Thu Quach, 23, has always longed for a career in technology. But it’s plain to see the cards have been stacked against her.
Being a woman in the tech field is already hard enough. Silicon Valley’s gender gap is well documented. Quach is also the first member of her family to go to college; her father never even completed high school.
Yesterday evening, however, Quach won an award that could change her life forever—a scholarship to Code Fellows, the only programming boot camp that guarantees its participants a $60,000-a-year job after graduation.
"When I heard the news, I knew this was going to open up a lot of doors for me," said Quach. "In time, I'll be able to be an inspiration to other women who want to learn to code."
An enormous opportunity
Code Fellows is a Seattle education program devoted to teaching people Ruby on Rails coding skills within just four weeks. The $4,000 program isn’t cheap, but there’s a complete money-back guarantee for students who don’t receive a $60K job offer within six months.
Jeff Pecor, a spokesperson for Code Fellows, said the company chose to launch a women-only program this summer in order to help redress the gender imbalance among the coding ranks.
“From our point of view women are definitely disadvantaged in the industry,” he said. “There’s certainly a culture of ‘brogramming,’ so this is truly an opportunity to level the playing field for women.”
When Seattle’s Women in Technology (WIT) caught wind of the program, it quickly partnered up with Code Fellows. WIT raised funds to cover a course scholarship for one disadvantaged woman.
“The bootcamp is perfectly aligned with the goals of our organization, and it provides an ideal platform for putting our mission into action,” said WIT spokesperson Martina Welke. That turned out to be an understatement. Welke said WIT found it so “alarmingly easy to raise money” that it ended up with funds for two scholarships instead of one.
Thu Quach and Andrea Salkey were chosen out of hundreds of applicants to receive the scholarships.
Salkey, a 26-year-old first generation American, wanted to make opportunities for herself that her parents never had in Jamaica.
She found work as a web developer at an agency in Seattle, but after two years she felt she’d hit a roadblock. She found the scholarship application link on Reddit and signed up, hoping to learn new skills and bring new value to her career.
“I do have a degree already, but I've found it's very difficult to find work since I don't have a very vast network. Throughout my career, I’ve been pushed to the side,” she told me. “I’m hoping after this, I’ll have a lot more opportunities.”
Likewise, Quach is hoping to make the most of her Code Fellows experience. A student at the University of Washington in Bothell majoring in computer science, she freelances as a WordPress developer to help pay her student loans. Never content with being the first person in her family to get to college, she hopes to bootstrap a career off of the Code Fellows course.
“I always wanted to be somebody who took my education to the next step,” she said. “My goal is to become a very well rounded developer. Learning Rails at Code Fellows is just going to be the first step for me.”
On July 8, both women will enter a course that neither of them would have been able to afford otherwise, a prospect they both said they’re excited to begin.
“I want to be able to inspire my younger sister and my nieces and show them this is possible for them, too,” said Quach.
Photo by Ivan Storck for Women in Technology. Left: Karen Keasler, one of Code Fellows' first female graduates. Center Left: Thu Quach. Center Right: Andrea Salkey. Right: Will Little, CEO of Code Fellows.