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Break the Code

Accidentally Sexist

By Michael Kaiser-Nyman, Epicodus President

I was chatting with a friend of a friend the other day who mentioned she was thinking about taking Epicodus. Out loud, I said "Oh, that's awesome! I really hope you do it." But in my head, I was worried. What if she wasn't good at programming? What if she didn't do well in the class? What if she didn't get a job afterwards?

I noticed these thoughts bouncing around and then stopped for a moment. Why was I so concerned? We have really high completion and employment rates, and I've had several friends and acquaintances take Epicodus before. What made me worried about this person?

And then I realized that it was because she is a woman. 

It was pretty surprising and I felt pretty terrible to catch myself thinking that way, especially since Epicodus has been working hard to encourage more women to get involved in tech. I shared my train of thought with a female friend of mine who's worked in tech for a long time, and I was really surprised when she confided to me, "I catch myself doing that all the time."

Our assumptions about other people based on their gender, race, and other groups characteristics are embedded really deeply in our minds, and often come out without us even realizing. I know I can feel really ashamed when I realize I've had a sexist or racist thought, and often my first instinct is to try to pretend that it didn't happen, or justify it in some way. But recently I've been trying to embrace the idea that those thoughts are going to be there, whether I like it or not. I think it's better that I acknowledge them and correct them, than to try to ignore them while they continue to secretly undermine my attempts to treat people equally.

It can be difficult for many people, myself included, to talk about racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination, and even more difficult to acknowledge that I can contribute to them, even when I'm trying not to. But the first step towards making something better is admitting you have a problem. And it's comforting for me to know that I'm not the only one with this problem, that even my female friend who's long been involved with promoting diversity in tech has this problem.

So, I'm accidentally sexist, probably more often than I realize. We all probably are. Let's try to acknowledge it to ourselves and each other, try our best not to be, and work hard to make up for it.

Life After Epicodus: My First Year On The Job at DevelopmentNow

By Kathryn Brown

I remember the first moment I wanted to learn to code. I was in a client meeting at a local Portland startup, working with a team of developers to implement a difficult solution on our company’s fledgling SaaS marketing platform. We would have to pull an all nighter together to make it happen. I was the project manager. There was nothing that I could do to help my teammates. All I could do was wait. My portion of the work on the project was done, but I hated the feeling of not being able to pitch in during that crucial time.

Photo courtesy of Kathryn Brown

Photo courtesy of Kathryn Brown

That night, I kept my team company on gchat while I fiddled around on a few “learn to code” interactive web programs. By the next morning I had forgotten all of the intro lessons. I started asking around the office, “how did YOU learn how to code?”  The answers varied from, “I dunno, I just learned,” to “I wrote programs for my TI-83 calculator in math class because I was bored”. Each developer did however, give me the same piece of critical advice: if you want to learn to code, you have to do it all day, everyday.

So that’s what I did. I decided to leave my job to attend Epicodus full-time. It was the best decision I’ve made in my professional career. In addition to learning about the basics of http requests, relational databases, and CRUD, I also learned valuable real world skills that I would not be able to practice if I was at home learning how to code by myself.

Two of my classmates and I scored an internship at DevelopmentNow, a local digital product solutions agency, soon after my class ended.  The three of us were hired out of our internship, and we have continued to work closely on everything from startup MVPs to enterprise projects at scale together.

Photo courtesy of Kathryn Brown

Photo courtesy of Kathryn Brown

Now that I am coming upon my first year anniversary at DevelopmentNow, I decided to take a look back at the role Epicodus played in my success on the job.

Here are the notable ways that my classroom experience helped me during my first year at DevelopmentNow:

Real World Skills

I learned how to make decisions about API design, and how to evaluate tradeoffs between an app that functions according to scope and an app that looks great, but doesn’t function as well. After all, we only had a limited amount of class time to finish a project before we moved onto the next assignment. I also learned how to work on a project’s code base with multiple developers checking in code to github each day.  I’ll admit, I’ve still had to rebase a few times at work, but working with git is no longer a mysterious, scary concept that has me worrying that I will blow up the project.

Michael Kaiser-Nyman, the founder of Epicodus, always used to tell our class that the number one skill that sets successful developers apart has nothing to do with coding ability. Instead, it’s the ability to google effectively! After working on a handful of projects, I realized that he was right.  As a developer, I’ve found myself spending more time searching for a solution to a problem than actually implementing that solution. The more efficient you can search, the faster you can move onto the next challenge.


I was introduced to DevelopmentNow’s CEO Ben Strackany through Epicodus’s internship program. After Ben received my resume via Epicodus, I met him at his office and talked about my experience and my desire to work on an upcoming project: a backbone.js app with a rails backend. The first day of my internship, I joined two of my classmates on the couch at DevelopmentNow. We were each handed a shiny new MacBook Air, and given the task of setting up our development environment. In a few hours, we were ready to start working on our first feature for a client.

