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Seven Questions for Girl Develop It Salt Lake City Chapter Leader Stacie Farmer

What I’d like to do with Girl Develop It is take away the stigma of the heavy-set, acne-ridden, pale programmer who has zero social skills, but can hack into your network in less than five minutes.

Girl Develop It recently announced the launch of a Salt Lake City chapter. According to their website, Girl Develop It is “an international organization that exists to provide affordable and accessible programs to women who want to learn software development through mentorship and hands-on instruction.” We recently had the opportunity to catch up with Salt Lake City Chapter Leader Stacie Farmer about her background, the organization’s goals, and how we can help promote women in tech here in Utah.

Beehive Startups:

Thank you for taking the time to speak with us, Stacie. Tell our readers a little bit about your background. Are you from Utah?

Stacie Farmer:

I’m a Utah native, born and raised! I grew up in a very small town with only about 5,000 residents. I graduated from high school as a junior, since the small town life just wasn’t really my thing and moved to Orem to go to college.

Beehive Startups:

How did you become interested in programming? What are some of the languages you know?

Stacie Farmer:

Programming was not my first love growing up, nor was it my second. I just never thought I was smart (or geeky) enough to work with computers.

I got started with programming quite by accident. I was in a data entry position and we were switching to an Oracle-based system for the entire company. I was trained on the new application and picked it up quickly, so they decided I would be the one to train my department. I needed a lot of information from the database for testing purposes and IT was super busy, so I asked if someone could teach me how to do it. I was very fortunate to have one of the programmers show me how to get my data using SQL and it greatly increased my knowledge of how everything worked together in the system. After a while, the IT director gave me a job doing tech support and then I moved into a position where I wrote SQL reports all day. It was fantastic and I loved it!

Currently, the languages I know are:

SQL, HTML, CSS, PHP, and Javascript (jQuery & Angular).

I’ve dabbled in Java, C++, and am currently learning Python. I don’t plan to ever stop learning new languages. One of the things I love about programming is that there’s always something new to learn!

Beehive Startups:

What can Utah do to get more young girls interested in computer science and software engineering?

Stacie Farmer:

I think there are a few things that need to change. First, we need to give them the opportunity to learn about computers. I’m not talking about typing courses or basic knowledge on how a computer works (although those are good to know, as well). Once they’re old enough to learn some basic concepts, show kids how easy it is to build a game, webpage, or an app. Encourage them to play video games and help them develop a love of technology. Once they discover how cool technology is, show them what they can do with it. The possibilities are pretty much endless.

Second, we need to stop reinforcing gender stereotypes. I want to see more toys that are targeted at both boys and girls, or, preferably, toys targeted at kids in general and not a specific gender. Instead of passive toys for my daughter (like Barbie and Littlest Pet Shop), I want to see interactive problem-solving toys like Legos and Goldie Blox. We, as adults, need to do seek out and support companies who make those toys that encourage explorative play instead of ones that are just profiting from the latest T.V. show.

Once we buy the toys, then it’s up to us as parents to sit down and play with our kids. My 4- and 5-year old weren’t interested in playing with Legos for almost a year after we bought some. One day, I decided that I wanted to build something for myself, so I sat down and showed them how to follow the instructions. After that, they were so excited about their Legos that they would quickly get their chores done so they could play! Sometimes kids don’t know where to start and need our guidance. Make it something fun that you can do together.

Beehive Startups:

How do you think Utah is doing when it comes to promoting women in tech?

Stacie Farmer:

I think there are a lot of companies out there that know women bring different skills and diversity to their teams and they want to hire them. The companies just aren’t finding them. Right now, there just aren’t a lot of female engineers to choose from.

I think there are women who are interested in learning the skills, but they don’t know where to start or they don’t think they’re “smart enough” to pursue a career in technology. I also think there are women out there, like me, who are in technology, but have never worked with another female engineer. We’re out there, but it can be hard to find each other.

Beehive Startups:

How did you get involved with Girl Develop It? Tell us more about the goals of Girl Develop It and what the organization hopes to accomplish. How can we help?

