Meet the KU Coding Boot Camp Alumni Who are Paving the Way for Other Women in Technology

Despite the remarkable strides women have made in today’s workplace, some industries remain stubbornly male-dominated; STEM is one such field. Women in STEM professions have a unique opportunity to serve as pioneers and mentors for future generations of young women, and to change the narrative altogether. Kansas City Women in Technology (KCWIT) is one organization that empowers women in tech to connect through networking events, programs, and more—carving out a community where women in the industry can grow together.

Three of the women involved in the organization got their start at the KU Coding Boot Camp. We caught up with Rhia Dixon, diversity and inclusion chair for KCWIT; Jacqueline Kolze, a mentor director for KCWIT and attendee director for ngGirls, an organization that introduces women to the tech world; and Ashley Shaw, a KCWIT mentor and co-director of Django Girls, a free programming camp offered through KCWIT. 

Their experiences demonstrate that women from all backgrounds can jump into programming—and can help others do the same. Here’s how they got where they are today.

Making the leap into tech

Rhia was working for a small third-party billing company and was ready for a change when she came across a Facebook ad for the KU Coding Boot Camp. She suddenly began to consider a career path she had never thought about before. As she learned more about the program, she was convinced boot camp was the right call. 

Ashley had a similar journey to the program. She worked for a long time in human resources and felt the need for a greater challenge. She discovered the KU boot camp online and immediately saw it as a sign to make a change.

Jacqueline discovered the boot camp while in college for graphic design. She found a community on Reddit extolling the benefits of such programs. Her decision to enroll ultimately boiled down to her experiences in the classroom. “I was tired of being the only woman in the room,” Jacqueline said. 

Though the three women attended separate cohorts, they each learned a great deal about programming—and themselves—in the program. But they also felt like outsiders in a predominantly male field. This lack of representation ignited a desire to empower other women to pursue careers in tech. 

Challenging the status quo

Despite their success in the bootcamp, when the three women attended coding meet-ups or searched for jobs, they observed a distressing lack of representation. Their perspective changed when they found KCWIT and became involved in various programs. Their active involvement in the organization ensures that more women and young girls have access to comprehensive coding educational resources. 

Rhia, Ashley, and Jacqueline have played roles in Coding and Cocktails as well as Coding and Cupcakes—the adult- and young adult-focused meetups offered through KCWIT. For Rhia, who is a mentor at both events, the community-building aspect is crucial. “We bring people together and give them space to bond in a field that they otherwise might be crowded out of,” she said.

Rhia is especially proud of her ability to empower black women to pursue careers in coding through the organization. Her previous career lacked diversity, and she hopes to encourage women like her to follow a path that is not as accessible as it should be. 

Ashley values the unparalleled support the organization provides for both the leadership team and program attendees. “KCWIT is a place to feel comfortable and ask questions—no matter how basic—and make everyone feel welcome,” she said. 

Providing resources and access  

Among KCWIT’s primary tenets are communication and transparency. Attendees and leaders have access to a group Slack that can be used for professional and personal conversations. 

“We have a channel for everything, from networking tips to fun pictures we send to each other,” said Jacqueline. “Our goal is to provide something inclusive and informative—that attendees may not otherwise find in the industry.” 

KCWIT also encourages women in tech to be more open about their salaries. They provide program participants with resources that help them research and understand job value, negotiate, and market skill sets as they search for careers in the field. 

Thanks to women like Ashley, Rhia, and Jacqueline, Kansas City Women in Technology is able to encourage hundreds of women to follow their passions and change the tech industry for good. Boot camp helped them make a difference—and their work is just the beginning.

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