“Women make up a little more than half of the U.S. workforce, but hold only a quarter of the IT jobs,” says Grand Circus CEO and Co-Founder, Damien Rocchi. “Almost 50% of the available pool of IT-trained women are either not being hired or they’re choosing to leave tech for other industries. At Grand Circus, we are focused on closing that gap by making it easier for women to gain real-world experience through intensive, career-changing bootcamps.”
With funding from the Hagerman Foundation, a $120,000 stipend was donated for scholarships to ensure students would be able to dedicate their full attention to the program.
“I believe there are some gender biases in the industry, as they are mostly male-dominant and women may not feel they are given the same chances or recognition as men get,” says Jocelyn Hagerman, Co-Founder of the Hagerman Foundation. “That said, I do believe that this will change over time as it has in other industries. Women need to continue to seek employment in these fields.”
The ten-week bootcamp began in Flint in mid-July, offering full-time training to 20 women. Following the course, students receive mentorship from the Michigan Council of Women in Technology (MCWT), an organization dedicated to engaging current and future tech leaders.
But why did these organizations choose Flint? “Detroit and Flint share a similar history,” explains Rocchi. “We wanted to launch this program to begin changing the narrative in both cities. Develop(Her) will help continue to grow a flourishing, diverse tech industry that is a vital part of Flint’s success. ”
“I think this keeps our current residents in the Flint area and gives local companies the ability to hire in their town and not search across the country for qualified employees,” adds Hagerman.
In addition, Grand Circus is reaching out to local companies and getting more than just input; they’re finding out specifics to coding which will cater to the needs of each local company. This way, the hires will be qualified for the positions needed.
“Through an intense vetting process, we find students who are relentless problem-solvers, who are willing to learn from their mistakes, and who maintain a positive attitude despite adversity,” says Rocchi. “In our experience, this is a set of necessary traits that predict success in our programs and in the real world of software development.”
LaTresha Reed, a Develop(Her) student in Flint, has found this training program to be extremely beneficial to her life. “It really is hard for me to pick a favorite part,” she says. “I liked the moments when the code that I was writing finally made sense – the moments when the light bulb came on. Every ‘ah-ha’ moment is my favorite. It makes me feel like I got that much smarter. The achievement of learning is one of the best feelings in the world.”
Through Grand Circus, MCWT, TekSystems, and the Hagerman Foundation, this impassioned combination seems to be working best for the students who ultimately benefit from the hard work of these organizations. “From the moment I walked through the door, prior to being accepted, I was moved,” Reed says. “I saw the vision, I felt the vision, and I knew that passion was the accelerator to create such an opportunity for women.”
Hagerman’s advice to those who are considering Develop(Her) is to seek opportunities to help their current employers develop simple programs. “Look for volunteer opportunities within non-profits or other institutions,” she says. “I think that sometimes, people need to take a pay-cut to gain valuable experience and move their careers forward. Be open to learning as much as you can and seek out those opportunities. Let others know your new skill set and be willing to do things after work hours.”
Reed also has advice for new coding students: “Learning any language can be challenging, and learning a coding language can push you to your wits’ end. Be encouraged by the challenge, because your mind is being conditioned to think and see the world from a perspective that is not common to most.”
The Hagerman Foundation hopes to continue encouraging and being a catalyst for others to experience all the good that the Develop(Her) program is doing. They hope to help local residents reach their educational and professional goals while remaining in the area.
Photography by Eric Dutro