“Start small.” That’s one of Square’s core values. But the payment company encourages young women to think big.
As such, Square’s College Code Camp is now taking applications from female university students for its next tech industry bootcamp, January 6-10, in San Francisco. CFO Sarah Friar made the announcement Friday, aptly enough, from the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Phoenix.
By January, more than 100 female engineering students from the United States and Canada will have graduated from College Code Camp, Friar told me earlier in the week.
While at College Code Camp, students attend sessions on leadership and hear from experienced entrepreneurs. They meet with Square engineers and take part in a hackathon that has, in the past, turned out such apps as Make A Stand, which helps people launch global crowdfunding campaigns.
nd not just women at Square.”Code Camp is a program in which the entire company is invested, according to Friar. “It’s a total grassroots effort,” Friar said. “I have to give full credit to the amazing folks at Square. And not just women at Square.”
Enabling The Minority
“I’m still shocked to find that just 20% of computer science majors are women,” Friar said, explaining why Square decided to launch Code Camp two years ago.
Square’s attempts to hire more female employees in the male-dominated tech field were regularly frustrated by the paucity of female engineering students they found during campus recruiting.
Square figured that if there was a way to make women feel more welcome—they’re still very much a minority in the tech industry—they might set an example and inspire more women to follow.
“Typically, when you get (a minority group of people) tipped over a 30% mark, that’s when the minority starts acting like themselves, instead of taking on traits of the majority,” Friar said. “It’s often that they have to take on traits of the majority (to fit in), that’s what puts them off.”
Square’s Code College Camp helps women become more comfortable with programming and entrepreneurship. It also provides them with potential resources for future jobs, all while building a friendly environment where women are celebrated for their talents, and students can become friends.
Friar said, forming their own bonds that can extend well beyond the five-day program.One key part of the program is the bonding and mentorship that takes place throughout the week, Friar said. People like Square founder and CEO Jack Dorsey join other engineers and team leaders to talk about what it means to be an entrepreneur and what career opportunities for engineers look like after college. The female participants also mentor one another, Friar said, forming bonds that can extend well beyond the five-day program.
So far, the camps have been a tremendous success. According to Square, 96% of participants felt more empowered as women in technology after completing the program, and 82% of women who completed the camp speak with other alums at least once a month. And three Code Camp graduates are working for Square.
A Personal Inspiration
Friar’s own fourth-grade daughter is using Scratch, a basic programming education course, to learn coding concepts. The CFO also volunteers as a math tutor in her daughter’s school, where she sees firsthand that the stereotype of women being poor at technical concepts starts early.
“I was amazed at how many girls will say something like, ‘But I’m not good at math.’ No boy ever says that,” she said. “When you’re encouraging, whether it’s a third grader or fourth grader, or undergraduate, or someone in the workforce, it’s about giving them the confidence to know that it’s not going to be perfect, and they will make mistakes … but letting them know it’s also going to be okay.”
Friar said that when the College Code Camp students get together, stereotypes go out the window, and they all work together on honing skills like coding and public speaking.
While Square started College Code Camp, and then introduced High School Code Camp after interest from younger engineers mounted, Square wants other large companies and startups to offer their own code camps as well.
Friar said the company gets queries from other companies regularly, and lets founders or engineers join in by mentoring or coaching students for a few hours at Square, or by providing the resources for organizations to set up similar projects in-house.
“This is something we want to open-source,” Friar said. “It would be awesome to imagine that every single company did some form of Code Camp—we wouldn’t be cutting it off at 20 people per program, and could very quickly scale to 1,000, or 10,000—we’re not proprietary at all.”
Visit Square’s Code Camp website to learn more.
Lead photo courtesy of Square