for Etsy, he’d “like to start solving the problem a lot sooner.”

Other similar programs are also working to start making a difference now. At the University, only 15 percent of electrical and computer engineering students are female. To help augment this number, the Cullen College of Engineering offers a mentor program for female engineering students called Women in Engineering UH. Carnegie Mellon’s computer science school has altered its admission process to attract more well-rounded students, and as a result has seen significant increases in female enrollment.

One of my earliest memories was learning to write a “hello world” program in Visual Basic at my father’s knee, but most girls are not encouraged to embrace traditionally masculine fields so early in their lives.

Early encouragement and exposure to female role models in the technology industry are rare, and even then, some girls are put off the industry due to its insulated “boys club” atmosphere and reputation for poor working conditions.

Efforts like Etsy’s partnership with Hacker School can help to mitigate that atmosphere and make more young girls confident to follow in these students’ footsteps.

Emily Brooks is an economics senior and may be reached at [email protected]


  • I never get why there has to be so much hubbub over getting more gender quallity in every single occupation out there. If girls really want to get into a field, I don't see why there has to be any major fear about doing so; this is the 21st century. Having female-only scholarships and such to promote this 'equality' feels so forced and perhaps goes against what maybe most girls honestly don't care to do. Girls or guys should be able to take any career they like, and there should be some gender police saying there needs to be more girls here and more guys there. In fact, rarely will a guy ever complain about trying to have a chance in a female-dominated industry.

  • quikboy, The thing is, women are not encouraged to go into traditionally masculine fields. Men are. Scholarships for women are basically attempting to level the playing field- get more women interested.

    It’s a societal thing, not a thing about men or women in particular. It isn’t that women just naturally don’t want, or are not attuned to, the maths and sciences. They are not encouraged to pursue these fields the way men are.

    If we bring in some extra encouragement targeted at ladies, it may help make male-dominated fields more attractive to girls. I don’t know whether scholarships are the right way to do it or whether they will be successful. But that’s the reasoning, and the goal.

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