This week our executive director of the code school, Jessica Mitsch, was chosen to be the News & Observer’s “Tar Heel of the Week.” In an interview, Jessica discussed her role leading national partnerships for The Iron Yard, supporting the school’s alumni and how she is helping foster diversity in the tech industry.
Read an excerpt of Jessica’s interview below:
Jessica Mitsch recently quit using the term “guys.”
The Raleigh native and executive with The Iron Yard, a training school for software developers, adopted the term so that she could quit using “y’all” when addressing groups outside the South.
But she felt the sting it can carry in a field dominated by men when a young entrepreneur described to her what kind of “guys” he hoped to hire.
“He wasn’t using the word “guys” as a colloquial phrase for people,” she says in a post on the InfoWorld blog. “When he sat down to envision who he was going to hire, he thought ‘guys’ – that is, young adult men.”
As executive director for The Iron Yard coding school, Mitsch’s job is to forge national partnerships, support the school’s alumni and help increase the diversity of its students – putting her on the front lines of a national effort to bring more women into tech-based careers.
The school, which has locations in Raleigh and Durham, has experienced massive growth in recent years, from just three locations when Mitsch started there three years ago to more than a dozen today.
The school offers a $1,000 scholarship to female and minority applicants, and is in the process of launching a $100 million diversity fund in partnership with other schools that will provide full-tuition scholarships to underrepresented groups, including women.
Peter Barth, CEO of The Iron Yard, says the fund is an important step.
“There is no one-size-fits-all solution that will increase access to tech education and improve diversity in the workforce,” Barth said. “The Tech Opportunity Fund approaches these issues holistically and coordinates local and national resources to provide students with both academic opportunity and the support system they need to be successful.”
Mitsch says getting women into technology companies right out of fast-track programs like the Iron Yard will help the next generation of female programmers feel at home in a male-dominated field.
“Ultimately, representation is what is going to shape the future of the industry,” she says. “We have to make sure there are more women in there, making it a welcome and inclusive environment for today’s girls.”
An intro to tech
Mitsch was born in Raleigh and spent much of her youth in Cary. Her parents run Pyramid Resource Group, a Cary corporate training company, which she says allowed her to grow up amid the kind of entrepreneurial spirit that pervades the tech industry she now works in.
But her early experiences hardly pointed toward a technology career. As a student at Martin Middle and Enloe High schools in Raleigh, she focused heavily on the arts, taking classes in pottery, art and particularly dance.
She majored in religious studies at the College of Charleston, a small liberal arts college, with a minor in dance – a focus that expressed her interest more than her career ambitions.
“I’ve always been interested in the study of people and humanity,” she says.
She landed a job in the human resources department of Red Hat after graduation, where she worked for three years, including one in Washington, D.C.
The company introduced her to the technology sector, where she felt at home among the largely young and vibrant workforce.
Continue reading the full article in the News & Observer here.