When Suzie Nieman, the new Chapter Leader for Girl Develop It, first caught the tech bug, she relocated to Philly to be closer to some gigs in New York, but she soon fell in love with Philly’s food scene, water ice and neighborhoods, so the Kentucky native carved out a niche and a job here. After test-driving a few neighborhoods, she settled on South Philly, where she lives with her two dogs.
By day, Nieman is a technical project manager at Four Kitchens. We recently talked with Nieman about her role at Girl Develop It, a nationwide movement (there are 58 chapters and counting) run mostly by volunteers to provide affordable, “judgement-free” web and software development training for women (and men, too). Last year, the nonprofit offered 60 classes and is on pace to exceed that number in 2018.
What is the mission of Girl Develop It?
Girl Develop It is all about making women feel empowered and providing them with affordable opportunities to learn things that they might not have been able to learn otherwise, and to learn those things alongside other women who have the same kinds of goals so they have a supportive community.
From your perspective, what does it mean to be Chapter Leader?
I’ve been involved with Girl Develop It for a while. [As chapter leader], you’re driving forward the mission for the individual chapter and you’re the link between Girl Develop It HQ and Girl Develop It Philly and all the activities going on at the city level. There’s so many amazing potential ideas for events and panels and classes, but kind of keeping everyone’s energy focused on things that contribute back to the mission and getting as many classes on the calendar as possible to meet demand.
Why are you so passionate about Girl Develop It’s mission and supporting parity for women and girls in tech?
When I transitioned into tech, I didn’t have a resource like Girl Develop It. A lot of my passion comes from wanting to help as many other women as possible realize, ‘Hey, this is not as intimidating and scary as I think that it is.’ It is very achievable.
Girl Develop It is here to say, ‘You can totally do this.’ And not only that, here are some resources to help you and a community to cheer you on.
Besides the classes, what other resources does Girl Develop It offer?
For our community, we offer Code & Coffees, which are study groups and community networking events. If you have a project that you’re working on, you can bring that and ask for help. You can come and meet other people in the community without it being a formal class environment. We also have an active online presence on our Slack community where people can reach out, whether they need help with what they’re working on, if they’re looking for a job, or people who are hiring can come on and let us know of opportunities that could be a good fit for [the] community.
Why do women need a separate arena to learn about tech?
From my experience, there can be a lot of sexism in the industry … people assuming someone is not a software engineer based on their gender, when they very much are. Things like that are common.
[Girl Develop It] is having a space to talk about those challenges and not feel like you’re worried about asking the wrong question. The focus is on women and making them feel empowered and not judged and putting that first. We’re setting the tone for the learning environment.
What’s your game plan for Girl Develop It Philly?
We’re fortunate to have an amazing presence here in Philly; [nearly] every class that we post sells out. The goal right now is to be able to meet demand. So that involves more partnerships and spaces in the city to offer our classes and mobilizing our community a little more. We have a lot of people saying to us, ‘We want to help,’ so one of the next big goals is to define how. Also reaching communities we haven’t reached yet — lower-income communities and communities not necessarily tapped into the tech industry that would benefit.
Responses have been edited for clarity and length.