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Around Seattle, women learn coding for free

A couple dozen local women have given up their jobs, their salaries, and, to a large extent, their personal lives to become computer programmers at the Ada Developers Academy. (KIRO Radio/Colleen O'Brien)

This is the well-known track of life: you graduate from high school, go to college, graduate from college, and get a job. For many, that’s where it ends. It takes a certain dose of courage to start over again.

But that’s exactly what a couple dozen local women are doing right now. They’ve given up their jobs, their salaries, and to a large extent, their personal lives to become computer programmers at the Ada Developers Academy.

They are former students of Chinese studies, biology and clinical psychology to name a few. They are all ages. Some are single; some married. They are all ethnicities. And, they are all starting over.

“Just kind of like a grumbling in the background and at some point, I had to listen to it and yeah, that sent me into a difficult space for a little bit,” Sally Moore said.

Her focus is unwavering as she learns Ruby, one of many coding languages she’ll learn at the academy. Before today though, Moore spent 10 years as a clinical psychologist. That was her career &#8212 or so she thought. Then, coding seeped into her life at age 35.

“It never even rose to my awareness growing up that I could like this,” she said. “It wasn’t even on the radar.”

It’s a story told by so many women to explain why they didn’t get into computer programming earlier. It’s why Ada Developers Academy exists.

The academy is named after Ada Lovelace, who was born in 1815, grew up to be an English Mathematician, and wrote the first algorithm to be carried out by a machine. She is considered to be the very first computer programmer.

Despite that inspiring story, as we know now, there’s an extreme gender gap in this field. Ada tries to break down any barriers to get women into the industry.

There’s no tuition, but Moore says they pay for it in the amount of work they put in.

“It’s nine-to-five; we’re working solid through that time. We have projects and we have homework every night,” Moore said.

It’s seven months in a classroom and five months at an internship. Ada recommends the women not work outside of the program while enrolled.

Nearly 300 people applied this year to go through the Ada Developers Academy and just just 24 got in.

“It’s been phenomenal just be in this environment with so many other smart, capable, intelligent, engaged… just amazing… I’m endlessly impressed with these people. I feel honored to be there every day,” Moore said.

And every day that gender gap shrinks.

“It’s sometime said of women in programming that they are like unicorns. They just don’t exist,” Moore said.

But these women are proof they do.

“I just want it to be something that women can imagine themselves doing if they so choose,” Moore said. “I don’t know all of the many myriad reasons that the gap is as large as it is, but I think that it’s constraining and I would love to see more women entertain this option.”

Moore is part of the third year of Ada students. The second year class still has 22 students involved in internships. They will graduate soon. The first year class had 15 students and all 15 are now employed full time.

Moore is writing a column for Geekwire during her year at the Ada Developers Academy.

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