Originally published on Thrive Global – April 20, 2021
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Liz Ramos and Kelly Revanaugh, two technical evangelists for Galvanize and the founders of the Coding for Women by Women group. Liz and Kelly both were reskilled into the tech industry, but quickly realized that women were underrepresented in the tech field. They created Coding for Women by Women to try to change that.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
Kelly: I started out in tech at 20 years old and worked in marketing for a K-12 company, where I made my way up the ladder for 4 years. I was self-taught as a coder and didn’t want to go to a university because I knew there were so many things I could learn on the job. I realized I wanted to get into the technical part of things and took a couple of years off to learn how to code. By September 2018, I was really getting into becoming a developer, and in fact, Liz was my enrollment advisor! I joined Hack Reactor in 2019 and became a freelance developer/engineer, and joined Galvanize in 2020.
Liz: I graduated with a marketing degree and worked as an enrollment advisor for admissions at a 4-year university. At that time, I thought you needed a college degree to get a job or to change careers. When the former vice president of the university started working for Galvanize, he reached out to me with a job opportunity there and I took it. I met so many people at Galvanize who were passionate about coding, and their enthusiasm made me want to give it a try. My interest was also born out of necessity, as I was talking to students interested in coding and had no basis for understanding the specifics of what they were talking about. I enrolled in the Hack Reactor Premium Prep Program just to learn a bit about it and completely fell in love with coding, especially the problem-solving aspect of it, and that led me to become a software engineer.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Kelly: Being able to create coding classes for women has been a top highlight. We didn’t have a women’s support network, and when we landed this role we wanted to create the culture that we could have used ourselves years ago.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Through this, I learned the power of talking through my thoughts. There is something about talking out loud that helps with processing information. I recommend that everybody do it when learning a new skill, talk to my friend, talk to your dog, talk to a rubber duck if you have to. It helps you make sense of the information and is also great practice for communication skills.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Liz: The person that comes to mind is my friend Muhammad. He worked at Galvanize with me and was such a huge advocate on my behalf. He saw the potential within me when I couldn’t see that for myself and encouraged me to go into the software engineering program. He was there for coding help and emotional support, and was constantly telling me that I could and should move forward.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Kelly: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. Practicing the same thing every day with coding has put me further than I could imagine.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
Liz: “Simply changing how you talk to yourself about a difficulty or a challenge changes how you approach it.” From The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It by Valerie Young,
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Kelly: Showing other women and girls that they too can be software engineers. Our Coding for Women events hopefully serve as motivation for women to achieve whatever they desire at any age.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience, what is currently holding back women from founding companies?
Liz: One thing that’s definitely standing in the way is a lack of representation. Women don’t see themselves as often in this industry or in senior-level positions, and when you don’t see someone you can relate to doing something, it’s hard to imagine yourself doing it. There’s also this perception of the grind involved to be successful in tech, women often have responsibilities that make working unconventional hours challenging, but this is a stereotype that shouldn’t stop anyone who’s interested in coding from taking the leap.
Can you share with our readers what you are doing to help empower women to become founders?
Liz: It’s important for us to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. There are so many resources for women, even if they don’t have a computer science degree. We’re working on bringing in more women speakers and sharing inspiration for them, as well as talking about the humanistic aspect of this industry. Sometimes we look at successful women like they’re superheroes who can do it all, but they’re just human. Helping normalize that makes tech more approachable.
This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
Kelly: People with different backgrounds approach problems differently, and we need that in business, tech, and otherwise. Many women also have great communication skills that are seriously under-utilized. Communication and people skills really bridge over into tech, and being successful in any business starts with these foundational skills that many women already possess.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share 5 things that can be done or should be done to help empower more women to become founders? If you can, please share an example or story for each.
Liz: Take the first step to get started and have faith that you’ll figure it out as you go.
The very first time that I decided that I was going to start coding, I signed up for an online class that I could do on my own time. Opening up the class was so intimidating for me that I didn’t move forward with it for months. I thought I had to be in the right kind of mindset, freshen up on some math concepts. It had to be the right day of the week at the right time. The point is that I thought there was going to be a perfect time for me to get started with my goal, and that perfect time never came. I had to sit down and just get started. Once I got started, I started figuring everything out as I learned. I would’ve never been able to prepare to learn how to code without starting because I only knew what I was missing until I came face to face with it.
Kelly: Don’t be intimidated by coding
Coding can become just another tool in your tool belt, and you don’t need to be an expert at it to build something. Start small and build your coding strength up with challenges that help you grow. It can be confusing when you’re first starting out, but stick with it and soon enough all of the puzzle pieces will start connecting. If you’re looking to start a company, understanding what’s happening on a technical level, even just the basics, will help you design and build a company that aligns with your vision.
Liz: Be brave and don’t be afraid to fail.
Re-learn how you think about failing, and don’t be afraid of it. Failing can be exciting because it shows us where we have opportunities to learn and grow. Be curious about your failures and use them as stepping stones to get you to the next step. When I was learning how to code, I failed more than I could have ever imagined. But my curiosity of “what if I tried it this way?”, “where did I go wrong?” always kept me coming back for more.
Kelly: Network with people on a similar path or journey and talk about where you are right now.
Coding can be frustrating and confusing at times, even after you’ve done it for years, and it can be lonely and demotivating to try to solve every problem by yourself! Connect and talk to others that might be on the same path as you. Everyone’s coding journey ebbs and flows based on their experiences. You might encounter a stumbling block when you’re working on the same problem for weeks that your friend might have solved previously and vice versa. Talking out loud with others helps ‘humanize’ things as well — there’s an entire emotional journey that isn’t talked about much while learning something new.
Liz: Don’t be afraid to change the plan.
When Kelly and I started our Coding for Women by Women group, we mainly focused on discussing non-technical topics. Topics such as imposter syndrome, careers in tech, etc. We wanted women to have a safe space to talk about the emotional aspect of changing careers and entering the tech field. After running through an iteration of topics, we found that the women joining us for our sessions were craving code more than anything else. So we changed the way we conducted our sessions by restructuring our curriculum and providing women with more opportunities to get code under their fingernails. We are always looking for ways to improve Coding for Women by Women. The first vision we had for our group is not what it is today, and what it is today will not be what it will be in a year. Don’t be afraid to change the plan. Sometimes change can bring you to better destinations.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Liz: I would start a “think on the bright side” movement. It has become so normal for people to vent about their problems and talk about what is not going well. This has gotten to the point where it has become uncomfortable to talk about our wins and what is going well in our lives. I would love to see a world where most people live each day as if it were the best day, looking for positivity in every situation and striving to find aspects of their lives to be thankful for. I think this would translate into people being kinder and happier.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Kelly: Oprah, I would love to have brunch in her garden!
Liz: Taylor Swift. I’ve always been a fan of her music and when I was in the midst of the Hack Reactor Software Engineering program, I watched her documentary, Miss Americana. In her documentary, she said something that really resonated with me: “I wanna love glitter and also stand up for the double standards that exist in our society. I wanna wear pink, and tell you how I feel about politics. I don’t think those things have to cancel each other out.” That’s how I feel a lot of the time, just because I’m feminine/ girly doesn’t mean I can’t stand up for what I believe.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Our Coding for Women by Women community can be found in the #women channel of the Galvanize Tech Community Slack workspace: www.galvanize.com/gtc
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
For more information about Galvanize, please visit galvanize.com