Hear Me Code's Shannon Turner wants more women in tech - Technical.ly DC

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Sep. 25, 2014 12:20 pm

Hear Me Code’s Shannon Turner wants more women in tech

Here's how she's making that happen.

From a recent Hear Me Code class. "This is what coders look like," the group tweeted.

(Photo courtesy of Hear Me Code)

At Hear Me Code, students are teachers-in-training.

That’s because Shannon Turner, who founded these free weekend Python classes, learned the language from scratch and is now passing on the torch.

“I want to see more women in the field,” said Turner, a website developer at the New Organizing Institute who works the equivalent of an extra full-time job to run the classes. “This I see as the best way to make it happen.”

Originally from Cleveland, Turner moved to D.C. with no formal tech background. She quickly bumped into local tech groups — and their apparent glass ceiling.

“Tech events,” she said, are a “really male-dominated spaces.” Being one of the only women present “was frustrating, it was intimidating,” she added. So she decided to create her own group.

“It started with four women just around the kitchen table,” said Turner during a class last Saturday, which marked the one-year anniversary of Hear Me Code. The group has gathered about 500 students.

Women with even a passing interest in tech are flocking to the classes because they are accessible, attendees told Technical.ly DC. Clare Healy, 22, said she decided to join because “It seemed to be [a tech group] where you could truly be a beginner.”

That’s because it was created by someone who was a beginner not too long ago. After deciding to “break into” the male-dominated world of D.C. tech, Turner said, “I started teaching myself Python. It was a slow and painful process.”

But that would eventually allow her to create a thoughtful lesson plan for the Hear Me Code classes. “I remember each part that really tripped me up,” she said. “I think that made me really able to teach it.”

"It's by women, for women. It's OK if you want to ask a stupid question."
Maggie Criqui, Hear Me Code assistant teacher

Still, Turner has had an eye on programming since she was a five-year-old, playing Maniac Mansion and other video games with her grandmother. “I would on paper draw little maps,” asking “wouldn’t it be cool if this were part of the game?” Turner recalled.

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Then, she cut her teeth working for six years at a tech startup in the 1990s — joining the company at age 14 (!) with only a high school C++ class under her belt.

Programming doesn’t come as naturally to everyone — and that’s what Hear Me Code is for.

Before she joined, Maggie Criqui, an event manager at IBM, said, “I was going from zero — like, nothing.” But the classes allowed her to branch out and even “create little scripts every day to help out with my work stuff.”

The key to the classes’ appeal, said Criqui, 25, who is now an assistant teacher at Hear Me Code? “It’s by women, for women,” she said. “It’s OK if you want to ask a stupid question.”

Hear Me Code alum Leah Bannon — a member of that first group of four — moved on to create the Tech Lady Hackathon, a group that received a nod from Maryland officials last week. At a July 26 session, lady programmers from Hear Me Code, Code for Progress and elsewhere jump-started Buscando, a website that will help migrant children and their host families find community resources near them.

The lessons are typically held on weekend mornings and complemented with practice nights on Thursdays in coordination with Code for Progress. Sign up here, and holler at Turner here. Also check out her portfolio, which is brimming with feminist hacks.

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