Hacker School Offering Grants to Diversify the Programmer Demographic

Photo credit: Hacker School
Photo credit: Hacker School

You may have heard that there’s not a lot of women in the programming industry. In early 2012, Hacker School—think of it as a 3-month immersive retreat where programmers can hone their craft—announced a partnership with some leading software companies like Etsy to offer ten $5,000 grants for women who wished to attend.

Hacker School wanted to diversify their student body, and over the last couple of years, they have managed to increase their female student body from 5% to 35% through these grant programs. Today, Hacker School announced they are pushing the definition of diversity to include other minorities that are under-represented in programming: African Americans, non-white Hispanics, Native Americans, and Pacific Islanders. They want their students to be a better representation of the demographics of America.

I had the chance to chat with Nicholas Bergson-Shilcock, who co-founded Hacker School alongside David Albert and Sonali Sridhar. Nick explained why it was important to Hacker School to see more diversity in their student body, and I think the same logic very much applies to the benefits of seeing a greater diversity in any workplace.

The first reason why Hacker School is committed to seeing this change happen in their demographics is that their top goal is to build an environment where people feel safe and comfortable to expose their ignorance and learn through it. A big part of that is making sure no one feels alienated, whether that may be due to their gender, skin color, socio-economic status, or ethnicity. The second is that, at Hacker School, so much of the education comes from students learning from each other. If every student came with the same background, it would be a much less viable experience. The more diverse Hacker School becomes, the better the experience.

While Hacker School is actually free, they understand that living near the school’s location in New York for three months is anything but. Something that has changed over the last two years of grants is that they also offer an option, not only to apply for a grant, but to specify the amount you would need to make this experience possible considering your financial situation, from $500 to $7,000.

The grants available for the next year of students has been made possible mainly by Etsy, Juniper Networks, Perka, Betaworks, Fog Creek, and Stripe. Of the money donated to Hacker School for the grants, 100% goes directly to the people who need it. It should also be mentioned that Hacker School takes it seriously that every applicant be judged based on the same standards, the bar isn’t lowered for women or minorities or applicants requesting the grants. They automatically create a pseudonym for applicants so that the people reviewing them are not influenced by the gender or ethnicity of the name. There may be other information in the applications that reveal these details, but it helps the reviewers remain unbiased and really focus on the applicant’s qualifications and code.

If you are interested in applying to Hacker School, they work on a rolling admission so you can apply at any time. If you are accepted, you may be able to attend your preferred “batch” (each 3-month group is called a batch) or, if that batch is full, you’ll have the option to select another batch. Good luck!

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Ariane is a programmer married to another programmer. Together they have two little girls who don't stand a chance against their nerdy lineage. Ariane can also be found writing about STEM travel at Geekling's Guide to the Galaxy.