Marc Hedlund is VP of Engineering at Etsy. He has managed engineers in Internet companies from coast to coast, and is currently writing a book for O’Reilly Media on engineering management.
Today, in conjunction with Hacker School, Etsy is announcing a new scholarship and sponsorship program for women in technology: we’ll be hosting the summer 2012 session of Hacker School in the Etsy headquarters, and we’re providing ten Etsy Hacker Grants of $5,000 each — a total of $50,000 — to women who want to join but need financial support to do so. Our goal is to bring 20 women to New York to participate, and we hope this will be the first of many steps to encourage more women into engineering at Etsy and across the industry.
Women in Engineering
I’ve been an engineering manager in the Internet industry for 17 years, in the Bay Area and now in New York City. Throughout that time, I’ve hired hundreds of men from across the country and around the world into fun, creative, lucrative jobs. In sharp contrast, before joining Etsy, I had hired about 20 women in engineering roles, total, and it wasn’t for a lack of effort. Other managers I know have reported similar experiences. When I first heard about Carnegie Mellon’s “Dave-to-girl ratio,” I laughed ruefully but was not surprised.
Last September, three out of 96 employees in Engineering and Operations at Etsy were women, and none of them were managers. Talking this over with others here, we thought that Etsy — which supports the businesses of hundreds of thousands of female entrepreneurs through our marketplace, which sells a majority of all items to women, and which already has many talented and amazing women working for the company — should be one of the single easiest Internet companies at which to correct this problem.
Six months later, we now have eleven women in Engineering and Operations. That’s a great start, but we still have no female engineering managers, and we’re nowhere near a gender-balanced department.
What more can we do? What, beyond aggressively searching social networks and hiring every qualified female engineer we can find, will make a real difference any time soon? Many people agree that real solutions to this problem need to start as early as middle school. For my three-year-old daughter, I am thrilled to hear discussion of solutions at that level. For our company, I’d like to start solving the problem a lot sooner.
Hacker School is a New York-based project described by its founders (David Albert, Nicholas Bergson-Shilcock, and Sonali Sridhar) as “a three-month, immersive school for becoming a better programmer. It’s like a writers’ retreat for hackers.”
I love their focus on open-source software, on coding over building a startup, and especially on having a productive classroom environment that’s free from the negative conversational habits that all nerds sometimes fall into. They establish rules such as, “No feigning surprise — ‘You don’t know who RICHARD STALLMAN is!?’” Working to make a comfortable and supportive classroom environment is a great example of their educational insight and approach, and helps to address one of the big points of dissatisfaction female computer science students tend to experience.
In Hacker School’s current batch, however, there is only one female student out of 20 (and yes, I am working on hiring her). Talking with them, they said all the same things I hear from engineering managers everywhere: few female applicants, hard to find women who are interested, and so on. We started talking about how we could make a bigger change: for their school, for Etsy, and for the industry as a whole.
Making a Change
The summer batch of Hacker School will be 40 students, and our goal is to have them accept at least 20 women, with Hacker School retaining full control over the admissions process. In other words, 20 times the number of women in the current batch.
What will it take to get there? Most of all, we need to reach out far and wide to find the women who would be interested in becoming professional engineers, but for whatever reason haven’t made it into the industry yet, or need help getting a better role. Second, we need to make the program as appealing to those women as we possibly can. Third, we need to make it possible for those women to attend.
- Reaching out: Etsy and Hacker School are working hard to get the message out, but we can’t reach everyone we need to on our own. We’re asking everyone in the Etsy community, and everyone who reads this post, to help us spread the word to women they know who love hacking. If you know a woman who has made an awesome personal website, a great iPhone app, or anything of the sort, please encourage her to apply. We have a page up about the program, where you can forward information to friends, follow our progress, or apply yourself.
- Making it appealing: Hacker School already does a great job of this on their own, but we found some ways to help. The school operates by borrowing space from New York technology companies, so the summer batch will be hosted in Etsy’s headquarters, which are (if we may say so) freaking awesome. We’re inviting all of the students to join our company lunch, Eatsy, so they can meet and learn from Etsy engineers. Finally, the students will be invited to tech talks and company events, like the boisterous Etsy talent show we had last month.
- Making it possible: While Hacker School itself is free to all students, we know New York City is expensive, and a three-month “hackers’ retreat” might sound enticing but be out of reach for some of the women we want to see attend. So, for 10 female students, we’ll provide a $5,000 needs-based scholarship — a total of $50,000 in grants.
We’ll be thrilled if we get to hire any awesome female engineers from the next batch of Hacker School, but more importantly, we just want to see these women go on to get fun, creative, lucrative jobs in technology — and hopefully tell other women about the great experiences they’ve had.
Twenty is a small number, but it would roughly match the total number of female engineers I’ve hired in the past 17 years. Even a small change can have a large impact, given the severity of the issue. We hope you’ll help us make it happen.