A recent grad, Emma Koza is no stranger to the Toronto Hustle. In her mini-series, Breaking into the Real World, Koza will explore how she intends to stand out from the throngs of other job-hungry millennials, all fighting for position in the working world. ICYMI, check out Part 1 and Part 2.

Part 3: I’m a Hacker, You?

In a city like Toronto, you can throw a stone and have it land on a reliable coding school. And if you can’t find a stone, just look online. It’s safe to say you’re always a click away from learning code. So when it came to choosing a school, I had the liberty to be really picky. I knew I needed flexibility, structure, support and, most importantly, an environment open to women.

IT is a male dominated industry. Want proof? Just walk into any IT store and count the number of females in uniform. Want quantitative proof? Three of the largest Internet companies – Google, Facebook and Twitter – embarrassingly house less than 20% female employees in their tech departments. How is it that half of the population is so underrepresented in one of the most influential industries of our time?

Sadly, the underrepresentation of women in a major industry is not an anomaly. This problem also occurs in politics and business, where only 10% percent of all CEOs are women. The Internet is quite literally building our future, so why aren’t women’s voices being heard in these top positions and in all industries?

Knowing the number of women in tech, I felt hesitant to jump into just any coding school; I knew I needed an environment I could prosper in as both a coder, and as a woman. After a bit of research and a quick meet and greet with Heather Payne, CEO of HackerYou (successful business owner and woman in tech at only a mere 27 years old), I quickly realized that HackerYou was the place for me.

She told me that a lot of their classes end up being mostly women. Men are of course welcome and they are present, but HackerYou has created a safe learning environment where everyone is welcome. The climate in a place where 30 people from diverse backgrounds and different professional/educational experience come together to learn really is something special. And very different from the large classrooms of sameness at the expensive whitewashed university I went to.

My favourite thing about HackerYou is the supportive and collaborative community they have. My classmates and I show each other cool things we learn, we share our resources and we cheer each other on. Like good friends, we genuinely want each other to succeed. I’ve always been one to shy away from competition, so I’m happy to find a place where people know the success of one person does not take away from someone else’s. We’re taught to embrace challenges rather than fear them because if everything were easy, it wouldn’t be fun.

I’d be lying if I said I was gliding through this program with ease. It’s tough. The days are long, what we’re learning is intense, the expectations are high, and I’ve never been more challenged. Only five weeks in and I know terms and words that I didn’t even know existed before. The feeling that comes when the lights go on and you finally get that mental click after hours of struggling is incomparable.

The fast pace and accelerated learning curve in a boot-camp program are what make it so intense, but fully immersing yourself in something this way allows for maximum comprehension in minimal time. I’ve started to wonder how much time and money could be saved if our formal education system incorporated this boot-camp model.

No matter how stressful or challenging things get while I’m in the final stretch, I know have the resources, support and, most importantly, the confidence to get through.