It’s hard to miss the statistics these days. It’s even more difficult not to be stunned and overwhelmed by them. Nearly 3 million women have lost their jobs or dropped out of the workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Aptly labeling this a national emergency, Vice President Kamala Harris has said in her Washington Post Op-Ed “it’s enough to fill 40 football stadiums.”
40 stadiums full of women. Forty. Stadiums.
As a workforce development nerd and technologist myself, these numbers leave me speechless.
I’ve spent the last 8 years of my career strategizing educational and vocational training around the world. I’ve helped kids use tablets for the first time in low-income schools in India, launched hackathons across Asia and the Middle East, and became something of a social entrepreneur apprentice with Leila Janah at Sama while she started and ran 4 organizations simultaneously. For the last 5 years, I’ve supported adults re-training for technology careers at Dev Bootcamp and Learner’s Guild in the Bay Area. I co-founded an early stage B2B workforce development startup, selling 6 figure contracts to publicly traded tech companies and raised nearly $2 million for it.
It’s been an incredibly challenging, but rewarding adventure I wouldn’t trade for anything.
If I’ve learned anything from these last 8 years, it‘s that it’s extremely difficult to address the structural and systemic problems that have created such tremendous failure in our education and workforce development systems in the United States. Thus, I’ve spent the majority of the pandemic almost totally silent, extremely troubled about how and where to contribute, and very often, like so many of us, mentally and emotionally unable to handle it.
That’s because I took a desperately needed sabbatical in 2019 — to finally attend a coding bootcamp full time, a luxurious and indulgent investment in myself that I regularly encourage and support without hesitation for others, after years of procrastination and delay— and was supposed to return to my regularly scheduled professional life in the Bay Area in… I say this with tremendous irony, March 2020.
Instead, I quarantined for almost an entire additional year in the country where I studied, Brazil, and worked part time in an entry level career advising position I can probably do in my sleep. I haven’t returned to the United States in what now amounts to almost 2 years.
That is to say, I care deeply about these issues because I experience them directly myself.
Most of us who work in education and workforce problems stay in and return to it because we have such a strong love/hate relationship with the complexity and the challenges we face in this work.
College completion rates are abysmal and are likely to decline due to the pandemic, unemployment and underemployment remain at record highs, the student loan crisis continues to crush millions of Americans, and wealthy corporations benefit from massive tax breaks without much regulation on their participation in and contribution to workforce development and training. Let’s not even talk about corporate diversity, equity, and inclusion.
It’s hard to imagine a more difficult set of circumstances for Americans trying to establish themselves in their careers today. It’s hard enough to hold down a job with a living wage and benefits, let alone develop a career.
Luckily for me, in the last 5 years, I’ve been fortunate to play a small part in more than 500 people’s transitions into careers in technology. I’ve seen former butchers, former public school teachers, former professional modern dancers, former nutritionists, former digital marketers — all reach for high paid technical careers in the most competitive place in the world to do so, the Bay Area, and in nearly all cases, eventually — make it.
These people and their stories offer all of us tremendous hope. They offer a glimpse of what is possible. They offer examples of what we might build. They show us all what we’re capable of achieving.
I want to be very honest and transparent about the fact that bearing witness to these experiences came at tremendous personal cost. In the last 5 years, I’ve been laid off twice, fired once, and burned out to the the point of struggling with suicidal ideations and severe dissociative symptoms like I’ve never experienced in my life. I, too, have been rejected after later stage interviews— sobbing my eyes out on the floor of my bathroom — from awesome positions I thought were my dream job, working on recruiting at Pinterest and Airbnb. That’s the truth about real systemic failures: you don’t emerge unscathed. The system fails all of us.
Turns out, I’m not so separate from the elitism and pedigree bias myself. Turns out I, too, don’t have 15 years of full time work experience for mid-level corporate job, because I’m 30 years old. Turns out I don’t have years of experience scaling to hundreds of millions of customers, not because I’m not capable, but because no Silicon Valley corporate with that scale has taken a shot on me. I don’t magically escape these systems as a career coach. The fire that got lit inside me stays blazing because I see myself in each and every one of the career changers I work with each day.
