All-female academy teaches how to write computer code

SAN FRANCISCO, CA -- The high tech industry is growing quickly, but the number of computer scientists graduating from college is not keeping up with the demand. That's why "coding boot camps" are springing up all over the country. These fast-track programs are designed to turn beginners into computer programmers in just a few months. Most of the students are men, but ABC7 News took a look at a Bay Area school teaching coding for women only.

Step into Hackbright Academy in San Francisco and throw away your stereotypes about who wants to write computer code.

"I was a full-time mom at home," Florie Coggins says.

Marlene Hirose says she has been "a 3-D artist and also a former elementary school teacher."

"I graduated last year, but haven't found a career path," Ugaso Sheik-Abdi says.

The class we visited was full of women that want to be software engineers -- a field in which 80 percent of the workforce is male.

A lot of high tech companies are now actively recruiting female engineers, with the realization that if you're marketing to women, it's a good idea to have women help design your products. That's why Hackbright Academy was created.

VIDEO: Documentary examines barriers to women entering tech industry

Hackbright offers a 10-week intensive course to teach women how to write code and develop software.

"I really liked that it was all female and it seemed like a really supportive community, because I think it can be really scary to learn something new, especially after you've been working for a while," Hackbright Academy student Katie Schick says.

This group of 40 students is just starting the program. All have college degrees and most have very little experience with computer science. Ashley Lorden was in Hackbright's first class two and a half years ago when the founders were still trying to figure out whether the whole concept would work.

"The boot camp model takes anywhere between eight and 12 weeks and says if you commit all of your time and energy for that period, you'll be able to sort of catch up with people who have years of training and experience and you know, that's a question mark. It's definitely not for everyone, but for me it worked out really well," Lorden says.

Lorden is now a software engineer with the ride sharing company Lyft.

Kat King is another Hackbright grad, now a mentor for other students. She went from nanny to computer programmer at Eventbrite, an online ticketing service. She says a lot of women don't realize software development is fun.

"It's this really creative field that, it is highly technical, but there is a lot of room for play and the language and the creativity of it," King says.

It also pays well.

"A graduate who goes into an engineering position can expect to make anywhere from $75,000 to upwards of $120,000. There's no guarantee of that, but the odds are fairly decent," Hackbright co-founder Christian Fernandez says.

That kind of potential is why students are willing to pay $15,000 in tuition for just 10 weeks. Hackbright is not an accredited school, so there is no traditional financial aid, but there are some scholarships and payment options available. Admission is competitive and former students told us it's only worth the money if you are ready to work hard.

"Even though it feels really risky, I think it's worth it if you are committed to putting the time and effort in," King says.

Hackbright has partnerships with several major Bay Area tech companies to help graduates find jobs and so do many other coding boot camps. But if you are considering this kind of program, do your homework. They are not all the same and the quality of the instruction varies widely. Ask to talk to alumni and find out if and where they got jobs.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney.
Copyright © 2021 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.