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Tech-Inclusive Lowers Barriers to People Entering the Tech Industry

Laura Cowan

By Laura Cowan

Laura K. Cowan is a tech editor and journalist whose work has focused on promoting sustainability initiatives for automotive, green tech, and conscious living media outlets.

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An Intro To Programming class put on by Tech-Inclusive. Ronda Bergman pictured left. Courtesy photo.

What does tech need more of? What we hear on an almost daily basis is: inclusion. But there's more to it than hiring people of another gender or race or cultural group. No one wants to be a token hire. What new group Tech-Inclusive is doing, according to co-founder Ronda Bergman, is lowering the barriers to people entering tech by offering them coding classes, and general support for minorities in tech including women, people identifying as LGBTQ+ or women of color. Bergman and her co-founders Megan Boczar, Emily Drier, and Selena Strain work together to offer practical steps to welcome and include people in the tech industry in Ann Arbor, which is facing a continuing hiring shortage along with many other tech towns.

The primary Tech-Inclusive group meets on the 2nd Saturday of every month for coding classes at Espresso Royale on State Street. You can also find Ronda around town hosted in places like Arbormoon (who are hosting Tech-Inclusive for Tech Trek) and Atomic Object screening movies and hosting events such as her upcoming Meet The Company, where the group can hear from a local tech company and learn about the culture and what it takes to get hired there.

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Ronda Bergman taught for the Iron Yard and was a leader of the local Girl Develop It chapter in Ann Arbor. Courtesy photo.

Bergman says she started the Tech-Inclusive group because she has worked in tech on the back end for 20 years, but at one point she went to a tech meetup and no one spoke to her the entire night. She says it wasn't malicious, but nevertheless she didn't feel welcome, and she often walks into a tech event and has people assume she's a graphic or product designer rather than a coder because she's a woman. She is most definitely a back-end engineer. She currently works as Engineering Program Manager at Criteo. Bergman started Tech-Inclusive to create a space where people always felt welcomed and included and could get into coding more easily.

"We do networking events, classes. It's all different things: primarily intro to coding. I used to be a bootcamp instructor for The Iron Yard. I taught programming for them for a while. I can teach in C Sharp. Generally it's community volunteers teaching these classes. We've done intro to Javascript, Intro to databases, intermediate versions of both of those."

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Tech-Inclusive's Code & Coffee meetup at Espresso Royale on S. State Street in Ann Arbor. Courtesy photo.

"The class I taught [recently] is if you can show up and turn on your computer, I'll have you writing code by the end of the night," Bergman says. "I want to show people it's not scary, it's not hard, you don't have to be a math expert to do this. We want to serve our already technical people as well. Right now I'm putting together intro to object oriented programming."

"My big thing is to lower barriers to entry," Bergman says. "The class I taught [recently] is if you can show up and turn on your computer, I'll have you writing code by the end of the night."

"[Our most recent] class was at Atomic Object. Generally for each event we look for a host sponsor and a food and beverage sponsor. Because we're trying to lower the barriers we tend to have our classes after work, and we want to make it easy to attend so we feed people. [Our] food sponsor [this time] was a company called Tech Elevator, a new bootcamp in Detroit hosted out of TechTown." 

Tech-Inclusive is already being talked about around town, but it's so new it doesn't yet have a website. Meetups can be found here.

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Ronda Bergman, co-founder of Tech-Inclusive.

"We want to connect companies with our membership. That's what Meet the Company is for," Bergman tells us. "We want to create a one-evening event that's like an in-person Glassdoor. We don't have a date yet. We're getting through Tech Trek and Self Conf first, and then planning. The plan for that is get three or four people who work at the company and just have them talk about the company and what they do. What does the company do? How did the company get started? What's the company's tech? What programming languages do they use? How did they get hired? What would it take to get hired here? I've got a lot of people just getting into tech and figuring out what to learn and what company will hire them. My advice to them is find some companies you think are cool, find out what they do, and learn it." 

"What programming languages do they use? How did they get hired? What would it take to get hired here?"

"As a woman in tech, the more I know about the company, the more likely I am to apply. Coming into a situation where you may the only one of whatever you are, knowing it's going to be some place you can be comfortable ahead of time is huge. I like to do this and let people get to know companies and know they can feel comfortable and included."

The Tech-Inclusive group also aims to serve more senior tech folks with networking and more advanced classes, but is starting with the people who need the most help making connections, for their sake and for the sake of hiring tech companies who have a hiring shortage. Tech-Inclusive often functions as support for people sometimes dealing with workplace issues as well. "The hardest thing for women in tech is am I crazy?" Bergman says. "Am I making this up? Am I overreacting? It's nice to have someone to talk to.... I try not to give too much advice." 

Bergman says that her best advice for people who want to advocate for minorities in tech is this: create a code of conduct and publish it.

Bergman says that her best advice for people who want to advocate for minorities in tech is this: create a code of conduct and publish it. She clearly cares deeply about people, and about making everyone feel welcome in an industry that has a high barrier of entry on several fronts. The best thing people can do who want to make tech more inclusive, Bergman says, is to make sure everyone knows what's expected and when there is an issue, to address it and try to do better next time. You can reach Bergman by email here. She is looking for volunteers to help teach more advanced coding classes for Tech-Inclusive and with her co-founders is currently moving into the funding phase as Tech-Inclusive ramps up its offerings and programs.

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