Build­ing a Broader La­bor Force

Soft­ware ▶ A Latin Amer­i­can startup is teach­ing young women to code ▶ “We needed to build a team, and there weren’t enough de­vel­op­ers”

Bloomberg Businessweek (North America) - - Technology -

Less than a year ago, Lorena Tor­res was earn­ing about $200 a month, mak­ing choco­lates at home that her boyfriend sold aboard jam-packed, di­lap­i­dated buses clog­ging the streets of Lima. “I was in a bad place,” she says. “I felt badly for not hav­ing work, for want­ing to get ahead and not be­ing able to.”

These days, Tor­res works in fron­tend Web de­vel­op­ment at the in­dus­tri­alchic of­fices of dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing gi­ant Wun­der­man Phan­ta­sia. She’s earn­ing twice as much since hang­ing up her apron, a lot closer to the coun­try’s $524 av­er­age monthly wage, and her boss says her po­si­tion and earn­ing power have room to grow.

Tor­res at­tributes the change to Lab­o­ra­to­ria, a startup that of­fers cod­ing boot camps and job place­ment as­sis­tance to young women in Chile, Mex­ico, and Peru. The three-hour on­line en­trance ex­ams, test­ing ab­stract rea­son­ing as well as logic and math skills, tar­get women who have lit­tle or no back­ground in com­puter sci­ence or col­lege ed­u­ca­tion, says co-founder Mar­i­ana Costa. The ap­pli­ca­tion process also in­cludes in­ter­views and sam­ple as­sign­ments.

Lab­o­ra­to­ria’s first pi­lot pro­gram, in 2014, be­gan after Costa and her hus­band re­turned from study­ing and work­ing in New York to Lima, where they strug­gled to re­cruit de­vel­op­ers for a fledg­ling Web de­sign com­pany. “We needed to build a team, and there weren’t enough de­vel­op­ers,” she says. “Even fewer good ones.” And since only 3 in 10 Peru­vian soft­ware en­gi­neers are women, she says, it was es­pe­cially tough to di­ver­sify her team—un­til she started teach­ing peo­ple her­self.

The five-month boot camp at Lab­o­ra­to­ria, a 9-to-5 (or later) crash course for women who of­ten are staring for the first time at their re­flec­tions in dark­ened com­puter screens, in­cludes train­ing in HTML, Javascript, CSS, and Github. Fol­low­ing its pi­lot in Lima, Lab­o­ra­to­ria grad­u­ated 150 coders in 2015. It’s set to grad­u­ate 300 this year, in­clud­ing in Mex­ico City, San­ti­ago, and Peru’s se­cond-largest city, Are­quipa, as well as the cap­i­tal. Twelve hun­dred women ap­plied, Costa says.

Lab­o­ra­to­ria’s busi­ness model puts it some­where be­tween a con­ven­tional cod­ing boot camp and a mi­crolen­der. Stu­dents agree to pay the startup

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