In an industry that has a workforce that is just a quarter female, there is a lot of attention for bringing new women technologists into the workforce. Sometimes it helps to have someone new to bring new ideas to the challenge locally.
One of a number of national efforts to do so is Girl Develop It, an organization that hosts a regular series of training seminars on technical skills around the world, including, since October, in Baltimore.
One of the people behind the new GDI Baltimore chapter is Misty Melton, who has a background in IT and technical writing and is also currently developing a nonprofit to better match school teachers with outside support for supplies called Support Classrooms.
Melton, a graduate of the University of Memphis, moved to Catonsville in 2012 with her husband to be near water on the East Coast. (It was actually her second stint in Maryland, last hear seven years ago.) Her new energy in Baltimore sparked a new addition to the community here.
While GDI programming is geared towards an adult audience, Melton hopes to provide programming for the middle/high school level.
In an effort to hear why people join the Baltimore tech community, this is part of a series of Entrance Exams, in which we’ll talk to relative newcomers.
Edited for length and clarity.
TB: Tell us a bit about Girl Develop It Baltimore and your plans for the chapter.
MM: I decided in October of last year to do this, and dived immediately into it after talking with the Girl Develop It HQ in November. The support for it was amazing from the very start, far beyond my expectations. Girl Develop It Baltimore launched officially in January, and we held our first class in February at which time I asked Angelique Weger, who taught our first class, to be my co-leader for the chapter.
Our current aim is to have at least two classes and one social event per month.
TB: What brought you to Baltimore?
I moved up here because I wanted to be closer to the water. I’m something of a free spirit I’ve been told, so if making life decisions on the basis of experiences I know will make me happy is the same thing as free-spirited, I suppose I am. It’s the simple things.
I was a Navy brat early on, and I’ve lived a couple places along the East Coast and missed the water. I knew I wanted somewhere mid-Atlantic to avoid the heat of the south and the cold of the north — having lived in both Maine and southern Tennessee I’d had enough of extremes.
It’s sort of one of those kismet things where you decide to do something, tell the world, and suddenly the world makes it happen. So I told friends I was creating a plan for [my husband and I] to move in one or two years to somewhere along the East Coast, and within a month a friend who lived in Maryland whose husband runs a Federal IT staffing company in DC had found a job that was a match for my husband.
We went through the grueling clearance process and finally made our move up here the following summer. We actually left all our friends and family behind and put 700-900 miles between us. It wasn’t the coast per se, but the Chesapeake Bay was close enough for me. There are sailboats and beaches, and the actual ocean isn’t far!
TB: Every city has a hidden gem. Baltimore’s is_________.
People aside, I’m pretty much in love with Blue Moon Cafe, though I don’t make it up to Baltimore for coffee and breakfast very often. Mornings and I don’t really get along.
TB:What is the biggest difference you see between Memphis and Baltimore?
The size of the city is the most obvious, but within that there are more opportunities here. [Editor’s note: Memphis has 655,000 people, Baltimore has 621,000 but the Baltimore region is larger and part of a broader U.S. Northeast cluster]
There is a larger, growing tech community and access to surrounding communities to draw support from. Memphis is a small city, and there aren’t other cities nearby to draw resources from or share resources with. Baltimore is uniquely positioned with D.C. so close by and other cities like Philadelphia a quick hop away. Even NYC is within a fairly easy distance.
Combine access like that to the presence of so many colleges and there is already a community and enough industry here that enables enormous support for edtech, [women in tech]-specific or otherwise. It’s part of a region ripe for emerging as a pillar of edtech.
What I see in Memphis by contrast is a city very much still rooted in your typical southern pursuits of sports, arts and traditional academics with little focus on STEM for either gender.
My husband and I have toyed with the idea of eventually moving back there and trying to bring some of these opportunities to the communities there, be it through Girl Develop It or other programs encouraging and supporting STEM.
We’re not going anywhere any time soon though.
TB: What are some of your plans for women in technology in Baltimore?
I hope to bring more opportunity for learning both to women already working in or working adjacent to tech and women who have an interest but either lack the means or the opportunity to explore that interest by traditional methods out there.
College is a long-term and pricey commitment, and eight or 12-week boot camps are hefty commitments as well when you either don’t have access to the tuition funds or don’t know whether you have the level of interest to warrant that investment.
I want to make tech less scary and more appealing by showing women how easy it is to make something. I want to make women more empowered to learn and become a part of this industry, whether it’s for their careers, their own self-growth in continuing education, or to gain knowledge they can help pass along to their kids.
Ultimately, I want to utilize the women we teach and the greater community of women in tech that we hopefully help to create as mentors to turn around and provide some of these same type of opportunities to the younger girls.
TB: What’s up next for you?
In addition to running Girl Develop It in Baltimore and now DC and working with STEM-related programs for my daughter whenever possible, I’m actually in the middle of launching my own startup alongside my husband and few friends.
We’re working on our MVP as we speak and hope to launch with a small local launch this summer.
Essentially we’re creating a site and app to bridge the gap between ongoing teacher and classroom needs throughout the year, the normal small items that teachers spend out of pocket for, and the parents/communities that can help provide them.
The company will be two-fold, with one portion being back-to-school focused and providing school/classroom supply lists online to parents so they can easily get everything they need quickly and easily.
The second portion is the ongoing teacher needs throughout the year that we hope revenue generated in the back-to-school season will help fund in addition to getting parents/communities/PTAs involved with helping to encourage providing supplies from teacher wishlists throughout the year.
The goal is to reduce out of pocket teacher spending, which is about $600-$800 per teacher on average.