TechfestNW 2013: Michelle Rowley

Bringing Women Into Tech


This year, Michelle Rowley was named one of the 100 Most Creative People in Business by the magazine Fast Company. Beginning with $18,000 in seed funding from the Portland Incubator Experiment, the organization she founded in January of 2013, Code Scouts, has been successful enough it's already beginning to outgrow its hometown of Portland.

But she didn't really mean to found Code Scouts. In a certain regard, its members found her.  

Code Scouts, a nonprofit devoted to helping women get their start in a male-dominated tech world, began after Rowley was interviewed by WW last year. In an article about the gender divide in the tech world (“Where the Tech Is She?,” WW, May 23, 2012), she said she was considering starting a group to help women learn Python programming. 

"I didn't do any other promotion than that, and immediately got about 100 women emailing me wanting to be a part of these groups before I had even set them up," Rowley says. She still sounds amazed. 

The 33-year-old programmer and lecturer set up a couple workshops for beginners, plus a Python user group that met every month to trade tips and secrets. At those sessions, Rowley saw that "the women programmers would sit together with other women.” 

"At one point," she continues, "one woman turned to another and said, 'We should meet once a week, and have some wine and chocolate and keep working.' 

"I thought, this is the deal. There's enough tutorials and books and workshops to get people started, but what they really want is other people at their same level so they don’t have to be alone.” 

This eureka moment was the start of Code Scouts. 

The core idea of the community is to provide budding software engineers with mentors who help set up individual learning plans and other members who are on similar tracks via a closed social network. 

"There's an anxiety that any human has, that 'I'm not like the rest of the people here,'" says Rowley. "The greater number of differences that add up, the harder it becomes to move forward. Since all the people involved are female beginners, we've taken away two of those differences right there.” 

Code Scouts is currently full, with 112 members (seven of which are men), and there is a quickly growing waiting list. Rowley is gearing up to open new chapters outside of Portland. 

But Rowley looks forward to a day when the discussion and tech can be put to rest, she says. 

"There's a lot of talk about gender in the tech industry. And while I think it's really good, at some point you just want to stop talking and just do some stuff."

TFNW profiles: Rick Turoczy (TFNW curator, PIE PDX)Tyson Evans (NYTimes)Ward Cuningham (Wiki Inventor)Michelle Rowley (Code Scouts)Jackson Gariety (TechStars, teen entrepreneur) 

TFNW features: MFNW Installation by InstrumentPDX Drone ChallengeGoogle Gogglers

Tickets and official site:

GO: Michelle Rowley talks about why women coders are necessary to a company's success Sunday, Sept. 8, on the PDC Stage, OMNIMAX at OMSI. 1:30 pm.

WWeek 2015

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