I’m thrilled to introduce Shannon Turner, a self-taught computer programmer who started Hear Me Code, which offers free, beginner-friendly coding classes for over 3000 women in D.C.
I had a chance to ask her some questions about how she started Hear Me Code, her thoughts on diversity in tech, and (of course) mentorship.
Congratulations on celebrating Hear Me Code’s fourth birthday. How has being in D.C. shaped what you’ve done?
Thank you! When I started Hear Me Code back in 2013 there were a handful of women-in-tech groups, but there weren’t a whole lot. I went to a couple of them, trying to find my community. They’re good communities, but I never felt like, “Yes, this is my community.” As a beginner, I wanted a place where I could ask “stupid questions”. What I wanted was to create a community where we could all feel comfortable asking those questions and have them answered. And I wanted a community where it would be deliberately, from the very beginning, a beginner-friendly space. I think that’s what D.C. was really missing. When I started Hear Me Code back in 2013, it was just four women around my kitchen table. Four years later, it’s now 3000 women. I never expected- it’s really blown up and it’s been amazing.
How did you create that type of community?
I think what it comes down to is a space where people are comfortable enough to be vulnerable. From the very beginning, we try to create that. We don’t ask people to do anything or download anything beforehand. Just bring your computer. Just show up. I think it creates a space from the very beginning where you can ask questions. Our rule is “Don’t suffer in silence.” And we also rely a lot on peer teaching.
What three words would you use to describe Hear Me Code now and what three words do you want to describe Hear Me Code in 5 years?
I always have trouble with these questions, trying to pick just three words. I think free is one of them. Hear Me Code has to be free. I want it to be the type of environment where anyone can learn. I think supportive is another word. That can look like a lot of things. To me, that looks like a community of women who give their time to help other women out. It looks like women who help other women. We are trying to create a space where we can just be. I would also say uplifting. I want to see Hear Me Code-ers succeed: getting jobs that they love, making more money, teaching others what they’ve learned. I want to see them grow and be happy and healthy. And I wouldn’t change anything. For the next 5 years I would just say: more.
What were the challenges in the D.C. community to growing Hear Me Code?
It’s such a transitional city. It’s a city on the move, in transition for so many people. It can be hard for things to take root since there are always new people. But it does keep things fresh. On the other hand, a lot of people who come to D.C. are passionate- they care about something. And women here are frustrated by what they’ve experienced, so we have a receptive audience.
What can people in the D.C. community do to support more diversity in tech?
Get involved. People come to our classes not only for a career change but also to test the waters and see what coding is all about. I think the community also needs money. There are so many great groups and events already out there building diversity. But so many events are operating on a shoestring budget. There needs to be investment in women-in-tech groups and events. Companies that are looking for more diversity should be supporting these groups and events already out there.
Do you think a tech degree is necessary for coding?
A degree is not necessary whatsoever, it only reinforces the current system.
This is just the beginning of everything that Shannon has to teach us! Check back next Wednesday for part 2 of her advice!