Crossing the Barrier into Tech | The Importance of Community

Crossing the Barrier into Tech | The Importance of Community

Written by Manda Frederick


I came to tech later than many women I know. At 34 years old, I was between jobs for around six months after a contract position in medical publishing had ended. I answered a job call for a Managing Editor of books for a tech education company. The company, then named, now named Kodeco, was one of the largest online curriculum hubs for mobile development learning. 

I had never heard of this company and knew nothing about mobile development. But I knew about books, editing, and how to manage editorial pipelines and teams. So I applied.

During the interview process, which took several weeks, many long calls, and an extensive paid project, what surprised me most was that never once, in all those hour-long interview sessions, did anyone ever ask me where I went to college or what I had studied. They didn’t care. In fact, in the four years I collaborated with hundreds of developers, I can’t recall ever learning where any of them studied or how they came to work at companies like Google, Apple, Facebook, and other big names in tech. 

This shocked me because I had only been told one narrative about how to succeed professionally: Where and for how long you were educated was all that mattered. 

I had come formally from academia, working as a university professor of writing and publishing after graduate school and then transitioning into medical publishing, where I worked directly with researchers and doctors. Within 20 minutes of a get-to-know-you chat with colleagues in those professions, you knew where a person had gone to school or done a residency. 

As a first-generation college student who lived below the poverty line until I was 26 years old while I accumulated two master’s degrees with my eye on middle-class life, it truly never occurred to me that you could have a successful career without following a traditional education path.

In my interview for my job in tech, they didn’t care — and it was a revelation. I had gotten the interview based on the hands-on professional experience outlined on my resume, my performance during a one-week take-home paid project and long chats that determined I was a good culture fit for the company. 

This lack of obsession with credentials and the fact that I would go on to meet hundreds of incredibly talented, motivated, and successful people who had built their careers through grit is why I fell in love with the tech industry. The potential for access due to the lower barrier of entry compared with other industries is one of the reasons I’ve stayed. 

What We Mean by “Barrier to Entry” 

What is so exciting about tech is that the barrier to entry isn’t lower than in other industries, but it is more achievable because it doesn’t require 4-8 years of education and thousands over thousands of dollars in tuition and loans. Studies like this consistently show that boot camp graduates spend less money and have a job sooner than people seeking traditional computer science degrees. 

And, as I said, the priorities in tech are centered around if you have the skills — they don’t care as much how you acquired them or how long it took you. 

Here, I want to acknowledge that the professional barriers of entry into tech, and most other spaces, are more difficult for diverse technologists who must work harder for access, equal pay, and opportunity. Communities like Women Who Code are working as advocate voices to help alleviate this through education, resources, mentorship, and support.

How Expert Devs Enter and Succeed in the Room: Community 

I worked for years closely with expert developers — the people making the Big Apps, working at the Big Tech Companies, and literally writing the books on this stuff — and here is what I observed they did to excel in tech. 

The key thing expert developers do is lean on and participate in their community. 

Words aren’t adequate to express how important community is for anyone in any room trying to accomplish their goals. The most important thing I observed about the developers I worked with was their deep importance to their technical community. 

Through community, expert devs: 

  • Are comfortable not knowing everything. Expert developers don’t know everything — and they don’t try to. Instead, they leverage community-created documentation and open-source tools to do work for them. They use each other’s codebase, trained machines, README files, shortcuts, best practices, and more. 
  • Share their knowledge. Expert developers don’t keep their knowledge to themselves. I continued to be deeply impressed by the level of collaboration and willingness to share resources, tools, and information. Expert devs don’t gatekeep information in the community. They contribute to open-source, speak at conferences, answer dev questions on Stack Overflow, write tutorials, share tips on social media, and more. In the WWCode community, for example, you can access our entire catalog of technical and professional content in our on-demand library completely free and apply to speak at a Network or Track event to share your expertise. 
  • Ask for help and mentorship. Access to a community as a developer is like having a magic charm. When expert developers don’t know something or are stuck on a project, they ask. In those academic and medical professional rooms I found myself in, it wasn’t okay to know something. Devs are different. They use Stack Overflow, Twitter threads, Discord channels, and other communities to find the necessary answers and solutions. WWCode members can find this free flow of support during our live events and in our online Slack communities, and you can even submit your own Pro Tip to share with other technologists. 
  • Keep upskilling. Expert developers do the work to stay up-to-date with best practices and technology iterations — and they learn it from their community. Joining stack-specific communities, like the WWCode Technical Tracks, is an excellent start to finding educational resources and support to help you level up your tech skills. The WWCode community and Partners also offer scholarships and free event tickets so you can continue to grow in your tech career. 
  • Specialize. As a non-tech person, I could not fathom how broad “tech” was as an industry. In this room, until you’re in it, you can’t imagine how many seats there are at the table — and there truly is a place for everyone. Expert devs, through their careers, try out many seats until they find one they love. 
  • Network with and elevate each other professionally. Expert devs don’t elevate in their careers alone. They love to ensure anyone who wants a place in the room has one. Consider leveraging resources like the WWCode Job Board and WWCode Career Nav Track to find opportunities to share, or submit an #ApplaudHer to help other technologists elevate their careers. 

I love the tech community for the hands-on way technologists build their careers, their respect for each other’s niche interests, the collaboration, the willingness to try and fail in service of innovation, and the genuine desire to share resources and opportunities. 

Joining a tech community like Women Who Code and taking full advantage of its resources is one of the best paths to crossing the barrier into tech and creating a fulfilling, successful career you love. Plus, you’ll meet lots of kind, hard-working people along the way.