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Las Vegas Valley women find entry point into tech field

Updated April 17, 2017 - 9:08 am

When Rachel Warbelow attended her first web- and software-development class, she stood out.

“I remember walking into a couple of meetups in Las Vegas and being the only woman with 30 men,” the Henderson resident recalls. “That’s a little uncomfortable.”

Warbelow was a teacher for a college-preparatory program called Students Working Overtime, or SWOT, that she and a colleague founded. She also participated in a coding boot camp in Chicago in 2013, where she created an app — called SWOT Bot — for the program with a team within two weeks.

“We needed a tool at our school in order to track data, contact parents easily, to keep records …” she said. “Someone was like, ‘You should learn how to code.’

“Most people who went there had the intention of becoming a full-time developer, whereas I was a full-time teacher on summer vacation.”

Warbelow wanted to continue to pursue her newfound interest in coding when she returned to Las Vegas.

“You see a young teenage girl and you’re not like, ‘You should become a computer programmer,’” she said, adding, “I think this prevents a lot of very talented people that can be successful from actually entering the industry, because they see gender as a barrier.”

Women hold 26 percent of the approximately 4 million computing-related jobs in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Girl Develop It

Warbelow was one of many women who feel like they don’t have a place in the tech community — until she discovered Girl Develop It, a national nonprofit organization founded in 2010 and based in New York City. It was created to provide affordable and judgment-free opportunities for women interested in web and software development.

Girl Develop It offers workshops and classes taught by professionals. Classes are typically eight-hour sessions split into two days, and workshops are two hours, Warbelow said.

Workshops and classes usually cost $10 an hour, she said. Part of the money goes to the national chapter of Girl Develop It, part goes to a scholarship fund that helps women attend classes, and part goes to the instructor.

Warbelow learned about the organization shortly after moving to Denver in 2014. Her boss at the Turing School of Software and Design introduced her to former student Bree Thomas. The women decided to start a Girl Develop It chapter in Denver.

The desire to try something new and to work in a more flexible career attracted Thomas, who worked in marketing and advertising for 10 years, to tech.

“I got to a point where I wanted to build things that people would want to buy, rather than trying to talk someone into buying things,” said Thomas, 41. “I wanted to do something different and work for myself.”

It wasn’t an easy transition.

“You’re learning an entire new language, plus a different way to solve problems than how you’re used to,” she said. “There were plenty of times where I questioned my decision — whether or not I was cut out for it.”

Thomas said a message that she and Warbelow stress is that “if you put your mind to it, you can do it and it can change your life.”

Warbelow stayed in Denver for two years and moved back to Las Vegas, where she started a Girl Develop It chapter a couple of months ago. The group’s first meeting, which was promoted on meetup.com, was at the RedFlint Experience Center.

Girl Develop It members come from diverse backgrounds and have different goals, Thomas said. Some join to see if they like coding, while others plan career changes. Some just want to create a web page for a wedding or their daughter’s Girl Scout troop. The ages vary as well, with some women working full time with children and others still attending college.

And although the group was created for women, men are also welcomed, and it’s not uncommon for women to bring their significant others, Thomas said.

Lydia Shafer of Denver had just graduated college with a degree in psychology when she decided to try coding. Friends who were developers suggested it to her.

“I didn’t think I was going to like it, honestly,” Shafer said. “I went to the class and Rachel (Warbelow) was teaching. It was just a simple HTML/CSS class, and I ended up loving it.

“I feel like when you’re a woman and you’re in a technical situation and you’re being taught by a woman, I think that made me more comfortable.”

Shafer is working as a software developer. She also volunteers for Girl Develop It.

“It definitely showed me that I could do it and that I really enjoyed coding as well,” she said. “It was a step in the right direction to the career that I actually love.”

Lovisa Svallingson of Denver found Girl Develop It by chance, she said. She had already taken a few coding classes online and was attending classes at the Turing School.

“I was more interested in finding friends than getting a career in software,” she said, adding that she now works as a software engineer.

In addition to working as the academic outreach manager at Equipo Academy, Warbelow travels every six weeks to Denver to teach a class at Turing, where she is the Academic Outreach Manager.

Web and software development can be used in any field, including health care, education and entrepreneurship, Thomas said.

“In this day and age, whatever business you are in, you’re going to need tech in some way,” she said.

Contact Kailyn Brown at kbrown@viewnews.com or 702-387-5233. Follow @kailynhype on Twitter.

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