We hear all the time about how there are more technical jobs available than there are people to fill them. You may have even heard that part of the problem is a tech workforce that isn’t as diverse as it could be. For the most part, people who aren’t white or Asian men are underrepresented in the tech industry, which also means they are often underserved by the tech industry.
Part of the problem is that many companies don’t have friendly policies toward parental leave, flexible working options, etc. But there’s also a problem with attracting people to the tech workforce in the first place. Many people think that you have to have not only a particular background, but also a particular personality type. Basically, the type of person who would feel at home here:
I want to make it clear that there’s nothing wrong with being the typical nerdy type. I identify with a lot of aspects of that (I love Weird Al, for one thing). But I wonder if we’re doing ourselves a disservice when we place a lot of emphasis on that. I certainly don’t think you have to be a typical nerd to be successful in the tech industry, and I don’t mean in marketing.
Now there are tons of “learn to code” sites out there, but the people at Skillcrush do a good job of distinguishing themselves from other sites. They know their niche well, and more importantly, that niche doesn’t consist solely of people who are already primed for tech careers. Here are 5 reasons why I think Skillcrush is important to the tech industry:
- They’re friendly to women.
- They look outside the traditional geek demographic.
- They speak from experience.
- They teach useful non-technical skills.
- They have a strong community.
Full disclosure: I’m currently a student in Skillcrush’s Freelance WordPress Developer Career Blueprint (Career Blueprint is what Skillcrush calls its courses). But nobody’s paying me to write this or has even asked me to do so. I just really appreciate what Skillcrush is doing and wanted to share their work with others.
If you want to know how well a demographic is accepted in a group, look at how many people from that demographic are in visible leadership positions. For instance, a company that talks about how important diversity is but whose leadership consists solely of white men is talking the talk but not walking the walk. Women are all over Skillcrush. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve seen a man in any of Skillcrush’s videos, although about 25% of their students are men.
I visited a different “learn to code” site that went all in on the geeky references. There were Star Wars references all over the place, to the point that even I got tired of them. And I had a lunchbox as a kid with The Empire Strikes Back on it. When it wasn’t OK for girls to be into that stuff. Believe it or not, I know people who don’t even like Star Wars. Literally every screen of this site had some kind of reference. To Episodes 1-3, no less. You think that might alienate a bit of your audience? If nothing else, you’ll get raised eyebrows from people who are ride-or-die for the original trilogy. Not that I know any such people.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t have any traditionally geeky references, but it’s important not to be too heavy-handed with them. You have to remember that your site isn’t for you, but rather for your intended audience (good advice in many situations, actually). Anything that’s targeted toward a beginner audience, you want to make it as friendly as possible.
The voice of experience
Skillcrush co-founder Adda Birnir shares her own experience on the site. After getting a degree in Art and African-American Studies, Birnir got a nice job, only to find herself laid off some weeks later. As the layoffs were being announced, Birnir noticed that most of the company’s developers were keeping their jobs. This experience motivated her to learn to code.
Now Birnir is able to combine her creative background with her newer technical skills at Skillcrush. The beauty of it is that she’s been in the same boat as many Skillcrush students. This can make people who come from less traditional backgrounds feel more comfortable.
Useful non-technical skills
Skillcrush’s Career Blueprints teach technical skills, of course, but that isn’t all they teach. They also give you tips about
- setting up your own business
- finding remote work
- incorporating more flexibility into your current job
- how to combine your current skills with the new ones you’re learning
It’s not enough to learn technical skills. You also have to learn how to market yourself, handle interviews, etc. Since many Skillcrush students are aspiring career changers, it makes sense that these issues are addressed.
When you sign up for a Blueprint, you’re not simply left to your own devices. Skillcrush students have access to private forums, and people are really good about helping each other out with problems they might encounter. One of the most frustrating things about learning to code in general is encountering problems beyond the standard documentation.
You might think it’s just the blind leading the blind, but Skillcrush has teaching assistants who are very active in the forums, and I’ve seen for myself how helpful they are.
A lot of “learn to code” sites tend to be very simple on one end or assume the reader knows more than they actually do on the other. Skillcrush does a great job of bridging that gap of teaching real-world skills while still being friendly to beginners. Just as importantly, they don’t reach out only to the traditional audience for coding courses. Women and men with less traditional backgrounds can feel welcome at Skillcrush, where they might feel a bit excluded elsewhere.
Blueprints typically start during the first or second week of every month, so obviously they’re already in session for this month. However, if you go to their website, you can get on their mailing list to be the first to find out when the next sessions start. Also, they regularly send out free guides to their email subscribers, even if you don’t sign up for one of their Blueprints. The guides cover topics like how much to charge for freelance work and how to find a remote job.
Have you taken one of Skillcrush’s Career Blueprints? Do you know of anyone else who is doing similar work? Let me know in the comments!