Ingrid came to the Full Stack Talent office last week to talk about LaunchCode, Tampa, women’s experiences with tech, and the incredibly amazing Women Ambassadors Forum, which is coming up next week!
Roxanne Williams: I’ve seen your name just about everywhere lately: interviews, videos, etc. – seems like you’re exploding. Congratulations on your success. Can you tell us a little bit about what you’re involved with, such as LaunchCode and Women Ambassadors Forum?
Ingrid Harb: Certainly. I started the Women Ambassadors Forum when I was 18 years old. I grew up in Mexico, and at the age of 16, there was a drug war – it was terrible – and my parents knew it wasn’t safe for me to be in Mexico, so they sent me to a boarding school in Texas. That transition made me realize that in the United States, people see equality as normal – but in Mexico, it’s a privilege. I knew that I needed to create a conference where I could recruit women and offer them tools, knowledge, and opportunities for them to then go back to their countries and give other women a voice. I’ve hosted four conferences in the past, reached over 86 countries, and worked with over 15 Fortune 500 companies. We usually recruit ~15 very international speakers to attend the conference.
As for LaunchCode, every time I look for a job, I look for something that sort of matches my goals and blends in with my mission. LaunchCode teaches people to be software developers for free, and then helps them find jobs. We help them from the moment they join until they get hired. I knew that this would be my way to get more women into tech – so I joined.
Matt Vaughn: Out of curiosity, how does LaunchCode work behind the scenes to keep the program free to aspiring developers? Is it a non-profit, or grant-based, or paid by the company partners?
Ingrid: I’ll give you a story about LaunchCode. It was started by Jim McKelvey. Jim McKelvey founded Square mobile payments, and he noticed that there was a need for developers. He knew that he shouldn’t put a price on being able to get into these roles. He thought of LaunchCode as a non-profit where he could provide free education.
We offer apprenticeships where companies are able to take in our LaunchCoders at an hourly rate without any commitment until deciding to convert them full-time. It’s very low risk for our demographic, because we have students that usually don’t come from a CS degree, or four-year degree, or they’ve done coding on the side, but are in hospitality. This is a great way to really introduce them into this space.
Matt: For coders that are doing it on the side while they’re working other jobs, is there a way for them to get involved with LaunchCode if they don’t want to go off to work with a company and they’re just looking to learn to code for themselves and grow whatever they’re trying to do?
Ingrid: Definitely. Our course is designed for entry-level positions. If you’re already a very advanced student you may join just to get the certificate, which will help, because a lot of these students don’t have degrees, so this is a great way to show companies that they’ve completed a course. A great way for people to get engaged or involved is through tutoring, or becoming a TA. That’s actually a paid position.
Matt: You spoke a bit about the transition of coming from Mexico to Texas, but what was it like moving from Texas to here in Tampa? Was it a hard transition?
Ingrid: It was not a hard transition at all. I was travelling a lot and I remember just taking a weekend trip here and I was like, “Oh my gosh, I love Tampa. I need to stay here.” I came across LaunchCode and I literally called the person who then became my boss. It was something like, “Hey, I saw that your startup is super cool.”
I was craving the startup feeling, because my first job was with a company called Parlevel Systems – they had a vending management system for vending machines – and I was the 7th employee, and it was so cool. I got to create and design products when I was only 17, and it was just such a cool experience. You can get so much more experience and responsibilities at a startup. LaunchCode is not a startup anymore, but it still has that same vibe. They told me that the only position was Tampa, so that’s how I came here.
Tampa is a very, very supportive community. I think if you care and if you’re genuine and you’re passionate about what you do, doors open here.
Matt: What are your thoughts when it comes to technology and talent between Texas, St. Louis, and here?
Ingrid: I think we still have very old-school mentality companies. It’s still very hard to break into that corporate structure. I think, personally, I’ve had a hard time just convincing companies that if they hire people that are motivated and self-taught, they’re going to bring in value to their company. They’re still looking for that perfect developer, and that doesn’t exist. So, it’s definitely been a journey with LaunchCode. We’ve partnered with amazing companies like Jabil, NexTag, Tech Data, Sagitec, and some of the companies that are exploding right now and are growing or established in the community.
In St. Louis, LaunchCode is very established, and instead of us reaching out, people reach out to us. That’s where I want to be in Tampa.
Matt: What tracks do you guys offer, for those that don’t know?
Roxanne: With the Women Ambassadors Forum, I’m sure you’ve heard your fair share of horror stories when it comes to women in tech.
Ingrid: Oh God, yeah.
Roxanne: I’d like to think this is a problem both genders need to tackle. What are some things that we, as individuals, can do to make the tech community more inclusive?
