A Mother of an Update

That's me posing with some nerdy cookies lovingly baked and decorated by Johanna Silva Waki of our pilot class.

That's me posing with some nerdy cookies lovingly baked and decorated by Johanna Silva Waki of our pilot class.

Whoa, it’s been some time since I posted an update about what we’re doing at MotherCoders (I’m really sorry about that), so this post is going to be kinda long (I'm sorry about that, too). But I want to get you caught up on some major stuff that's happening, so I hope you'll stay strong and plow through it. There's even a cat video as a reward!

Fall 2014 Class Celebration

Wooo Hooooo!!! We helped another 7 moms gain the digital skills they need to compete in the new economy! YASSSSSS!!! That brings our to-date total of moms on-ramped to 13 -- which is a GIGANTIC CAUSE for celebration. Please come party with us!

Even if you can’t join us, we hope you’ll check out their websites and send them some virtual kudos. (Bonus points if you offer them jobs.) While our course only required each of the moms to build a website using html and css, I’m proud to report that several went above and beyond by adding javascript and bootstrap to their sites. To put this in context, these are moms with kids, y'all, many of whom have multiple kids and/or full-time jobs. So yeah. NBD.

(See their bios and glorious websites here.)

The Evolution of MotherCoders

Our strategy from the get-go had always been to create an MVP that we can build on. Now that we’ve got 2 classes and 13 grads under our belt, we’ve been doing some much needed self-reflection and research on how to make our program stronger and more scalable and sustainable.

Below are some key insights we've learned:

  1. Childcare is a huge issue
  2. Moms luuuuurve our Design Thinking workshop
  3. Our moms need on-ramps to specific jobs
  4. Some moms have a tough time completing their website -- a program requirement

Key Insight 1 | Childcare is a huge issue

On-site childcare has been a key feature of the MotherCoders program since our inception because we know lack of childcare is a huge barrier for moms that are learning to code (or holding down a job, finishing school, leaning in, etc.)

While our partnership with NextSpace/NextKids enabled us to offer onsite-childcare to moms with kids between 3-36 months, we've been super bummed about not being able to accommodate moms with older kids. So we thought, “Hey! What if we created a learning experience that was fun and accessible to both groups?!!” That way we’d be able to simultaneously eliminate the childcare issue, while gaining an extra bonus of fostering inter-generational hacking since parents are the best role models for kids. WOW.

To test whether or not moms and kids learning to hack together would would be super awesome, we teamed up with Embark Labs last December to run a one-day workshop called “Family Innovation Day: Moms & Kids Hacking Together” that was designed help both moms and kids learn computational thinking and design thinking together. Embark was the perfect partner for us in that they specialize in running hands-on computer science camps for elementary and middle school kids. The event took place at NerdWallet, a wonderfully generous FinTech company who hosted us in their gorgeous new headquarters in downtown San Francisco. Besides hosting, the team there also did a fantastic job of hacking alongside the moms and kids, sharing stories about their own tech career journeys. Their Director of Engineering, Skyler Brungardt, even kicked off the day by telling a personal story of how he used to hack with his dad when he was little. (Click here to see a great write-up about it by Embark Labs, along with some photos of the moms and kids.)

Overall, the event was a huge success considering it was our first time trying something like this. Based on feedback surveys, all the participants had a great time, and all the moms thought it was a worthwhile family activity. However, many moms did leave wanting more -- namely, more time devoted to learning to code -- for themselves! I have to admit, while it was really cool seeing the kids get into the design and computational thinking exercises, I was pleasantly surprised to watch the moms become more interested in doing tech as the day went on. (Moms are a tough crowd, if you didn't know already.)

Family Innovation Day at NerdWallet with Embark Labs

Family Innovation Day at NerdWallet with Embark Labs

We're so grateful to Embark Labs and NerdWallet for making it a fun and memorable day for all participants! One major takeaway we had from this experiment is this: YES, we can teach moms and kids together at the same time. HOWEVER, moms and kids will need to be separated and taught using different curriculum to address highly differing learning goals: moms want to learn tech to increase job opportunities while kids just want to have fun. While those 2 goals aren't mutually exclusive, they are tough to reconcile in a single learning environment. (Though having a joint project might still be good for fostering that “family that hacks together, stays together” thing.)

In the near future, we plan to test out whether a MotherCoders session can be run in a co-located way with another program that's designed for kids. (We're aiming for summer because of well...summer camps!) Please contact us at info@mothercoders.org if you're interested in partnering with us!

Key Action: expand access to moms with kids older than 36 months in need of childcare by co-locating our classes with a children's program.