Photo courtesy of Kathryn Brown

Photo courtesy of Kathryn Brown

Together, we completed two sprints during our internship. We built a search feature, a social follower feature, and fixed existing bugs that required a deep dive into the app’s already existing social API functionality.

The internship period helped me get a feel for what it’s like to work on a real client project on behalf of DevelopmentNow. It also gave Ben a sneak peek into my skill set and thought process as a new developer before we both committed to working together in an employee / employer capacity.

Pair Programming

The most recent project that I worked on was an MVP for a local startup. One of my Epicodus classmates built the API, and I built the front-end website. Because of our experience pair programming in class, we easily slipped into pair mode when one of us became stuck on an issue. Instead of grinding on a bug all day, we would simply get together at a desk, and talk through the problem. Whether the issue was caused by a typo or a logic error, we overcame our roadblocks faster together, and as a result, we were less stressed when our development deadline grew near.

I’m really excited to extend a hand back to Epicodus on behalf of DevelopmentNow, to help other women transition from their former careers into development. Ben has generously offered to sponsor a female student to go through the groundbreaking all female Break the Code Android programming class this fall, and I’m working with the team at Epicodus to help facilitate this relationship. If you are interested in applying, check out the Break the Code page, where you can learn more about the program.

Thank you Epicodus and DevelopmentNow for making the last year of my career really rewarding!  

Portland Companies Lead the Charge to Change the Ratio of Women in Tech

Three Local Companies Providing Scholarships for Women to Attend Epicodus Code School

PORTLAND, OR: Epicodus, a Portland-based code school, announced today that three Portland-area companies DevelopmentNowGlobeSherpa, and Intel will be providing scholarships for women to attend Epicodus’s first-ever, all-women class for Java, JavaScript, and Android development.

"We’re very excited to be working with DevelopmentNow, and GlobeSherpa to support women choosing programming as a career," said Epicodus president Michael Kaiser-Nyman. "This is a great time to be a programmer, and we're proud to be part of a movement making the industry more accessible and friendly to women."

The all-women class, starting August 10, is part of a larger collaborative initiative called Break the Code, which Epicodus launched in May. Women are estimated to make up less than 30 percent of the tech workforce. In an effort to improve this statistic, Epicodus launched Break the Code in May, in partnership with a dozen Portland-area tech companies and nonprofits, to empower more women to join the tech industry and start a productive dialogue about changing the ratio of women in tech.

“The development of world-class talent in technology and engineering is critical to Oregon’s economic growth and GlobeSherpa is proud to support the Break the Code scholarship program,” said Nat Parker, GlobeSherpa CEO.  “Providing equal opportunities to women in technology is an important part of creating diversity in an organization and makes the organization and the region stronger as a result.”

All students who apply to the Java/JavaScript/Android class by July 10 will be eligible for the scholarship. Seven total scholarships are available: two partial ($875) and five full ($3,400). Once accepted, students will have the opportunity to apply for the funds. Recipients will be chosen by the three companies providing the scholarships in partnership with Epicodus and will be announced by July 30.

To learn more about Epicodus or to apply, visit

About Epicodus

Founded in early 2013, Epicodus’s mission is to help people learn the skills they need to get great jobs. Epicodus provides four month, forty-hour per week, in-person classes on web programming including courses in Ruby/JavaScript/Rails, PHP/JavaScript/Drupal, and Java/JavaScript/Android. Epicodus’s first class started with just eight students and one teacher, and has since grown to a dozen staff and hundreds of students and alumni.

Media Contact:

Emily Priebe | Epicodus

Women Who Broke the Code: Anita Borg

Before there even was such a concept, Anita Borg started a global network of women in computer science by founding the Systers online community in 1987. Anita mastered the ability to mix her technical expertise with her capacity for motivating and empowering women to join and stay in the technology industry.

Born in 1949, Anita discovered computers in her mid-20s. In 1981 she received her Ph.D. in computer science from the Courant Institute at New York University and started her career in research for many of the industry giants.

In addition to founding the Systers online community, in 1994, Anita co-founded the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing to honor the legacy of Navy Rear Admiral Grace Hopper. She also founded the Institute for Women and Technology in 1997 with the goal of creating programs and partnerships to propel women into all aspects of technology.

She was honored many times over for her work and tireless activism on behalf of women in technology. In 1999, President Clinton appointed Anita to the Commission on the Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science, Engineering, and Technology. 

Anita passed away in 2003, but her legacy lives on through the Anita Borg Institute and the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing that continues to grow and thrive. 