Ingrid: Definitely. I’ll start with men. I think men need to create opportunities for women. They need to be able to mentor and help other women as well in continuing and not blocking when it comes to it. Jeff Vinik is so brilliant, he hires people because of their intelligence and not because of their gender. You can see it in his company and everything that he’s created. Companies, in general, need to hire more women.
Matt: How have you experienced discrimination as a young woman in tech?
Ingrid: It’s been hard. For my first project ever, I was at Cargill in Minneapolis, and I was 22. I’d just graduated college, and when I came into that project, I never said my age because I didn’t want people to discriminate me. One of the women, one of the leaders in the company, realized how old I was and told everyone on the project. And I was just so devastated because I had built something for myself where I wanted them to look at me with respect. That sort of all went downhill.
I’ve also experienced discrimination with salaries. You have to look at other people’s salaries to realize that you’re getting paid less, and then you sort of back up, act on it, and you’re like, hey, either X happens or Y will happen. In tech, that’s what I see. It makes me very mad when I go into companies like Cargill and Boeing and Club Gemini, because women that have been working there for years are still in the same positions, even though they’re just as qualified as men. But men are more confident, and so they’re higher up.
Roxanne: There was a discussion recently about women-focused conferences and events, and there were men that were opposed to that idea because this would exclude men. No, it still says that men are welcome, this is just a woman-geared event.
I spoke up and I told these men that yes, sometimes we do need these safe spaces, because it’s nice not having men harass us or ask us out or mansplain to us while we’re trying to learn something. Those things are important and they do have a place.
Ingrid: And that’s the reason why LaunchCode created a program called Coder Girl where it’s just for women, and it’s a 6-month program for women to learn and grow.
I invite men to my conference because when they see these women in their attire from Africa, from the Middle East, from Asia, from South America, and they see what they’ve accomplished at such a young age and what their mission is, it’s like “Oh, okay, I get it.”
These are women that are blocked in the street from going to work. We had a woman from Pakistan that was supposed to attend, but she ended up not being able to come because she was stabbed 10 times by a guy that didn’t think she should be going to work.
Roxanne: Wow. So how can somebody get involved in the Women Ambassadors Forum?
Ingrid: We’re hosting a conference January 22nd. It’s going to be a very different approach to the conference. It’s going to be an energy-focused breaking-through conference where it’s very applicable knowledge. You’re going to be learning everything and you can take it and apply it in your life, which is what I like. I’m a very hyperactive person. If I’m not learning and being engaged, I will zone out. So, I decided on a way where I can go through it. If I can go through it the whole day, anyone can.
We’ve partnered with Synapse so anyone that buys the VIP ticket to the conference gets to go to Synapse for free, and then we’re doing a VIP dinner where we’re bringing a singer who’s just about to explode. She sang at America’s Got Talent and she speaks 6 languages and it’s amazing. She just signed a record label. She’s whipping ass.
Matt: That’s great. And is it the day right before Synapse?
Ingrid: Yeah, it’s the 22nd.
For LaunchCode, it’s free, so I would just say to stay tuned. We’re going to have our LC101 program soon, which is our 3-month long program. You have to apply and get selected. You don’t have to know coding, you just have to know basic skills that make a good coder. Problem-solving, that kind of thing.
Roxanne: Is it kind of the same thing as SDG where it’s an intensive 3 months, full business day type thing?
Ingrid: No, it’s twice a week in the evenings. We want to make sure we get people that are still working. I feel like if you do it during the day, you’re limiting to a younger demographic, and not to people who are transitioning jobs and figuring things out.
Matt: What do you hope to see in the next few years in Tampa when it comes to tech?
Ingrid: I hope to see companies become more flexible with their hiring practices. I hope to see more women in tech. I think women should also step up and not be afraid of coding, because it’s a problem-solving activity. We are good at it and we’re detail-oriented. I think we’re scared of it because it’s always been defined as this stereotypically white male career, but when you think about it, it’s so much easier for moms if you want to raise your kids – you could do coding, because you could do it anywhere. So, it’s just trying to promote it more so that women realize that it’s a very flexible solution to the problem.
Roxanne: We’ve done a few interviews with women – we’re severely underrepresented, to be honest – but the ones that I have spoken to about what we can do to improve inclusivity, I’ve had most of them be like, “Well we shouldn’t depend on men for that. We should step up and do stuff ourselves. We’re just as capable.” That type of thing. I see the value in that, and it’s great in theory, but I still feel like we kind of need men to help us with that because they’re the ones in the higher positions right now for the most part. So, it’s like, there’s only so much we can do without the other gender helping us too.
