How This Mom of Five and Boot Camp Grad is Helping Teach Girls They’re Smart Enough to Code

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Kids are often asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And while Suzanne Paylor certainly asked herself that question in elementary school, it wasn’t until she was 40 that she took the question seriously—and acted on it.

“I always loved computers,” said the Utah mom, now a web developer. “But when I went to college I didn’t think I was smart enough to major in computer science.”

Now, Suzanne regrets that line of thinking and said that gender bias against girls in tech swayed her choice of study from computers (what she really loved) to biology (what she thought was more reasonable). Suzanne followed a pre-med track at Brigham Young University and worked in a lab doing research for a few years after graduation. But the job wasn’t conducive to having a family.

More importantly, her heart just wasn’t in it.

Fast forward 15 years. The youngest of Suzanne’s five kids has now started kindergarten. One day, she saw an ad for the University of Utah Professional Education Coding Boot Camp. Turns out it would answer her question of what she wanted to be when she grew up. And it would be instrumental in helping her get there.

Redefining goals—and then going after them

As Suzanne’s children grew from babies to school-aged kids, Suzanne started thinking about returning to school. She considered a few options related to her undergrad degree, but “I just couldn’t get excited about any of them,” she recalled.

In the midst of soul-searching, Suzanne found the coding boot camp and was instantly intrigued. So she signed up.

It was a humbling experience. She’d always been a straight-A student, but she found that she had to work much harder to get good grades in boot camp. “After that first day of JavaScript, I went to my car and cried, thinking, ‘What have I gotten myself into?’” Inspired by Reshma Saujani’s message, “Brave, Not Perfect,” she pushed through.

A mission to help others

Some of Suzanne’s kids attend East High, a public high school in Salt Lake City with almost 2,000 students—64% of whom live below the poverty line. The school has an amazing program to support homeless students (there are roughly 100), providing laundry facilities, a washroom, a clothing boutique, and a pantry, so they can look clean and presentable before class every day.

Nearing the end of her boot camp, Suzanne went to the program’s website to make a donation—and a warning popped up saying the site was not secure. She realized that other potential donors would probably be discouraged from donating if they saw such a warning, so she approached the program director with an offer to help.

Suzanne and fellow boot camp students Mark Shin and Max Wilets spent three weeks fixing the program’s website. The finished result was a safe and well-designed site that clearly explains how the program helps East High students, and how people can securely donate to the cause. Suzanne said the program’s success depends heavily on the generosity of local businesses and members of the community, and now they can easily make that happen.

“I had been thinking about the final project during the whole boot camp, asking myself, ‘What can I do that will make this experience more meaningful?’” Suzanne had found her answer.

Keeping the momentum going

Now that Suzanne has finally realized her dream of learning about technologies that once intimidated her, she wants to encourage girls to take the steps she wished she had taken all those years ago. “My biggest goal is to help younger girls see how much potential they have. I want them to know they’re smart enough to learn how to code,” she said.

The confidence boost Suzanne got from boot camp is so empowering that she says, “if I can do this, anyone can do this.” She’s volunteering with an organization called Girls Who Code, which provides thousands of young women with the opportunity to learn and grow their skills in computer science, as well as gives underrepresented groups incredible access to technology.

Introducing girls to tech is important, Suzanne said. And the earlier, the better, “So they can see how fun it is before society tells them that it’s not for them or it’s not cool.”

Suzanne has even encouraged her thirteen year-old daughter, Matilda, to bring her friends to the Girls Who Code meetings. “I was so excited to tell them about my new position and all the doors that are now open since learning to code.”

Women who code

Suzanne recently landed a position as a data ops analyst for Empiric Health, a company that uses data analytics to reduce U.S. healthcare costs. There’s a lot to love about her new career, but one perk in particular makes her smile.

“Last week, I was asked about my new job and what I’d be doing. My five-year-old, Lizzie, was in the room. She immediately put her game down, and proudly stated, ‘My mom will be coding!’ It was a better reward than any paycheck,” said Suzanne.

Suzanne hopes that boot camps will encourage other women who are curious about tech to take the leap. For those that do, she has some advice.

“Stay positive and surround yourself with people who support your goals,” she said. “And if you don’t have a strong support network, get involved and you’ll find one. In the end, the best leads will come from the networks you create. But above all else, do not give up. If I did this at 40, you can do it now!”

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