For This Nontraditional Engineer, Tech Inclusion Begins At Bootcamp

Written by Dana Sanchez

Chloe Condon had often heard about the need for more women, people of color, and people with “nontraditional” backgrounds to bring new insight to the tech industry.

After a career in the arts, she realized the future was in software and that it wasn’t too late for her to learn to code.

At age 27, Chloe Condon is not your traditional developer. She had a bachelor of arts degree in theatre performance and is a graduate of Hackbright Academy, a software engineering bootcamp for women in San Francisco.

One minute Condon was performing on stage at the Marines’ Memorial Theatre in Union Square, the next minute she was presenting a web application she’d built at Hackbright’s demo night.

Her credentials were not exactly what recruiters were looking for. So after fulfilling her dream of learning to code and seeing first-hand how hard it is for a woman to get a job in tech, Condon became an advocate for the very thing Silicon Valley says it craves so much: diversity.

As an engineer and developer evangelist, Condon is a frequent conference speaker. She also writes about her experiences using humor and acceptance to make her experiences relatable to all genders.

“You could say I’m a candidate with a ‘diverse’ background,” Condon said in a February NewCo Shift report.

Reality check. It’s not so easy to get into bootcamp. Condon spent months learning how to code on her own prior to being accepted at Hackbright, “playing around with Swift, Javascript, and Ruby through various online resources. When I got to a point where I felt like I needed to be learning full-time, I applied and was accepted to Hackbright Academy and started on my new journey as an engineer,” she wrote.

Coding bootcamp, in Condon’s words, is typically a 12-week program where students attend lectures, pair program, do hours of homework, and are assessed and coached by industry mentors. The program culminates with a project designed to demonstrate that they have acquired the skills needed to code professionally. Then they go into whiteboarding interviews, where they are expected to learn complex topics very quickly (SQL, jQuery, AJAX, and Javascript in a week, anyone?) and comprehend algorithms, object oriented programming, frameworks, databases, system design, among many other topics in a very short period. Bootcampers learn to thrive in this intense environment.

There is a huge barrier to entry for people like her in the industry, Condon said in February:

“I have all the qualities and makings of an amazing entry level engineer: I’m a quick learner, proficient in Python and Javascript, currently building my own stage management software, can nail a whiteboarding interview, and have the tenacity, intelligence, drive, resilience, and adaptability that is necessary for someone determined to make a drastic career change. However, recruiters see my resumé, don’t see a computer science degree or a previous technical job listed on it, and may say “lol- why is this girl applying for our software engineering internship?”, delete it, and move on.”

Condon now works at Codefresh.

She spoke to Moguldom about why she thinks coding bootcamp helped make her feel included in the Silicon Valley tech industry, which is notoriously dominated by white men.

Moguldom:  What do you think is the biggest story around diversity and inclusion in 2017 and why?

Chloe Condon: For me, the biggest story around diversity and inclusion in 2017 would be the rise of bootcamps. Suddenly, we have a huge amount of diverse entry level candidates thanks to these programs, and their ability to help catapult people who may not have a traditional computer science degree into the world of software engineering. For people like myself, who didn’t have exposure to engineering and computer science growing up, these bootcamps allow candidates with diverse backgrounds to enter the workforce with new ideas and perspectives. Obviously, race and gender are a part of diversity, but diverse backgrounds bring much-needed unique perspectives and views to this industry as well.

Moguldom: Is that story changing, and how? Where could/should the focus go next?

Chloe Condon: Yes. I’ll be interested to see where bootcamps will be in a couple years. While Dev Bootcamp has recently announced shutting its doors, Hackbright is opening a secondary location. It’s hard to say! My hope is that these schools continue to thrive, and that we get more bootcamp grads working in this industry. The more advocates we’ll have in tech for people with nontraditional backgrounds, and the easier it’ll be for them to get jobs. Unfortunately, the views of bootcamp grads are still hesitant for some companies. As an advocate for bootcamp grads, I hope to change these views. I recently wrote an article titled “Consider the Bootcamp Grad” that spells this out in more detail.

Moguldom: As one of the few female engineers at tech conferences, you’re using humor and acceptance to make your experience relatable to all genders. How is this approach better than, say lawsuits?

Chloe Condon: There’s a time and a place for humor, and there’s a time and a place for lawsuits. Sexual harassment is no joke. Neither is racism. I think it’s important to be able to talk about the issue of gender in an open and thoughtful dialog based on your personal experience and ideals (I just happen to use humor as a defense mechanism for awkwardness). For me, that means being understanding if someone assumes I’m a recruiter (it’s fine — I totally understand that I “look like one”) and simply correcting them, without getting angry. But if anyone were to speak or act inappropriately towards me, absolutely — that would be a much different dialog.

Moguldom: As one of the few female engineers in tech, how does your experience intersect with black people in tech?

Chloe Condon: Being a woman in tech is incredibly isolating. I can’t imagine what that must feel as a black person.

 

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