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When You Don’t Get a Seat at the Table, Build a Bigger Table

Sometimes you don’t get a seat at the table, and sometime you learn to build your own amazing table.

By Melissa Pierce (Founder, Chicago Women Developers)

chicago events for women programmers cwd When You Dont Get a Seat at the Table, Build a Bigger TableLast year, I showed up to an open invitation “hacking” day where local programmers were invited to work on their projects and help each other at an informal get together. New to programming, and just wanting to know enough to fix my own WordPress site, I was excited to attend.

When I arrived, every seat was taken by guys so I stood and exchanged greetings with the men I knew and announced my coding problem, a man I didn’t know said, “no room for noobs with boobs at this table!” then he laughed and they all turned their heads back to their computers, nobody offered an apology, nobody offered help.

One thing was clear to me, what had been labeled as an “open invitation” to share a table, was anything but open to anyone who was new to programming and was certainly not the kind of environment I, or my boobs, would feel comfortable in.

I would have to find a more accepting group of programmers, but when I looked for user groups in Chicago like Girl Develop It that catered to women in programming, there were exactly zero. If I wanted a support network of coders, I was going to have to build it on my own, and so I did.

Ten curious and brave women showed up to my first event, many of them were the only women in their respective IT departments, and most of them didn’t know of any other women coders in Chicago.

They excitedly threw around names like Ruby, Python, Jango, and Backbone, demanded to know what “end” of programming each of us worked on, where we worked, and what programs we wanted to learn. I was definitely out of my element, but thrilled that I had facilitated connections between women who had only moments before felt like they were the lone woman computer programmer in all of Chicago.

What happened over the next 11 months for Chicago Women Developers (CWDevs) was amazing, a few wonderful women took a chance on me and not only helped me with my WordPress site and taught me the difference between a front-end program and a back-end program, but stepped up to teach classes, plan events, and mentor anyone who showed even the slightest interest in coding.

My co-founders Francesca Slade, Ri Liu, and Valerie Concepcion, showed me what it means to be part of a community, and helped me build a community that supports women in programming all over Chicago.

April 2012 marked Chicago Women Developers’ one year anniversary. With a roster of over 400 women who now meet and mentor one another at 1871 Chicago’s state of the art entrepreneurial center, I am at once proud of where we’ve come from, hopeful about where we’re going, and exhausted. The amount of work it takes to not only build a community, but to gain the trust and support of women who program without knowing how to program much myself is an excruciatingly humbling, but worthwhile experience.

Sometimes you don’t get a seat at the table, and sometime you learn to build your own amazing table.

(this article published in Women 2.0 this morning. So proud of my group of women!)

6 Comments to “When You Don’t Get a Seat at the Table, Build a Bigger Table”

  1. Avatar of Kim Oksenberg

    Kim Oksenberg

    Congratulations on your first year anniversary! I’m so impressed with your determination. Thank you for sharing this story, some days we all need some extra inspiration to lift us up.

    Meridith frequently says: “Sometimes it is not about breaking through a glass ceiling but building a new house.” which is apt here as well. 

  2. what a great story (except for that horrific beginning…. honestly, just when I think people can’t surprise me, they do!).  Your determination and innovation is admirable.  Thanks for sharing!!

  3. As a member of the IT community, I’m embarrassed that you had that experience; as a member of the Project Eve community, I’m proud and pleased that you’ve created a better experience as a result. Congratulations!

  4. @kim – that’s a great quote about the glass ceiling! @Sandy @carole, Thanks so much. The guy’s “noobs with boobs” wasn’t so terrible (but still stupid) the dismissal was the knife in my heart. Yuck. Can’t wait to see what the next year brings for us.

  5. This is amazing! Very inspirational.. way to see a serious problem, think of how to fix it, and act on it! High five :)

  6. I can totally relate to this story Melissa.  Good for you!  Some men forget how powerful the mind connected to those “boobs” is.  

    Fortunately for us, that leaves them snoozing while we build new communities, concepts, businesses & fortunes.  ;-)  

    Love what you have done & appreciate you sharing!

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