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