Skytap is proud to be a new sponsor of Seattle’s Ada Developers Academy. Learn how the group started, and how you, too, can help them help so many succeed!
Noel: First off, thank you Karen for sitting down with me today. We’re so excited about our new sponsorship of the Ada Developers Academy. Would you give a little background as to how Ada was formed and what that process involved?
Karen: Sure. We have two co-founders, Elise Worthy and Scott Case. Scott is the COO of EnergySavvy, a tech company here in Pioneer Square, and Elise is a software developer and a family friend of his.
They were chatting one day and Scott said, “I’m having a hard time hiring new developers in general, but specifically we want more diversity on the team. We want female developers.” Elise replied, “Yeah, that’s a very big problem for me, too. On my team, I’m the only female developer; I’d love for there to be more.” And the idea of Ada, a women-only, tuition-free coding school came out of that casual conversation.
Noel: So awesome. I love that it came about so naturally. “It would be really nice to have this…Okay, let’s do it.”
Karen: “Let’s do it.” That’s how they are. They said, “you know what, nobody else is going to do it, let’s do it ourselves.” I think from that first conversation to when the first students were in the classroom, it was only a period of six months. They got it done.
Noel: Six months?! That’s incredible! How does that happen?
Karen: We were in partnership with the Technology Alliance; they really got us off the ground. They were our host company for the first cohort and a half. We also got a $50,000 seed-funding grant from the Washington State Department of Commerce. That’s what really got us off the ground.
From there, we got company sponsors involved, and we’re now we are completely self-sustaining with company sponsorship.
Noel: So as I mentioned earlier, Skytap is now an Ada sponsor. For those who may be thinking of joining us and your other sponsors, what all does this involve? You get a lot more than just your logo on the Ada website; it’s really cool.
Karen: Absolutely. Generally speaking, sponsorship means that you sponsor an intern at a certain dollar amount. We provide seven months of training in the classroom for the intern, and then we hand them off to the sponsoring company and they get the intern pretty much full-time for five months.
At that hand-off point, our students have been writing code day and night for seven months. They enter their internships ready to go.
The internship is really industry-driven and shaped by the individual needs of each company. They get the intern and we guarantee they have a certain set of skills. We’re pretty hands-off during that internship so the sponsor can really work with them on building the skills specific to the role they want the intern to be doing. At the end of the five-month period, they’re hireable as a developer.
We have internships that are purely front-end roles. We have a lot that are full-stack and we have some that really focus more on backend stuff. That really works well with the diversity of our students, because not everybody wants to be doing the same thing. Not everybody wants to work at the same type of company, so having a diverse group of companies really helps with the equally diverse group of students that we have. It makes for a much better match-up.
Noel: How many students are in each class, or cohort?
Karen: We have 22 students that are currently just about halfway through with their internship. They’ll graduate at the end of August. Three weeks ago, our third cohort of students started, and we have 24 women in the classroom now who will be starting their internships in November.
Noel: Is the plan for the class sizes to stay at around those numbers?
Karen: We’ve found that it’s really the perfect class size. We provide the students with lots of TAs in the classroom so they get individual support, but once you get bigger than 24, you can’t give as many people the attention that they need.
Noel: I know that news of Ada’s existence is rapidly growing by word-of-mouth every day, but how are you and the rest of Ada spreading the word yourselves?
Karen: We haven’t done a ton of marketing. That’s something that as we move forward and as we scale, we’ll be focusing on, but right now, the demand exceeds the supply.
For our most recent cohort, we had 270 applicants for only 24 spots. Our acceptance rate is in the single digits, and that’s not our goal. We’re not trying to be exclusive. Our goal is to really be able to offer this program to all the qualified women that are out there who want to do it.
So, we haven’t made a big push to really spread the word about Ada because we can’t serve that many people right now. As we grow and as we scale, we’ll definitely be getting the word out there!
Noel: I would imagine that some of the best publicity that Ada gets is from its current students and graduates.
Karen: I would say that our graduates are our best evangelists because the quality of their work, and their talents speak for themselves.
People will meet them at conferences, or they’ll be speaking on panels, and then we’ll get so much company interest based on that. Down the road, we would love to get as many women who are qualified to go through our program as possible. That’s something we’re looking forward to, to really start having more cohorts per year and have more women graduating our program and getting out there.
Noel: Are there any success stories from your cohort of graduates that you’d like to tell?