Key Insight 2 | Moms luuuuuurve our Design Thinking workshop

So much fun and creativity and collaboration happens in our Design Thinking workshop, an important part of our curriculum led by the great Molly Clare Wilson of Sliced Bread and the d.school at Stanford that helps transform our moms into innovative technologists. It’s been inspiring to see how that workshop has changed the way our moms approach problem-solving, in general, and tech-making, specifically. It seems many of our moms really do inherently enjoy UX design. And that’s good because it's a field where moms can bring their existing education and work and life experience to bear. It's also good because the mom perspective is sorely lacking, in spite of women influencing 84% of all consumer and purchasing decisions, with moms alone representing a $2.4 trillion market. o_O

Key Action: Add more Design Thinking to the curriculum.

Key Insight 3 | Our moms need on-ramps to specific jobs

Our goal all along has been to help moms get on a career development track toward a technical role that leverages their unique skills and experiences while connecting professional goals with personal passions. We specifically developed a tech orientation program that focused on context-building, network-building, and basic technical-skill-building in web development and design assuming moms would know how to proceed after our class. Although we knew that 8 class sessions isn't that much time, our hope was that we would have provided enough of a foundation to foster continued learning, and that we would have given our moms enough guidance and industry connections to ably sort through the plethora of resources that are available to them. What we found, however, is that some of our moms are stuck.

Stuck because they’re unable to carve out the time to attend meetups or workshops.

Stuck because they don’t have the money to pay for a bootcamp.

Stuck because they’re feeling isolated again trying to do this on their own.

In other words, they’re stuck due to the very same reasons that brought them to MotherCoders in the first place.

Key Action: Help moms develop a stronger technical skill-set that would enable them to on-ramp to specific jobs more quickly.

Key Insight 4 | Some moms have a tough time completing their websites

Tyranny of Choice

Tyranny of Choice

Most employers nowadays want to see a portfolio before initiating a conversation with potential job candidates, especially for tech jobs. That’s why we made building and launching a simple website using html and css the one and only course requirement. The purpose of this site is for each mom to showcase the coding and web design skills she learned, and our suggestion has been to build a personal portfolio site featuring skills and experience unless there’s another idea. Because each mom has different capacities due to differing work and family obligations and child-care options, we also let each person decide for herself how sparkly and robust she wanted to make the site. (The post-class celebrations have definitely provided a dose of fear-based motivation to get them done because no mom wants to show an ugly baby. #RealTalk)

What we didn’t anticipate, however, was how difficult it’d be for some moms to find something to build. Some felt they didn’t have enough relevant experience to showcase in a portfolio site. Some weren’t sure to where they wanted to take their career yet -- a barrier that made it difficult to articulate a point of view that represented themselves and their accomplishments. Related to this, becoming a mom often strips you of your former identity, so some moms are still in the throes of figuring out who they were.

Key Action: Find a better way to help moms make a digital artifact they can show to potential employers.

MotherCoders 2.0

Like whoa, right? That’s some deep stuff going on up there -- stuff with no easy answers. However, we are taking all these things to heart and re-designing parts our program to take them head-on.

One way we plan to do this is by focusing on specific career tracks, with the first one being UX design. We're going to pilot a new curriculum in our next MotherCoders session that will be structured as a project-driven course focused on rapid prototyping using html, css, and javascript. Here’s why:

  • Why project-driven? To eliminate the need for each mom to come up with a project of her own; to give moms hands-on experience with the design process through the development of an actual tech product or service solving a problem they care about.
  • Why rapid prototyping? To teach moms the design thinking process and develop the ability to quickly identify user needs that drive product refinement and iteration.

  • Why html/css/javascript? To help moms gain a set of coding skills that would enable them to design, build, and test functional prototypes quickly -- a highly marketable skill-set in today’s marketplace.

Even though lots of adjustments will have to be made, we’re really not that far from being able to pull this off. And because we’re big on eating our own dog food here, I, Tina Lee, will be the first guinea pig to try this approach.

How? By spending the next 3 months, learning AngularJS through Thinkful, an online coding school out of NYC whose model comes with 1:1 mentorship and coaching. Thanks to a very generous $1,500 scholarship provided by Thinkful, in partnership with Girl Develop It - San Francisco, I’ll be able to pick up some new tricks by developing a functional prototype of something I've been kicking around in my head. The goal is to take the experience and the skills that I gain and use it to transform the MotherCoders curriculum.

We’re extremely grateful to Thinkful and Girl Develop It for this amazing opportunity. We also continue to be moved by the generosity that all our donors, partners, and supporters have bestowed upon with us. In addition, we are nothing without the moms who have put their faith in us. So in the spirit of paying it forward, MotherCoders will be sponsoring a Thinkful/GDI scholarship for one of our grads in their next round.

Thanks for plowing through all the way to the end! And please don’t hesitate to tweet us @mothercoders or @mstinalee if you’ve got questions or thoughts about stuff.

Without further adieu, here's your well-deserved cat video.