When Erica Peterson, a Robinson Township housewife and mother of two, couldn’t answer the questions her 5-year-old son, Hesher, was asking about how his laptop worked, she introduced herself to the world of coding – the process of creating software that powers devices, apps and websites – so she could support his learning as he gets older. Peterson assumed that other parents had a similar knowledge void, so this past summer she established Moms Can Code (momscancode.com), a virtual and traditional community of coders.
Since the site’s launch party in early August, it has attracted interest from more than 200 users, 800 e-newsletter subscribers and well over 15,000 visitors from the United States, China, the United Kingdom and various countries in South America. For a modest monthly subscription fee, mothers (and fathers, alike) can access, online and through traditional workshops, content created by moms and guest experts. In fact, several fathers and husbands, one of whom has been a teaching assistant in computer science at a local university, are among the early subscribers to Moms Can Code. Although the company is mostly an online community, meetups have taken place locally, as well as in San Francisco and New York, and similar get-togethers in other cities are in the planning stages.
“Anybody has the ability to code if he or she wants to learn something new.”
“Creating the company has been a great learning experience,” said Peterson. “The most important thing I’ve learned is that anybody has the ability to code if he or she wants to learn something new. Although people come to our website with different levels of experience and different desires to learn, we already have content they can use, or we can put them in touch with people who have materials they can use to become more skilled at coding, regardless of whether someone wants to make a career or sideline out of it, or just increase their subject knowledge.”
Content offered on the Moms Can Code website does not take the place of a “bootcamp” or a computer science degree, and most of the technical information on the website relates to beginner-level programming, such as changing colors when developing web pages.
To foster a sense of community, subscribers hold virtual chats to exchange information, offer support or let others know about new projects that require coding expertise. Although Moms Can Code does not make job placement a priority, Peterson sees it becoming an outgrowth of the chats, which occur twice a month.
“Sometimes, we have guest speakers who talk about various subjects related to coding, and at other times we have experts talk to us about other topics, such as creating a LinkedIn profile or using social media effectively for professional purposes,” explained Peterson.
As for assistance from Pittsburgh’s tech community, Peterson is grateful to numerous organizations, including Innovation Works, which invests capital, business expertise and other resources into high-potential companies with the greatest likelihood for regional economic impact; Work Hard Pittsburgh, a cooperatively owned-and-operated business incubator; and Alloy 26, a cutting edge co-working space in Nova Place (formerly Allegheny Center Mall) on Pittsburgh’s North Side.
Besides providing Peterson with business advice, Innovation Works has sponsored child care at several of the company’s meetup events.
“Organizations in the tech community have been so helpful in so many ways,” said Peterson. “In addition to being knowledgeable, the people really care about helping the company succeed.”
Others helping Peterson grow Moms Can Code include more than a half-dozen independent contractors, including website content managers and site designers, and an accounts manager.
Peterson considers the company a work in progress. “By piloting different meetups, I’m learning what works. My team and I are continually trying to improve members’ experiences and expand the size of the group. By getting more people interested in coding, we’re helping them find innovative ways to bond with their children while expanding their knowledge of a fascinating subject.”
By Todd Miller