Three minutes to landing with Ada Developers Academy

You’re on a plane with three minutes to landing, at which point Richard Branson takes a seat next to you - what would you ask him? That’s the dilemma that faced Tammarrian Rogers of Ada Developers Academy at our recent Business is an Adventure event in Seattle...

As is tradition, we ended proceedings with a segment that allows local businesses to join our esteemed panel on stage and discuss a problem or hurdle they’re currently facing. Following on from Ziad Ismail of Convoy, Tammarrian took to the stage to quiz the panel about how the academy can achieve rapid growth, at the same time as ensuring they reach out to healthy levels of female and non-binary gender participants.

Ada Developers Academy is an intensive software developer training school for women. It combines six months of classroom instruction in cutting-edge web technologies with a five month internship at Puget Sound-area tech companies. You can watch Tammarrian and the panel discuss the dilemma below.

After her time on stage we caught up with Tammarrian, to get her view on the business and the advice she was able to draw from the panel.

So, tell us a little bit about Ada Developers Academy and how it started.

Tammarrian: We started in early 2013 as leaders at several Seattle-area tech start-ups, frustrated at the difficulty of hiring female software developers to achieve gender diversity on their engineering teams, decided to take action. At the time, the earliest of the software coding "bootcamps" were finding initial success, so we felt that there was a model that we could follow to create quick wins in increasing the supply of diverse engineering talent for sponsoring companies. The key principles we went hard after were: making the program tuition-free for students (to attract and retain the highest potential students regardless of financial means), creating a six month immersion curriculum that was far deeper than other "bootcamp" programs (to better prepare our students for dev jobs) and integrating a five month internship into the program (to continue the classroom education and facilitate the transition into the workforce).

What’s the best thing about starting up in Seattle?

The best things about starting up in Seattle include the abundance and range of tech companies, from start-ups to corporations in different fields. As a result of this, there's a high number of jobs unfilled and open, as well as the huge lack of diversity in the work place (typical of tech hubs), are outstanding opportunities.

The allies from within the tech community here that have come out of the woodwork to give their blood, sweat, tears, time and money to tackle the problem of diversity in the industry. We've had hundreds of volunteers who have helped us in innumerable ways: reviewing applications, tutoring students, doing code reviews, conducting practices interviews, mentoring interns, raising money and getting the word out about the success we're seeing. This community in Seattle is doing more than just publishing terrible workforce diversity numbers and complaining about it.

Are there any challenges to doing business in Seattle?

The general knock on doing a start-up in Seattle is that there's less venture capital available here to fuel growth. As a non-profit, that doesn't impact us. We received seed capital from the State to get us started over the first 12 months - since then, we've operated at at least break-even, funded 90 per cent from fee-for-service from sponsor companies with the balance coming from individual and organisational donations. The biggest challenge for us in doing business in Seattle is we're not operating in the tech start-up spotlight (San Francisco) or media spotlight (New York), so I think the amazing program we've created and results we've delivered aren't getting the national visibility that they deserve.

What one thing did you learn from the panel during their discussion?

I learned some ways to harness bitterness and turn it into a profitable business.

I would love to hear Richard’s response to my question (paraphrasing here):  what are some ways a small organisation, e.g., Ada, can drastically influence an industry (e.g. tech) to be more inclusive? The challenge being when our students enter the workplace, their experience is saturated with  non-inclusive teams which, in turn, creates unhealthy work environments and reduces retention.

What does the future hold for Ada Developers Academy?

We started our focus on gender diversity because that was the problem that was obvious to the leaders that initially came together to create Ada. As we started operating, we realised that gender was just one form of diversity that we needed to think about fostering, and that we needed to create an environment that could support the multiplicative difficulties that come with being a minority in several ways at the same time (gender, race, orientation, socio-economic background, etc). We're excited to continue our focus on women of color (50 per cent of our student population) and under-represented minorities (30 per cent of our student population).

We are also exploring the opportunity to expand our influence and reach beyond Seattle - perhaps not by opening other sites but via the geographical reach of our dedicated company sponsors. We also have the potential to expand our disruptive training model from training junior developers into developing tech leaders and innovators.

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