Nevertheless, in quarantine, I find myself yearning for deeper purpose and a common calling where I can serve the people I love, outside the boundaries and requirements and the schools and programs where I typically work. It’s only natural, right? What better work can we do in crisis than reach for our dreams? What else can we dare to do when we watch an insurrection live streamed on social media, than attempt to re-build our societal foundations?
My biggest dream for the last 5 years has been to build, expand, and modernize the American apprenticeship system. I believe it’s one of few solutions that deeply and meaningfully addresses many of the massive education and employment problems Americans face today.
I’ve worked on apprenticeships long enough to know that most Americans don’t even know what apprenticeships are, let alone why they’re important and why we should have more of them.
That’s why I want to make a bigger contribution to telling the stories of the technologists and apprenticeship programs I know this year, and for as long as I can feasibly do so, to educate more Americans about the opportunities ahead of us in creating and expanding a true workforce development system. The truth is, if I’ve learned anything from studying this space, it’s that as a developed country, we never really built a workforce development system in the United States. We definitely never built one that works for all of us.
Which brings me back to our 40 stadiums of women.
These days, while yes, leaving the workforce in staggering numbers, women are also more likely to be considering a new career field and more likely to be considering going back to school, according to recent LinkedIn Workforce Confidence Index research.
Estimates suggest as much as 80% of unemployed job seeking women may be considering a career pivot these days. I don’t blame them. I’ve been there, girl. We’ve all been there.
That’s why I wanted to celebrate this Women’s History Month and this International Women’s Day by profiling 4 former students I’ve worked with, who have become 4 of the most inspiring women technologists I know — Roche Janken, a Senior Software Engineer at Uber, Meredith Jones, a Senior Software Engineer at LinkedIn, Lupita Davila, a Senior Software Engineer at Twilio, and Amelia Padua, former Senior Software Engineer at Pixavo, now a full time pregnant mom of a 4 year old.
Over the course of the month of March, apprenticeship.io will profile the stories of 4 women Software Engineers at two pivotal career changes — from professional modern dancer, nutritionist, UX designer, and project manager to software engineer via apprenticeship — and then from Software Engineer to Senior Software Engineer via tenacity, dedication, and courage.
The 1st interviews we release for each woman were originally recorded in March to September of 2018 and the 2nd interviews we release for each woman were recorded in February and March of 2021.
That is to say, over the course of the month, you’ll watch 4 women transition from careers largely outside of technology — into training and apprenticeship, to learning about how they became software engineers, and then how they’ve gone for and received their promotion, and navigated work/life balance, even through the pandemic.
You’ll see a snapshot of more than 5 years of a woman’s career and life through these time capsule episodes.
These interviews are packed with great tips, tricks, and learnings about how the tech industry works, how to approach re-training and career pivots, and how to fake it until you make it when you’re in transition. Especially for those of us who don’t have friends and family in technical careers, we hope this glimpse into the real lives and careers of these 4 women will help you on your journey, wherever it may lead you.
So what are you waiting for? Our 1st interview with Roche Janken from Uber from 2018 dropped this Tuesday, and our next interview from 2021 with Roche drops Thursday. We’ll continue dropping new episodes each Tuesday and Thursday of March 2021.
We hope you’ll share these episodes with anyone who might benefit from these stories, especially women in career and life transition and people in positions of power to hire and create apprenticeship programs.
While these days are dire and troubling, one of the best ways we can celebrate and honor the women before and among us is to share our stories and experiences, and let’s not forget, hire the hell out of us. Save your mentorship and scholarships — put your money where your marketing is, and hire us.
Invest in us.
About the Author
Kamrin Klauschie is a believer in underdogs, learning by doing, and technology for social good. She’s worked on the Careers teams at Pathrise, Learner’s Guild and Dev Bootcamp. She’s the co-founder of TEDxUCIrvine, her university’s extension of TED, and Onramp, a B2B workforce development company in Oakland. She used to drive 60 passenger busses and stretch Hummer limos for a living. She loves traveling, reading, dogs, and a good game of soccer.
apprenticeship.io is currently under review with the IRS to become the most exciting new grassroots movement and 501(c)3 non-profit to build and modernize the apprenticeship system in the United States.
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