When I was young, computers were a big part of my life. I began coding in elementary school and attended a technology-focused high school. I then went on to pursue a degree in Computer Science and I have been working as an engineer ever since. For me, becoming an engineer always seemed as natural as aspiring to be a doctor, a teacher, or a lawyer. The fact that I happened to be a woman did not seem out of the ordinary or relevant to my career choice. But when I joined the workforce I realized that both my educational and professional paths are hardly the norm for most female engineers; I have been incredibly lucky.
For most women, the path to becoming an engineer is filled with roadblocks. While learning to code — and do it proficiently — is the first step, making the leap into an engineering role often proves a significant challenge. I realized that while I couldn’t replicate my experience, I could encourage and empower women who have a passion for coding to pursue their professional dreams — and do so at any age or point in their lives. This is why I, along with several of my (male and female) engineering colleagues at Optimizely approached top leaders at the company with an idea to pitch a joint program with Hack Reactor, a Bay-Area-based coding school.
The program we ultimately created, called “I/Own It”, gives aspiring women technologists the chance to win a full scholarship to attend Hack Reactor, work closely with a mentor from Optimizely, and start a paid internship with Optimizely after graduating from the program. Hack Reactor provides the skills to succeed in many programming roles, and we provide the mentorship to help these women develop and grow as they make the leap into a new career.
While giving female engineers a leg up is certainly a big part of launching I/Own It, this is also about continuing to expand – and diversify – Optimizely’s pool of qualified, driven, job candidates. And with five graduates of Hack Reactor already working at Optimizely (watch their videos below), we know it is an extremely effective program for molding great engineers out of motivated candidates. Our leadership was excited and supportive.
Over 200 women from around the world applied for the I/Own It scholarship. We looked for candidates that were curious, passionate and motivated. So many of the applicants exemplified these qualities. Ultimately, Hack Reactor and Optimizely decided to offer partial scholarships and paid internships to two additional applicants!
We are thrilled to announce the winners and share a bit about their stories and what inspired them to become engineers. You can read Hack Reactor’s press release here.
Meet the Winners
The winner of I/Own It, a fully paid scholarship to Hack Reactor and internship at Optimizely is Jessica Chong, who first learned HTML and CSS when she was 13. While she has built a career designing and building websites, Jessica is looking for an opportunity to learn to code at the highest level and dive deeper into web technologies. Jessica, who has most recently been living in Hong Kong, hopes to use her coding skills to build online communities, create outlets for people to express themselves creatively, and promote a more secure Internet by contributing to projects that enable privacy and free expression.
The winners of the partial scholarships and Optimizely internships are Haley Bash and Amy Chiu. After graduating college, Haley, originally from West Branch Michigan, decided to pursue a career in investment banking. But after doing a Ruby tutorial in her free time, Haley realized she liked solving coding problems far more than building merger models. Amy Chiu began building computer games with Java as a teenager, but decided to pursue a degree in business. After graduation, she worked in tech on product teams for five years. But while she knew she was in the right industry, the field just didn’t seem right – she was meant to code.
Although we were only able to accept three women into the program, my colleagues and I have remained in close contact with nearly all of the remarkable women that applied for the scholarship. I am so proud to have spearheaded this program with Hack Reactor, my colleagues and the Optimizely leadership.
We can’t wait to welcome Jessica, Haley and Amy to the Optimizely team.
Meet two members of the Optimizely engineering team who graduated from Hack Reactor.