(Photo by Dan Marcel)
Back in 2010, Yasmine Mustafa had an idea for a technology company. The only problem was she didn’t know how to code. So she went out to find a developer. But what she found was much more.
Mustafa is now a familiar face in the Philadelphia technology community. Her latest venture is a wearable tech self-defense startup called ROAR, which is part of the 2015 DreamIt Ventures class. But the Temple University graduate first entered the tech community with a bit less understanding on the road to launching 123LinkIt, the advertising widget she sold to NetLine in 2011.
“I was very naïve,” Mustafa, now 32, recalled. “’I’ll find a developer to code it for me. He will give it back to me and I will be done with him or her and I will just move on and create this company.’ Yeah, that’s not how it works.”
"Empowering women is kind of my life mantra."
Mustafa would soon learn it would be difficult to find a developer, let alone communicate with them about the complexity and scale of her project. So, she decided to take it upon herself to learn technical skills from a nonprofit called Girl Develop It, then a series of coding classes in New York.
“I tried to teach myself how to code. Not successful,” said Mustafa. “I hopped on a Bolt Bus to take their classes, but it wasn’t very efficient. It was a two-hour commute there and back. It was very tedious and time consuming. I went up to the founder and said, ‘Hey, have you thought about branching outside of New York?'”
Six months later, Girl Develop It would have its very own Philadelphia chapter, with Mustafa as its local founder. Today, the first ever executive director of GDI is also a Philadelphia resident. Corinne Warnshuis, who, full disclosure, used to work for Technical.ly, now sets the vision for GDI’s 50 chapters across the country.
Locally, since 2011, Mustafa has helped the Girl Develop It Philly create a positive learning environment for women. Everything from front- and back-end development, to PHP, Ruby, mobile games and apps, design, career domination and more. While the main focus for the courses is technology, the chapter now includes classes on resume building, acing interviews and productivity seminars.
“Empowering women is kind of my life mantra,” Mustafa said.
“I started taking classes with them about two years ago,” said Ashley Chapokas, 29, lead volunteer coordinator for Girl Develop It Philly. “And a year after that, I became a full-time front-end developer. I attribute my success to their course offerings and to the support they provided me over the past couple of years.”
"I used a Girl Develop It intro class to make my career path."
Chapokas said she volunteers for the chapter in hopes of giving back to the program that helped her with the skills she now uses daily in her new career.
“I used a Girl Develop It intro class to make my career path,” said Lisa Burgess, 35, a co-organizer for the Girl Develop It Philly chapter. “Once I got to my first class, I realized very quickly that I was very willing to do what it takes to become a developer.”
When Burgess took her first class from the program, she was transitioning from one career to another. She, like many other women in the program, thanked Mustafa for her guidance and support through the learning process.
Burgess and Chapokas aren’t the only ones affected by program: In the three years that Girl Develop It has been in Philadelphia, it has amassed more than 2,000 members.
“I probably get an email once every two weeks from a member that says, ‘Thank you so much for mentoring. You changed my life,'” Mustafa said. “It’s crazy, but it is really gratifying. Especially seeing the transitions in the students.”
Mustafa’s own life story is one of transition, too.
She was born in Kuwait in 1982 but her brother was born in Philadelphia a few years later, making him an American citizen. At the age of 8, United States ambassadors took her and her family out of Kuwait.
“Sadaam invaded Kuwait and the U.S. got involved and they were looking for U.S. citizens. We had an hour to pack our bags,” Mustafa said. “All of a sudden we were saying goodbye, packing up our stuff. I just remember being scared but excited.”
She then came to Philadelphia where the only person in her family who spoke English was her father. After enrolling at General George A. McCall School on 7th Street in Philadelphia, Mustafa began learning the English language and American culture.
“It was definitely culture shock,” she said. “I had always heard of America and it seemed like a magical place with paved golden streets. It just seemed like a fairy tale.”
Though the odds were stacked against her, things have turned out well: Mustafa says she loves what she does.
As for what the future holds for Girl Develop It Philly, she is somewhat conflicted. Along with her desire to empower women for jobs in the tech community, she also wants to see the whole program disappear.
“That’s kind of my big dream,” said Mustafa. “That we don’t even need Girl Develop It to encourage women to get into technology, that they’re already getting into technology.”
1on1: Marketing pro Ashley Bernard and UX designer Alex Lash talk digital nomadism
Say ‘Ahoy’ to the technical opportunities at Vanguard
How one local tech company is tackling the STEM talent shortage
Say ‘Ahoy’ to the technical opportunities at Vanguard
A cheat sheet for getting involved in the 10th annual Philly Tech Week
Girls Who Code is launching coding clubs in 6 Philadelphia public schools
On building a successful data team
Packed with growth opportunities, WSFS Bank moves into Philly
Sign-up for daily news updates from Technical.ly Philadelphia