Advice for Women Looking to Break Into the Boston Tech Field

Want to get into the tech field? Get ready to step outside of your comfort zone.

When pursuing a career in technology, it helps to dive into an immersive program.
When pursuing a career in technology, it helps to dive into an immersive program. –Graphic courtesy of Eric Silva/Boston.com

As a web developer for Hill Holliday, Lauren Fazah spends her day between coding projects and working with a team to help develop features or squash potential bugs.

Before she landed a tech-focused job, Fazah was an administrative assistant for a nonprofit organization for about four years. Until recently, she had a very limited technical background, but she decided it was time for a change because her old job didn’t challenge her enough.

“I did a total 180,’’ she told Boston.com. “I knew I was getting restless and wanted to find something I was passionate about that would let me use my brain.’’

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Fazah started taking classes with General Assembly, an immersive computer programming school with campuses in 12 cities around the world, including Boston. General Assembly’s curriculum includes full-time, part-time, and online classes that cover web development, UX design, programming, and more.

“I read their email and said, ‘This is something I could do,’’’ said Fazah. “The coursework was nothing short of intense.’’

“They set you up so that you unlock your own potential and ability to learn,’’ she said. “There is always a take-home assignment that pushes us out of our comfort zone.’’

General Assembly’s fully immersive design program costs $9,500 for 10 weeks. The school’s web development program lasts 12 weeks and costs $11,500. Non-immersive programs range from $3,000 to $4,500. The group offers some financial aid opportunities, which Fazah said helped reduce the overall cost of her coursework.

Doug Schade, a headhunter for career firm WinterWyman’s software and technology sector, agrees that an intensely immersive approach is the right way for someone with a limited technical background to break into the field.

“The most traditional path is to get a Bachelor’s Degree in computer science, but there’s more than one path to success,’’ said Schade.

Unlike other careers, Schade says the technical industry welcomes anyone who is willing to commit and work very hard to learn the necessary skills.

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“To become an attorney, you have to take classes and you have to pass the bar,’’ he said. “But a developer can learn the skills they need without attending a formal class one day in their life. They just need to immerse themselves.’’

According to the latest figures available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women account for 25.6 percent of all computer and mathematical occupations. Schade acknowledges there are not many women in the tech field, but he believes local companies and individuals want to reverse that trend and that women who commit to pursuing a technical career will find a supportive community to help them achieve their goals.

“There’s a dearth of females in the profession,’’ said Schade. “But there are a lot of women developers who are willing to mentor and help the next generation.’’

“Seek and ye shall find,’’ Schade continued. “Especially in Boston.’’

Fazah says General Assembly also helped her connect with a community of technical professionals through meet-ups, hackathons, and other networking events that she didn’t realize existed. The chance to mingle with tech professionals helped her determine her own path into the field, she said.

“I didn’t realize how expansive it was,’’ said Fazah. “Hearing how others got into the field, you realize everyone’s path is different.’’

Hang Nguyen is an outcome producer for General Assembly. Her job is to help students like Fazah land a job after graduation by connecting them with companies in the field. Nguyen says she does not see much difference between male and female students’ motivations for turning to General Assembly for a new career.

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“Both male and female students want the same thing,’’ said Nguyen. “They’re not being challenged in their old position and want to love their jobs.’’

Nguyen says one of the most important skill students can learn is how to network. “Networking is one of the most effective tools you can use in your job search,’’ she said. “You can learn what the career is like from other people’s perspective. It’s a great way to transition into something you’re interested in.’’

Fazah said women who are interested in the tech world should not allow themselves to be intimidated by the lack of other women in the field. If it’s something they are truly committed to pursuing, it is worth the journey.

“We need women to follow their passion and encourage other women to do the same,’’ she said. “My advice is, if you think this is for you, don’t be afraid. It’s a really rewarding feeling once you get into it.’’

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