Women Who Broke the Code: Grace Hopper

Grace Hopper is revered in technology for a number of reasons. Hopper defied the expectations placed on women of her time again and again, succeeding in two male-dominated institutions: the Navy and the computing industry.

Born in 1906, Hopper studied mathematics and physics at Vassar, graduating in 1928. She went on to Yale, eventually earning her Ph.D. in mathematics in 1934. She was one of the first women to earn such a degree. In December 1943, she felt compelled to join the U.S. Naval Reserve where, given her mathematical background, she was assigned to the Bureau of Ordnance Computation Project. While there she learned to program a Mark I computer.

Continuing to work in computing after the war, Hopper moved into private industry in 1949, where eventually she oversaw programming for the UNIVAC computer. In 1952, she led the team that created the first computer language compiler, which led to the popular COBOL language. 

Though she retired from the Naval Reserve in 1966, she was called to duty again and again, finally retiring at the age of 79 as a rear admiral and the oldest serving officer in the service. But she wasn’t done with the computing industry. She remained working for several more years, and was awarded the National Medal of Technology in 1991, becoming the first female individual recipient of the honor. 

Hopper passed away in 1992, at the age of 85. Her legacy lives on and continues to inspire young women to learn programming. Created in her honor, the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference is a technical conference that empowers women to become a part of the computing industry.

Another part of Hopper’s legacy? She is often given credit for the term ‘computer bug.’ While she was a research fellow at Harvard working on the Mark II computer, she found a moth in one of the relays that had apparently shorted out the Mark II. That story is now often associated with the origin of ‘debugging.' 

Women Who Broke the Code: Ada Lovelace

For the next few months, we’re going to be celebrating women in programming past and present. And you can’t talk about the history of women in programming without honoring the woman who essentially started it all: Ada Lovelace. 

" Ada Lovelace ," by  Angela Thomas  is licensed under  CC BY 2.0 .

"Ada Lovelace," by Angela Thomas is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Born in 1815, Ada had a famously passionate poet for a father (Lord Byron), and a mother who threw off the conventions of the day and insisted that Ada be schooled in mathematics and science. The marriage between Ada’s parents was not a happy one (her mother left her father five weeks after Ada’s birth), but their dual influence is perhaps at the heart of Ada’s programming origin story. Despite her mother’s best efforts to shield her from her father’s influence, she still inherited his romantic spirit, which when fused with her passion and aptitude for mathematics, formed what she would come to call her love for “poetical science."

Ada’s ability to combine the two seemingly dissimilar subject matters of poetry and science eventually primed her to see the beauty and the vast potential in Charles Babbage’s calculating machine, the Difference Engine. When she attended one of his legendary salons at the age of seventeen she was captivated by its possibilities, and she set her mind to convincing Babbage to become her mentor. When he consented she not only became a champion for his work, but an amplifier, pushing the potential for his Analytical Engine beyond what he had visualized himself.

In 1843, Ada supplemented Babbage’s Analytical Engine with her own notes that essentially envisioned the modern computer, a machine capable of being programmed and reprogrammed to execute a virtually unlimited number of operations. She also noted that the machine could be used for far more than just mathematical calculations; any form of content such as pictures, symbols or sounds, could be expressed and manipulated digitally. In addition, her notes offered a step-by-step outline for what we would now call a computer program or algorithm.

Ada died in 1852 at the age of 36. Over 150 years later, The U.S. Department of Defense developed a language named after her. Ada's prescient thoughts on computing have had a profound impact on technology, infusing our digital age with “poetical science." 

Announcing Break the Code: Supporting Women in Tech

Supporting women has always been a top priority for Epicodus. Our student body has always been about one-third women, but we want to do better. And we know that many other companies do too. That's why we are incredibly excited to announce the launch of Break the Code, a collaborative initiative aimed at starting a productive dialogue and creating a more supportive environment for women choosing careers in programming.

Break the Code Partners

We've asked several companies and nonprofit organizations to help us spark that conversation and join Break the Code. Many have pledged their support and voices including: The Clymb, Columbia Ultimate, CrowdCompass, DevelopmentNow, GlobeSherpa, Jive, Simple, Smarsh, Thetus, Uncorked Studios, App Camp For Girls, ChickTech and Girl Develop It. Over the next few months we will all be celebrating and sharing the experiences of women in tech. This is a huge challenge, and we are excited that so many companies in the Portland area have signed on to help us tackle it.

All-Women's Class

Since one of the primary goals of Break the Code is to provide a supportive environment for female programmers, on August 10 we'll be starting our first ever all-women's class on Android development. We're excited to provide this opportunity for 30 students who feel that they will thrive in an all-women environment. All women (cis- and transgender) and people with non-binary gender who feel they are a part of women's community are encouraged to apply.

In the coming weeks, we will be announcing even more exciting Break the Code initiatives. Stay tuned...