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Developing New Pathways For Women In Coding

"Why would you pay people to learn? We just think it's the right thing to do." How Envato is supporting the next generation of female developers.

Posted 17 Sep 2020
Rubber ducks print

Dr Seuss once remarked that ‘we have brains in our head and feet in our shoes so accordingly, we can steer ourselves in any direction we choose.’ For some, these paths are straight forward and linear but for others, the paths are an adventure in surprise and circumstance. 

Brieanna Macnish proudly falls into the latter category. Just two years ago she was working five part-time jobs as she pursued a career as an artist, but one with a love for coding things and a keen desire to “create stuff other people would find use in”, as she puts it. 

Fast forward to 2020 and Brieanna is a Junior Developer at Envato and one of the most recent graduates of Envato’s Developer Apprentice Program, a dedicated 12-month intensive learning program that aims to provide new pathways for aspiring female developers in Australia’s local tech sector. 

“Even though I hadn’t finished high school maths and felt my strengths lay primarily in creative fields, I began to discover a passion for writing small programs to automate the boring work out of my multiple administration and customer service jobs. However, when I imagined what someone who wrote code for a living looked like, they didn’t look like me,” says Macnish.

“I knew pretty much nothing about what the tech industry was like, but the more I researched software development the more I felt it would fit well with my desire to work with a team of people to solve interesting problems and build stuff that other people find use in. My hunch was that software development could give me those things and, so far, I’ve been right.”

Developing New Directions

Macnish is one of five graduates of the program since it first started in 2017, a point of some pride for Developer Mentor and program manager Mario Visic. “The proudest moments for me are definitely when the apprentices graduate and go into their full-time roles as developers at Envato. I also really enjoy it when I get feedback from someone outside of the program who tells me that one of the apprentices or graduates is awesome.”

The grassroots program was conceived and developed in-house by Visic and include a mix of classroom-style teaching and immersive work in developer teams across the business. Each apprentice develops real-world software development skills across broad areas such as planning, estimation, communication, collaboration, writing and testing code, deployment and monitoring their changes through to production. There are also deeper dives into technical learnings that focus on Ruby, Ruby on Rails, JavaScript CSS, HTML, object modelling, tooling, source code control and more. There are only two apprentices each year, with a job as a Junior Developer on offer if the apprenticeship is successfully completed. 

“When creating the program we wanted the focus to be on learning real-world software development”, says Visic, “so focusing on working with existing teams rather than building projects that wouldn’t go into production, and we also wanted to focus on a quality program by keeping apprentice numbers low.”  

These two fundamental ideas guide the current apprentice program, but Visic and the teams that host the apprentices regularly reflect on how things are done, consistently tweaking how the day-to-day of the program works in order to improve the experience for the apprentices.

“It’s more than just a classroom. Our apprentices are shipping real changes to our products here at Envato, they’re not just learning by creating projects that never see the light of day. They’re having a real and meaningful impact on everything we have to offer,” says Visic.

Chief Technology Officer Anthony Burgon agrees, noting that the program has had a profoundly positive impact on Envato’s entire developer cohort. “It sends the signal that we believe strongly in giving more opportunities for aspiring female software developers. As a company, we speak prominently about supporting diversity and inclusion and this is another way we can put that into action. The program provides for considered learning across the business within a supportive framework where our apprentices end up working as developers within our teams, which in turn helps all of our developers participate in a learning and growth culture.

A Well-Supported Journey

Reflecting on her time as an apprentice, Macnish says the program supported her in ways she never imagined. “I couldn’t believe that the company genuinely wanted to invest in my long term success. I had come from the arts industry which is hugely competitive, where opportunity and resources are scarce, so it was definitely a new experience to have resources and support poured into my development.”

“I was really surprised by Mario (Visic’s) focus on slowly and methodically building skills in a measured way. We were told not to do ‘homework’ and that we were running a marathon, not sprinting through our apprenticeship. We weren’t expected to be brilliant on day one, but rather to be willing to learn and continually grow. As a result, the program was deeply supportive, people-focused and built towards long term success in a way I hadn’t experienced in my professional life before. I’m incredibly grateful that this has also been my experience of the whole company so far, not just the Apprentice program.”

It’s an experience that Hayley Wiegmink is looking forward to, as she steps down from her role as Content Group Team Assistant to take up one of the two 2020-21 apprenticeships. “I am expecting to learn a bucket load and for my brain to explode a little, but in a good way! I think I am most excited about getting a bigger picture of how things work at Envato and being able to give back in a way that I find meaningful.”

“Prior to working at Envato I hadn’t had much exposure to the tech industry and so I was pretty green on how things operated; it never felt like something that was accessible to me so I never really gave it any consideration. But then I started working at Envato and was surrounded by tech people and I remember thinking to myself in awe: “OMG – these are my people!”. Then I learnt about the apprentice program and suddenly I was filled with optimism about what my future could hold.”

This is the exact excitement and energy that Mario Visic is hopeful of harnessing for many years to come. “The feedback has been nothing but wonderful from everyone, Envato has been very generous in running this program and It’s a great benefit to not only Envato but the broader software engineering community.”

“A lot of people who aren’t familiar with the kind of company that Envato is, usually ask me what the catch is. “Why would you pay people to learn?”. It takes some time to explain that there is no catch, we just think it’s the right thing to do.”

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