Financial software giant Intuit and non-profit AnitaB.org joined forces for a new pilot program designed to increase the number of women in tech and help those who may be switching careers.
The first Apprenticeship Pathway Program saw 11 women take part in a six-month software development program where they learned specific tech skills, received mentorship from developers within Intuit and supported each other as they transitioned into a new field.
The program was built to help those without programming experience. It was tailored specifically toward those who may have a general interest in tech but have not previously worked in tech-focused roles before.
The free program paid the apprentices as they learned software development, and it was entirely remote, allowing applicants to join from anywhere. All of the hardware, software and other tech tools were provided to participants. For those who complete the program, there will be opportunities to work for Intuit in California.
AnitaB.org CEO Brenda Darden Wilkerson said the program provides ample opportunity to not only transition to new work but diversify the tech talent pipeline.
"One of the things we look to do at AnitaB.org is really dispelling the myth that there's only one narrow pathway into tech. There are now multiple pathways into technology," Wilkerson said. "This was a chance to get more women, and women from all backgrounds, into tech."
Wilkerson added that 475 people applied for the 11 spots, showing that there is widespread interest in these kinds of programs.
Intuit's Tracy Stone, who leads the initiative, told ZDNet that the company is interested in learning how to attract, engage and develop women in technical roles and had previously held other programs designed to diversify their workforce.
The program was split into three phases: the learning phase, the apprenticeship phase and the career support phase.
"We saw the success of these non-traditional pathways into tech, and we wanted to build on that," Stone said.
"The apprenticeship phase is where they worked with our software development team doing work and actually developing software for our products. They're embedded in our team and doing real work. Our goal is to support them, enable them and launch them into their careers as software developers."
Wilkerson said that while roles at Inuit are expected for the participants, the program had other benefits, including the connections made with other women through the program, the skills learned, and the mentors acquired.
She added that the "earn as you learn" model of apprenticeship was important because it allowed the participants to focus and get the best of their training without having to worry about another job.
In addition to the help provided to the participants, Stone said that the company held workshops and provided each person with one technical mentor and another mentor. Apprentices also were able to have conversations with senior Intuit leaders and others within the company.
Wilkerson noted that the program was also helpful for Intuit because it allowed the company to access a different talent pipeline. Instead of the typical hiring situation where someone interviews multiple times and is hired, Intuit spent months working with the 11 women, getting to know them and learning about how they work before hiring them.
"The other great thing is that the participants have a community. They know each other. When I was starting out as a technologist, I went in alone, and many times if you have questions about anything, technical or otherwise, you're kind of on your own," Wilkerson said.
"These apprentices have come along together, and the program provides additional support and counseling and will continue for some time after they're done."
Tamika Hayes, a participant in the program who transitioned to tech after a long career in nonprofit and higher education communications, said she had been looking for different apprenticeships and opportunities but was struck by this one because she felt safe and empowered by the idea that she would be working with a group of women, many of whom are women of color.
"To be able to problem-solve together with a group of really amazing women and build expertise and confidence together was phenomenal. I think this served me well in the apprenticeship phase," Hayes said.
Stone added that Intuit made sure to put the 11 women on just a few teams so as not to spread them out too thin and allow them to continue building the community that was fostered during the initial phases of the program.
Wilkerson urged those who may be afraid of switching careers to take the leap, considering how much tech changes on a year-to-year basis.
She said women and people from diverse backgrounds are needed in the tech world, and there have to be different pathways into technology positions besides the typical routes. She wants more companies to start apprenticeships like this to bring on more diverse developers.
Stone said that while this was a pilot, they are interested in continuing the program and are already looking ahead to the next cohort to see how the program will evolve and grow.
There is also hope that the first cohort of participants will be able to mentor the next round of women who come through the program, helping support them in their journey as developers.
Stone also noted that the program has had an impact on Intuit's employees as well, explaining that many were thrilled to participate as mentors and help a new generation of people become software developers.
Hayes said the program helped her because she initially made several forays into learning to code on her own and needed the structure, stability and support to focus on coding.
"To anyone that has sincere interest or feels drawn to tech but isn't sure because they don't already have the background in it, I would say apply and make an effort. There's no way of even knowing what is possible for you until you're in the environment. I can't think of a better way to have been guided into tech and a tech career," Hayes said.
"I've been encouraged every step of the way and challenged as well in ways that have really allowed me to grow both as a technologist and as a person."