Stacie Farmer:

I first heard about the efforts of Girl Develop It from geekfeminism.org. I heard that they have chapters in different states and their goal is to help give women the skills to pursue careers in tech. I was intrigued.

I envision Girl Develop It as a way to find women in technology (or those who want to switch fields), the people who support them, and then bringing the two together. We accomplish that through classes that teach marketable skills and informal events where the majority of participants are female. Girl Develop It is an inclusive program and we welcome anyone who supports our mission, regardless of their gender, though our focus is on creating an environment where women can feel welcome and comfortable.

We take away the fear that comes from participating at a technology event where you might not know anyone and it’s highly likely the majority of participants are going to be male. You may be unsure of how you’ll be received. Are you smart enough? Will it be an environment that encourages collaboration over competition? Will there be people who will come up and greet you so you don’t have to hide in a corner all night? Don’t get me wrong, the majority of technology events I’ve been to, I’ve met people who have been very friendly and supportive. The truth is, I didn’t have the confidence to attend a technology event until I had been programming for over 4 years. I like to think that if there had been a female-focused group I could have joined when I was first starting out, then maybe it wouldn’t have taken me 4 years to get up the courage to participate.

What I’d like to do with Girl Develop It is take away the stigma of the heavy-set, acne-ridden, pale programmer who has zero social skills, but can hack into your network in less than five minutes. I’m sure those people do exist, but they are not the norm. Programmers come in all shapes, sizes, and genders. I want people to learn about technology because it’s exciting and fun and they can do it! All it takes is a drive and a willingness to do the hard work.

To run a program like this requires a lot of hard work and we need help! Let’s get the word out about Girl Develop It so people know we’re here. We also need people to help out with classes and we need companies to support us and what we’re doing. If you’re interested in helping out, in any way, visit us at http://girldevelopitslc.com/interest_survey/.

Beehive Startups:

How often will you be holding events? How many members does the Salt Lake City chapter currently have? How can we help you spread the word?

Stacie Farmer:

At a minimum, we will be having at least one Girl Develop It event each month. This could be an informal get-together, a class, or a workshop. As long as there’s enough interest, we plan on having multiple events each month to keep people engaged in the social aspect of Girl Develop It. Part of learning is talking with others, getting and giving help, debating about why your favorite new framework is the bomb, and having a safe place to vent about the stresses in your life. We want to create that kind of safe space for our members.

We just started our local chapter and currently have 21 nerdettes. I expect that number to grow and grow as we get the word out! Tell everyone you know. Drop it into a conversation with friends so you can discuss the merits of online learning vs. in-person classes. Ever hear someone talking about how much they hate their current job? Mention the booming tech industry here in Utah and how Girl Develop It teaches affordable classes to people looking to enter or advance in the technology fields. You never know who might need something like Girl Develop It and you wouldn’t want them to miss out.

Beehive Startups:

When do classes start? Tell us about the teachers.

Stacie Farmer:

Our first event will be our Launch Party to get people together and to talk about what Girl Develop It is. It’s tentatively scheduled for February 20th, but keep an eye out on our Meetup page for all the details.

Teaching is one of our top priorities and we’re excited to get started! Our first official class — “How to Build a Website: HTML & CSS for Beginners” is scheduled for March 8th-9th, 2014. This will be a 2-day class and seating is limited, so sign up for it today on our Meetup page!

We currently have two Girl Develop It teachers. They are myself, and our other Chapter Leader, Zara Johnson. We’re definitely looking for more full-time and guest teachers, so if you know of anyone interested, have them get in contact with us at http://girldevelopitslc.com/interest_survey/ or saltlakecity@girldevelopit.com.

Beehive Startups:

Thanks again for taking the time to help our readers better understand what Girl Develop It is all about, and the opportunities that are now available to Utah women thanks to the opening of your Salt Lake City chapter. We’re looking forward to watching you make a real difference in this state. You can expect us to help promote your events and write more about the great work you’re doing. In the meantime, let us know how we can help you find success.

Published 1/27/2014