Learning to Code: Detroit Girl Makes an Impact in Tech Community

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Brightwing Features: Developer Erika Carlson is helping Detroit build a diverse IT community from the ground up by training Detroit women to code

“If someone would have told me that software and app development and learning to code were just a different way of fixing human problems, I would have started my career as a coder much sooner.” Erika Carlson, Software Developer at Detroit Labs, Co-Organizer for Girl Develop IT, and Teacher for Grand Circus, really is a problem solver with a passion for teaching. As an IT developer in Detroit’s tech renaissance, she is also very passionate about getting women interested in learning to code.

Brightwing has been finding jobs for IT professionals in the Detroit Area for over 20 years and has recently seen a significant increase in the need for qualified software developers. People like Erika Carlson are working to meet this need by attracting young professionals, especially women, to the field.

Switching Directions
Erika graduated college with a major in psychology, was working on a masters in counseling and held a job as a divorce mediator. Her boyfriend at the time was a developer, and one day she watched him write a line of code and started asking questions. “I found it fascinating. I started to read books and articles on learning to code, feverishly. One day I realized that learning how to code and develop opens you up to a world of possibilities.”

In 10 months, after personal research, help from techie friends, an Intro to Computer Science course, and an open courseware class hosted by MIT (currently offered on edX), Erika landed her first job in IT. Soon after she began looking for ways to share her knowledge, “What I have found throughout this journey is that I love teaching people. Like alchemy, software development is a way to take an idea and make it real.”

While Erika was learning to code, there weren’t many women in her classes. There also were no women around who were adult learners. Seeing a need in the industry, and in the Detroit IT community, Erika responded to a Facebook message from now co-founder Michelle Srbinovich. The Detroit Chapter of Girl Develop IT (GDI) was born.

“Since approval we have hosted 45 events and have grown to 850 members. 350 of which have taken one of our developer classes. That’s 350 women who didn’t know how to code that can now!” Erika has taken the global need for IT professionals, and started to address it in the Detroit area. GDI is also working on creating more advanced classes so that there will always be an avenue for improvement in the community. “By 2020 there will be 1.2 million IT jobs, and by the rate of students graduating in computer science (men and women), we will only be able to fill about 1/3 of the IT jobs. There are so many opportunities here. The sky is the limit.”

Where some industry professionals see a lack of gender diversity, female leadership and professionals with experience, Erika and her supporters see an incredible opportunity. “Software applications are essentially used by everyone in the world. If women are the largest consumers of technology today, it doesn’t make sense to have such a small segment of the female population developing. The reason I’m so passionate about teaching women to code, and teaching code in general, is that learning to code changed my life. It made me realize that development and coding lead to a flexible career with limitless possibilities.”

10 years down the road
Much of the lack of diversity in Technology (gender and ethnic), is being talked about in Silicon Valley, but Erika sees the community in Detroit differently. I asked her what she would like to see in ten years for the Detroit IT community that is growing so quickly today. “Surprisingly, so many people from around the country, men and women are moving to Detroit to build their dream. Detroit’s where it’s at. In ten years, I would like women in technology to not be a conversation that we have to have, because we will have built a diverse tech community from the ground up.”

About Brightwing: At Brightwing we help people and organizations of all types and sizes enhance performance levels in the workplace. From attracting engineering and information technology talent through training and development, we are all about creating workplace environments where employees thrive! We do this by listening, advising and delivering well thought out performance-based people solutions. We believe it takes a personal approach. It also takes knowledge and intuition that can only be gained through 40 years of experience in asking the right questions.

Brightwing has been named a “Top Small Company Workplace,” by Inc. Magazine, a “Cool Place to Work,” by Crain’s Detroit Business, a “101 Best and Brightest Company to Work For,” by the Michigan Business and Professional Association and Corp! Magazine and a “2010 Best Place to Work,” by Dallas Business Journal. Headquartered in Troy, MI, Brightwing has offices in Dallas, TX, and Weston, FL. To discover the Brightwing difference, visit http://www.gobrightwing.com.

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Erika Carlson putting developers in Detroit IT jobs