Karen: They’re all a success story! We have students that are speaking at Ruby conferences, like the RailsConf in California. They’re just out there. A year and a half ago, they were brand new to this, and now they’re out just speaking on these topics and it’s amazing.
A lot of our first cohort are very self-driven, very motivated, very self-advocating women. They had to be to take a chance on this brand new program that nobody had ever heard of before. Nobody knew how successful we were going to be. They are just self-starters and speaking on panels, speaking at conferences, writing blogs on a number of topics. None of them worked in tech before and now all of our graduates have some sort of title of software development engineer.
Noel: That’s so fantastic. I’d love for this interview to lead to more sponsors, but also to more women becoming aware of the opportunity that Ada provides them. Can you give some insight into the application and acceptance process?
Karen: Absolutely. Right now, we’re really focusing on screening for technical aptitude, as well as drive and ambition. There’s no expectation that anybody’s ever coded before. We do like if people have had some experience or exposure, just so they know it’s something that they enjoy and that they’re passionate about.
We have no real educational requirements either.
Basically, we provide applicants with a very messy data set and some questions that go along with it—some of them pretty specific, some of them pretty vague. We just see how they approach it. We’re seeing how they solve these problems, how they approach it, what resources they use, things like that. Being resourceful is definitely key.
As a developer, people need to look outside and use the resources that are out there. They say all the time in the classroom, “Google is your best friend.”
Additionally, we are looking for people that collaborate really well and can work in a group because they are in the classroom full-time for seven months with each other. We’re not trying to get lone wolves that can only do projects on their own. They need to be able to work well with others, to communicate well with others, listen to other people’s ideas, and all of that. Those are qualities we look for as well.
Then we bring in 60 candidates for in-person interviews. They interview with a panel, and then they interview with one of the instructors and do another technical aptitude test. Then, based on that, we choose the 24 students that we find best fit the program.
Noel: There’s not always a lot of visibility into education or employer decision-making and acceptance policies, so thank you for providing that! This next question actually comes from my 8 year old son. I was telling him about Ada, he thought it was such an awesome idea and he wanted me to ask, “What all ways can people help them? Do they need school supply donations?”
Karen: Laptop donations are definitely something that we would welcome. One of our requirements is that students come to the program with their own laptop that can run the latest Mac operating system. That does present a challenge right out of the gate for a lot of our students.
As we start having more cohorts, having loaner laptops that our students can use to get through this program would definitely be a welcome donation. Oh, and projectors, too. If people have extra projectors laying around, that would be great!
Also, the bigger we get, and as we’re using different software and tools, or hosting, and domains, we would always accept donations to the students so they could not have to pay for those things out of their own pocket.
Other than that, we’re always looking for people that want to volunteer with the classroom, or maybe companies that are hosting a networking event. Our students love going to those types of gatherings.
Part of our program is really preparing our students for what lies ahead. We actually do have a requirement that they go to two or three networking events each month. This really helps them start meeting people.
We also just had a really great resume workshop the other day so that they can make sure everything is polished and shiny in order to help them have a smooth transition when they go from intern to full-time.
Noel: I love that there are so many ways that people can help out, and I encourage anyone who can help to do just that.
That’s about all I had! Is there anything else that you’d like to make sure everyone knows about Ada?
Karen: Yes. One of the great things about our program is these are very smart, creative, and capable women that have just never had any formal training in tech. They’ve never had a ton of exposure to programming. They were never encouraged through high school or college to pursue a career in computer science or anything like that.
Later in life, once they started their careers and realized, “Wait a minute. This is something I’m really interested in, and this is something I think I’m really good at.”
We provide these women with the skills up to a certain point, and when they’re in their internship, they get to demonstrate these skills and then build even more.
This allows them to take their skills and passion somewhere where they never would have really gotten the chance to before.
It’s really the partnership with our companies and having the opportunity to do these internships and have so much support so people can really see what our students are capable of. I think that’s what makes our program so strong—the company support after the classroom portion.
Noel: Absolutely. And I know that’s a large part of why so many here are Skytap are so excited to partner with you.
Karen: I can’t thank our sponsoring companies enough. They’re really involved through the classroom portion as well. We have people from each company that are mentoring and meeting the students, and just sharing information about the work that they do.
This really helps our students become familiar with what life is going to be like when the internship begins, so the transition is not so challenging. There’s overwhelming support from the community of people that just really wants more female developers out there.
Want to learn more about how Skytap is working to narrow Seattle’s software tech/gender gap? Click here to find out!