Front Row Seat to a Revolution - Jennifer Bland

We RISE 18
06.21.2018

written by

"Every revolution needs its cast of instigators." That was how Jennifer Bland opened the first keynote of the WWCode We RISE Conference. Her talk entitled "Front Row Seat to a Revolution" paralleled her own personal journey in tech with the development of the WWCode Atlanta Network, and highlighted the impact that Network has had on her, as well as so many other individuals, the local community, and in rippling effects, the entire world and industry.
The cast of instigators, noted by Jennifer in her opening line, consisted of the first four Directors of the Atlanta WWCode Network. Erica Stanley was the original architect and was the sole Director for the first year. In the second year Alicia Carr and Beth Laing joined her in leading the Network, and in this last year Angel Banks became a co-Director as well.
 
The Problem

  • Women are less than 25% of the STEM workforce 
  • 1 in 7 women who get a degree in STEM do not take a job in STEM
  • Only 27% of girls consider a career in STEM
  • Only 3% of University grads list a career in tech as their first choice


A First Hand Perspective With 35+ Years Experience

Jennifer told a story about being in honors math class as a sophomore in High School. But she was bored, and wanted to move up to the top level AP math class. So she approached the Headmaster and asked if she could make that change to the harder class, and she was told, "That's a class for men." She was not admitted to AP Math.


She told another story about how, after she had graduated from college she was interested in getting her Masters in Computer Science. She wrote to her Dean asking for a letter of recommendation. She got a very polite reply from him telling her that was a role for men, and he wouldn't write the letter.


Several years into her career and she was considered an expert in her field, so much so that a company agreed to pay her a lot of money to train their employees. She was back stage preparing for her talk, when one of the senior level execs in the company came up to her, and asked her to get him a cup of coffee. In his mind, the only thing she had of value to offer was that she could get him a cup of coffee.


Jennifer's Career

Jennifer was a Lotus Notes programmer for 10 years. However, at some point she transitioned out of her engineering role and eventually became a Project Manager creating training programs. While doing this, she started an internet marketing business as a side company, dedicating herself to working on it one hour every morning before her day job, and one hour every evening after work.


She did this for five years. And at the end of that time, she had a business that was generating more money than her day job. At the age of 51 she was able to retire and she would never have to work again. She wrote a note to her manager, "I regret to inform you that your services are no longer required."


Her retirement only lasted 18 months.


Everything changed when she found a JavaScript book in a Barnes and Nobles bargain bin for one dollar. This rekindled her love of coding, and she immediately took steps to reenter the world of tech, enrolling in a coding bootcamp that had 6 weeks of pre-course material.


It was during that time, in January of 2015, that she attended her first WWCode Atlanta event. It was only a few months since the Network had started, and at that first gathering there were exactly four other people, one of them being the Network Architect Erica Stanley.


She continued going to meetups and exactly 30 days after graduating from the bootcamp she landed a job at CNN. Not long after that she was able to add her own ripple to the radiating waves of revolution that were starting to emerge. She added a second woman to her team, a member of WWCode ATL.


"Having a fellow WWCode member on my team, it empowered me."


The Impact of WWCode Atlanta

"Many people have been emboldened by WWCode Atlanta to give their first speech at a tech conference. Many of those speaking at this conference are speaking for the first time."


"Many of us have taken pen to articles that have been published."


"Many have won very elite awards."


"It is time to be brave and start taking a chance on yourself."


The Success of Revolution - Ripples Outward

For Jennifer, it started with a WWCode meetup with 4 other people. From that, it has grown to:


- 54 women from WWCode Atlanta have graduated from coding bootcamps in the past year.

- Over 100 women showed up to the first WWCode Atlanta Hackathon.

- After that hackathon, 6 members of WWCode ATL were hired by Home Depot as Developers.


She then spent some times showing slides that contained the names of WWCode Atlanta members who:

  • Created their own internships in the last year
  • Gotten jobs in tech in the past year
  • Got their first job in tech


The first We RISE Conference had 400 attendees. This year that number has increased to 500.


All of that, grown from her first event back at the beginning, which had only been attended by 4 other people.


Jennifer concluded her keynote speech with an inspirational display which she borrowed from her love for Georgia State football. The lights in the hall were dimmed, the room grew dark, and she asked everyone to pull out their phones.


"Have you ever spoken at a conference or event because of WWCode? Hit the flashlight on your phone."


And lights suddenly shone in the dark.


"Have you ever participated in a Hackathon because of WWCode? "


More lights ignite.


"Have you ever gotten a job because of WWCode?"

"Have you created an app because of WWCode?"


"Gotten a promotion?"

"Founded a company?"


Soon the darkness was banished and the room was alight with phones blaring in visible display the true and lasting impact of WWCode.


"In the past two years I've spoken at over 30 conferences, events or meetups, I have over 500 people who read my articles on medium, scores of you attend my workshops."


In a vice laden with emotion from the impact of this group, on her own life, and so many others, she declared her wish to give back to the community, and announced the launch of her new podcast, which will highlight the incredible stories of the amazing women in tech.


If you are a women in tech and are interested in having your story told by Jennifer, you can contact her at ratracegrad@gmail.com

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