Ingrid: Any time I talk to companies, I’m like, “You need to create a different hiring initiative for women.” Because what happens is, women are less likely to apply because they don’t feel ready. And there’s that whole theory of, “I’m never going to be ready.” And men will just jump at the opportunity. I’ll even see hiring managers that, I mean – I try to vouch for the women, but they’re the ones choosing the men, and maybe that’s because they’re similar to them or it’s easier – and that whole theory of hiring people just because it’s easier needs to change. And honestly, it’s all about diversity as well. If you don’t have a diverse pool of employees, you’re never going to have that outcome or you’re never going to reach the whole population because you’re only thinking about the people that are in your company. So even with tech teams, it’s like – women are going to buy the product, so if you don’t have any women on the team helping create and design the product, how does that work? It just doesn’t make sense.
Roxanne: It’s like men inventing the bra. You know nothing about boobs! I think if we as a country were more open to talking about salaries, it’d make everything so much easier. But there’s this whole fear because companies hold the power and if you talk about salaries, well you’ll just end up getting fired.
Matt: That’s always an interesting conversation on our end, not just exclusive to junior or mid level, but with highly-tenured senior professionals too. We’ll ask them how much they want and they’ll say something like $100,000 – but the position starts at $130,000. Way underselling themselves and not knowing their worth.
Ingrid: You deserve more. It’s crazy, and we live it, we see it. I had a student call me asking if she needed to take her PhD off of her resume. She thought that made her intimidating or overqualified. Can you imagine? I’d be bragging that shit everywhere. I’d be like, “I’m a PhD student. Call me doctor.”
Matt: Ingrid? No, doctor.
Ingrid: Doctor. Literally, I’d be like, “Doctor.” Seriously though. She’s like, “Oh, I think I’m overqualified.” And I’m like, “There’s no such thing as being overqualified.” No. So, yeah, I think we’re still 100 years away from it, or more.
Roxanne: That’s sad. So sad.
Ingrid: I know.
Matt: Here’s hoping we fix it faster. How dialed-in are you with the tech community in Tampa when it comes to different local events, conferences, and meetups you attend? You’re newly on the High Tech Connect team if you’d like to shamelessly plug that as well!
Ingrid: HTC is another way for us to find companies to hire LaunchCoders, so for me, I saw it as an opportunity to speed up the process of having to get to that person, and also bringing awareness of what we offer. And then I’m also helping launch a community called Know in Clearwater and St. Petersburg. They currently have a Tampa Bay chapter, and it’s a group of 140 very established women business owners. I wanted to join this community because as much as I’m providing networks for other women, I need to grow mine because these women depend on what I grow. That’s why I’m doing all these interviews: the more I get my message across and the more I expand, the more they expand. So, yeah, the Know community will be launched in Clearwater and St. Pete. We’re going to try and bring leaders, business owners, and advocates that are in the community to be part of this community.
Roxanne: Is there anything you’d like to say to anyone thinking of going into tech? Any words of wisdom, especially for women who may be scared to step into that world?
Ingrid: Just go for it. Find what language you would like to learn about, what excites you, and go for it.
Matt: Speaking of someone going out and doing something that excites them. Who is a person and/or organization that you think is doing something cool or innovative in the area outside of LaunchCode and Women Ambassadors Forum?
Ingrid: Zebrina Edgerton-Maloy. She used to work for the Tampa Bay WaVE, but she started her own thing where she highlights entrepreneurs in the area in a very different way. She’ll create a very beautiful post and a whole concept to promote their business, and she does it out of the care of her heart. It’s so cool when people care so much about highlighting and doing shout outs for others. She’s someone that I truly admire.
Cheryl Hunter is another one. She is a badass lawyer – she’s just a brick wall. She bridged me with another organization called Girls Empowered Mentally for Success, and what they do is they help girls, usually high schoolers that are coming of age, from foster care and abuse. All her programs are designed to help them overcome that cycle.
Roxanne: That’s really cool. Any further thoughts or insights you’d like to share? Anything exciting coming down the pipeline for LaunchCode, for Women Ambassadors Forum, for you?
Ingrid: I’m writing a book. I know I’m very young for it, I’m 24 years old, but I think it’s a way to show women and men that age doesn’t matter when it comes to telling your story. I’ve had so many people tell me, “You’re too young. You should create a girl’s book, a drawing book, or something where it’s more miniscule because you’re not there yet.” And I think that word of ‘there yet’ is never true, you’re never going to be there. So, might as well just jump in the fire and see what happens. So, I’m doing that, the conference is coming up, and then there’s a class for LaunchCode coming up as well.
Roxanne: When does this start?
Ingrid: I think we’re going to start end of February but I’m not sure. I think by first quarter or second quarter of this year. We’re all very excited!
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