Code School Founder on Creating a Diverse Tech Community

Code School Founder on Creating a Diverse Tech Community

Gregg Pollack discusses how the gamification of programming is just one step in equalizing an industry lacking in women and minorities

Melanie Ehrenkranz
  • 29 july 2014

It’s hard to ignore the nationwide push to get more girls into coding – and you shouldn’t. According to research from the National Center for Women & Information Technology, while women make up more than half of the workforce, they only hold around a quarter of technology jobs. Women earn 57% of undergrad degrees, but only 18% of undergrad computer and information sciences degrees. This disparity is what sparked Code School founder Gregg Pollack to ask the question – how can we cast a wider net?

Pollack took note that Google was actively encouraging more people to learn how to code – the Internet giant donated $50 million as part of its initiative Made With Code – the funds going towards creating more opportunities for women and minorities in computer science. Google is also collaborating with Science and Entertainment Exchange in an effort to televise more female engineer characters.

Now, Code School is partnering with Google to support women and minorities in tech. Google gave away thousands of vouchers for three free months of the online programming courses, marking a further investment in creating a more gender-balanced future in tech. But it’s not just about statistics and funding – creating a diverse and inclusive tech community is about the experience. That’s where Code School stands out. Pollack tells PSFK:

What makes us unique is how we combine so many disciplines for an optimal user experience – branding, UI, illustration, jingles, writing, gamification. Nobody does it quite like us.

Code School courses “take the risk of failing out of it” through gamification, Pollack says, with many users’ feedback being that it wasn’t as hard as they thought it was going to be. Aspiring programmers take part in interactive exercises, earning badges and unlocking levels as they go, with intermingled jingles, motion graphics, and amusing characters to take the tediousness out of learning a new technology.

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Code School is mindful of catering to both men and women, and this was evident in a modification to its Road Trip levels – all of the courses had featured a male animation – until about a year ago. Pollack said they didn’t notice because they had used an outside contracting firm to create the motion graphics. Once it was brought to his attention, they added in a female character to the level.

The Code School staff of 30 is comprised of about a third women, and Pollack tells PSFK that bridging the gender gap doesn’t stop short of these aforementioned initiatives – it’s also an effort that needs to be taken within existing companies. Studies prove that gender equality in the workplace creates better performing companies, among many other advantages.

While there are a range of reasons to explain this link, one factor is that diversity brings together varied perspectives, produces a more holistic analysis of the issues an organisation faces and spurs greater effort, leading to improved decision-making.

Pollack says that in order to create an office environment equally appealing to all genders and backgrounds, Code School offers new amenities – such as Yoga Tuesdays and Wine and Whiskey Wednesdays. The site will also feature its first woman instructor, who will teach a JavaScript course online soon. But Pollack also recognizes that its just “the tip of the iceberg” in creating gender balanced companies, as well as in making learning how to code fun.

Money, initiatives, statistics, and policies aside, the bottom line comes down to – why code? Pollack says that’s like asking, ‘Why should I learn a second language?’


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