“What would I do if fear was not in the equation?”
That is the question that Rachel McGalliard, senior vice president of operations and general manager of The Software Guild: Coding Bootcamp, an apprenticeship-type program for developing coding skills, often asks herself. What would you and could you do if you had nothing to scare you out of it? It’s not just a question she feels is important for her own life, but for all. Now, she is encouraging women — of all ages and backgrounds — to ask themselves the same.
“In a lot of ways the landscape is changing for the better,” McGalliard said. She reflected on the need for more women to enter into the STEM world. She said that the changes won’t happen, “if we don’t have women sitting in these positions of leadership, of being the developer, of being the teacher … and more young women aren’t going to put that in their repertoire of ‘what I can be when I grow up’ if they don’t see women out there like that. It’s not just what change I think it can bring … there’s been a lot of women who have shied away from predominantly male fields because they felt like there was some sort of barrier to entry or it would look like they are singled out and the only way we’re ever going to flip that script is if the tides start to turn, that there are more women sitting in those jobs and they make the workplace a little more diverse.”
Enter The Software Guild. Academic program management company The Learning House Corporation acquired the company in 2015. McGalliard was initially brought in as Director of Relationships. She and her team worked together to knock down the smaller barriers preventing people from attempting a career in coding.
“It ties into the mission of The Learning House, our parent company, which is, we transform lives through education. And the only way you can transform lives through education is by reducing barriers to entry. That’s one of the biggest problems,” McGalliard said. “It troubled me when I heard some of our teams say, ‘you know, I have so and so call in today and they wanted to be a part of this, but there’s no way they can quit their jobs and be here for 12 weeks. They can’t give up their benefits; they can’t take that leap of faith.’ And so I was like, we’re an online education company. That was where our CEO was coming from, too — as far as The Learning House goes, we’re experts at this. Let’s transform it into a model where more people can learn this kind of material without having to quit their jobs. Without having to go to another city for 12, 14, 16 weeks and upending everything they know. I mean, it’s a great way to do it if you have that ability to walk away and make that sort of investment, but a lot of people with other responsibilities can not do that.”
As McGalliard points out, starting an immersive tech bootcamp style program requires a lot of sacrifices. Often the kinds of sacrifices many just can’t afford, no matter the level of passion or drive. While The Software Guild offers 12-week developer in-person trainings, what they feel sets them apart is their online options. This allows them to, as they note on their website, “fit every stage of life.”
When asked why there aren’t more programs like this, McGalliard said, “I think online pedagogy is very difficult. In the online world, there’s sort of this weird abyss of how do I create community? … How do I make them feel engaged? And so that’s something that we, I think, are very good at because of our parent company. That we help colleges and universities all across the country put their online programs out there and make sure they’re of high quality. We have sort of that special background of having a curriculum and instructional design team. I don’t think it’s an easy thing to do which is why I don’t think there are a lot of us.”
Yet, McGalliard and The Software Guild team are persistent in achieving this. They achieve this by emphasizing the need for continued education and constant upkeep of one’s skills.
“You’re only going to excel, in our program first of all, and then in your career, because you have a growth mindset to say, ‘I can learn as much as I’m willing to focus on, my mind is capable of taking this in,’” McGalliard said. “It’s that continued learning piece that we really believe in. That this is just the beginning of your career as a developer. We launch you into it, but then you’ve got to keep learning.”
“Desire and motivation is what it really comes down to because even with the job placement at the end, we have plenty of employers that want to hire our grads, but they’ve got to get themselves there. By showing they’re prepared for the technical interviews, they’re prepared with their code repository and their portfolio, those things,” explained McGalliard.
McGalliard and The Software Guild encourage people from all stages of life to consider a career in tech. Their focus, however, is on attracting women. As McGalliard mentioned earlier, she believes a strong female presence within the STEM field is crucial to impacting the future.
“It’s such an organic movement,” said McGalliard. “Just showing other young women that there are women who are software developers – it’s sort of just that conversation. It’s not just about the scholarship availability, but it’s engaging our female alumni to talk to other females about us. Just that organic momentum that we try to get out there, you know? Putting out on social media lots of blog posts about how these women were founders in an industry. Or how this female should be spotlighted because she’s working on this project. It’s just keeping the conversation alive, frankly.”
McGalliard maintains her belief that the public relations the STEM culture gets may be a result of high stake environments. However, she holds strong in the belief that most companies are not like that. If more women were confident in that, they would get their foot in the door and not fear the hike.
“Most people are afraid of the unknown. Don’t let it be unknown. Don’t just jump into something without doing your due diligence. Demystify it, speak to women in the industry. Speak to men in the industry – and just get a good lay of the land so you can move forward,” McGalliard added.