The Problem With The Etsy Women Hacker Grants

12 Apr

I’ve had more than a few women mention the “amazing” Etsy Hacker Grants to me in the past few weeks, even asking me if I’m applying. The answer is a big NO.


In case you haven’t read about this (it’s been all over the news!), Etsy is giving out $50,000 in $5,000 grants for 20 women to attend Hacker School, a three month full-time program in New York to become a better programmer that aims to place you into a job after graduation (and collect a nice $20,000 recruiting fee). Here is why I’m not a fan of this:

Not Everyone Gets The Scholarship

“The scholarships will be given based on financial need. “Need” will be determined based on an honor code—if you say doing Hacker School would be a real financial hardship, you’ll get the money. You can spend the money on whatever expenses necessary to free you up for Hacker School, no questions asked,” according to the Hacker School About page.

Ok, so they’re hoping to get 20 women into this batch of Hacker School, but are only giving out 10 $5,000 scholarships. If I’m a woman experiencing “financial need”, I don’t think $5,000 will nearly cover a summer in New York City! That might cover maybe the first month of living there…

Instead, maybe Etsy could have given out closer to $10,000 or even $15,000 in scholarships to fewer women. After all, the school is full-time, so you can’t really have a job on the side. Three months of no work, living in New York, and no absolute guarantee you’ll get a job after graduation… Not sure how the math works out here.

Not Beginner Friendly

Hacker School is “for becoming a better programmer”, and “there are no grades, teachers, or formal curricula”. This is NOT a program for beginners. It’s for people who already know how to code, but want to become better and already know what to do. If Etsy’s goal is to “encourage more women into engineering” as they say, I’m not sure how training women who are already encouraged enough to know programming and go into this intense program helps encourage NEW women into engineering.

Considering there was only 1 woman who attended Hacker School out of 20 in the latest batch, I’m not sure there are 20 women out there who already know how to program AND want to attend the expensive Hacker School in New York.

Not Women Friendly

This Hacker School session is meant to be half men and half women, which is why you need to read the fine print for this program (it sounds like an all women program from the headlines). Male engineers tend to be very agressive and focused on competition (I can already see one Felix ruining it for everyone), and I’m just not sure having the program be half women will change the environment enough to be encouraging for women. The Brogrammer culture is really strong, and I just wonder how many women will be told to lighten up.  As Adam Rifkin writes about this on PandaWhale:

2. “Etsy’s initiative will also boost the Hacker School’s female participation. Since it launched in July 2011, it has had only one woman take part in its three-month hack sessions. A prerequisite to attend Hacker School: must love programming.”

Other prerequisites include desire to eat ramen noodles and tolerance for being co-located with smelly boys with poor hygiene. I don’t think of those qualities as attractive to women.

I know that if the women graduate, they’ll need to go into work environments with lots of men, but if the goal is to make women comfortable learning and pursuing engineering, I’m not sure this program starts out very friendly or encouraging.

I guess my point is that if you really want to make this program about women, make it about women and give them all the resources to make sure they succeed. As soon as you put men into the mix, the program is no longer focused on women succeeding, but more on them competing with the men.

Conclusion

I really applaud Etsy for trying this out, but it really seems almost like a half-effort. This is just not an offer I can’t afford to miss. It’s too easy for women to make excuses not to take this. If they really wanted to make this competitive and attract the very best, they could have divided up the money in a way that makes a few good women programmers comfortable going through Hacker School by offering them more money and even a guarantee that Etsy will hire them if they graduate, similar to the Hungry Academy program by LivingSocial (now, THAT was an opportunity of a lifetime). Nevertheless, I’d love to see what happens. If they’re able to get 20 women “who qualify” into this program, I will be really impressed.

What do you think of the Etsy Hacker Grants? Are you applying?

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5 Responses to “The Problem With The Etsy Women Hacker Grants”

  1. bellemcky June 10, 2012 at 11:07 pm #

    Wow. This article was an eye opener. I myself applied and didn’t get it because I didn’t have enough experience as a programmer. *Shrug* it was worth a shot.

    • Natasha Murashev June 11, 2012 at 6:54 am #

      Sorry to hear you didn’t get in. I hope you keep learning on your own though!

      • mekesia June 11, 2012 at 8:34 am #

        No doubt. I’m having too much fun. Besides, I don’t give up. I am a woman, after all!

  2. Laurie July 17, 2012 at 3:34 pm #

    The problem starts much sooner, so I agree that this program is not the right place for Etsy’s efforts. I am a woman and switched majors out of engineering because I had constant reminders that I was “the girl” in the program, and didn’t get the support to make it worth staying. The guys who volunteered to study with me or be a lab partner were all in it for a date – it was really hard to be taken seriously. The only girl who remained in my class was one whose study partner was her boyfriend 2 years ahead in the program. A program specifically for women, where we could get the foundations in a nurturing environment before being tossed in with the wolves to fight, would be a much better spend by Etsy or anyone else.

    • Natasha Murashev July 17, 2012 at 9:49 pm #

      Thanks for sharing Laurie. I have a very similar thing happen to me when I go to tech meetups – as soon as the guys realize I’m not interested in dating them, they find someone else to talk to. That’s why I like going to the Women Who Code and Women 2.0 meetups. It’s a much more open and safe environment.

      Would you be interested in writing more about your experience on Women 2.0? That would be a great topic to cover that I’m sure many women in tech can relate to. Feel free to email me at nmurashev at gmail.

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