This Guy Wants Girls To Skip College And Go Straight Into Tech Jobs

The online coding school Treehouse just launched a "change the ratio" program. Can it help fix tech's diversity problem?

Treehouse, an online coding school, has just launched an initiative called “Change the Ratio” to bring more girls into the tech industry. It joins a growing movement to fix the tech gender gap and comes hot on the heels (flats?) of startups such as PowerToFly, a brand-new website that connects female job seekers with companies across the country.

While organizations like Girls Who Code and Black Girls Code have sprung up to fight the gender gap in the tech sector, Treehouse’s CEO, Ryan Carson, has a unique take: Borrowing a page from the Peter Thiel playbook, he advocates for middle and high school-aged girls to skip college and get real-world job skills instead. “We think there is absolutely no need to get a college degree,” he says. “Employers are disinterested in whether you have a degree or your skin color or your sex. It’s just a question of, “Can you do it?”

Ryan Carson

Carson’s approach is somewhat unconventional. According to recent data, the pay gap between those with college degrees and those without reached a record high last year. Americans with four-year college degrees earned 98% more per hour than their peers without degrees. In tech, it is certainly possible to get a job without a diploma: The last census indicated that 38% of web developers did not have a four-year degree. Yet, degrees are still the norm and recruiters still see educational achievements as an asset.

Treehouse, in partnership with Girls, Inc. and ChickTech, is sponsoring middle and high school girls by giving them the opportunity to learn how to code for free on its platform. When students complete the entire Treehouse curriculum, they will be ready to land tech jobs by the time they graduate, sparing them the cost of college if they choose not to attend. “There is a fundamental disruption that is happening in education,” Carson says. “There is now no correlation between getting an expensive degree and getting a great job in technology, especially as a woman.”

While Carson’s enthusiasm is infectious, the jury’s still out on exactly how a woman’s degree plays into the hiring process in tech. In a study published earlier this year, researchers found that women face deep-seated discrimination when trying to land tech jobs, since employers show preference toward male candidates, even when their female counterparts are equally qualified. Given the bias in the industry, a degree might give a woman an advantage in the hiring process.

One thing’s clear: Girls are socialized to think that science is a masculine endeavor from a young age, so part of Treehouse’s mission with “Change the Ratio” is helping girls reimagine coding as a gender-neutral endeavor. “We talk about solving real-world problems,” Carson says. “We talk about making amazingly fun and creative things.” He also insisted on using an image of a woman on her computer at a coffee shop on the company’s homepage, to make it more welcoming to women.

Treehouse’s “Change the Ratio” program is part of a broader “Code-to-Work” initiative that partners with organizations in underserved areas to give unemployed and underemployed workers the chance to develop tech skills for free, then connect with employers. The goal is to place 150,000 people in computer programming jobs by 2018. Carson says the Treehouse platform is particularly suited to women in these communities who are juggling children and jobs. “It would be laughable to try to go back to school when you are already stretched so thin,” he says. “The idea is to make women job-ready in six to 12 months, by taking classes in your spare time or in the hour before your kids wake up in the morning.”

Since many tech companies are working hard to close the gender gap, Carson encourages women to jump on these opportunities by equipping themselves with the right skills. “This is such an exciting time: If you are a woman who knows how to code, you have a leg up because technology companies want to hire women; they are going out of their way to look for them.”

[Video: Flickr user Unripe Content]

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9 Comments

  • Mariah Lichtenstern-Walebowa

    I'm not buying it. College provides a liberal arts foundation for people to think critically, understand history, philosophy, cultures, etc. This foundation gives context for not only what one does for a living, but how one lives as a productive and informed citizen.

    One should not have to go into debt peonage to obtain that foundation, nor simply to develop job skills, but to encourage women to bypass college en mass is to diminish the value of tech workers, discourage important relationship and network building that will follow them throughout their lives, drive down wages, and dumb down workers, making them more complacent "doers." No, no, NO!

  • Not to quibble but when Ryan says:

    .... “Employers are disinterested in whether you have a degree or your skin color or your sex. It’s just a question of, “Can you do it?”

    that is of course complete nonsense. Ryan is a lovely guy - heck I created and taught a course on Objective-C and C for Treehouse - but he has know idea what he is talking about here.

    Anyway, I spent 8 years at Apple in Cupertino surrounded by brilliant folks who had a whole lot more going on then tech knowledge. Art, design, music, literature. Vast worlds of knowledge that go far beyond coding. Where are these young 'Treehouse graduates' going to get that knowledge?

    Particularly as tech moves to mobile, young people will be required to be far broader then straight coders. Design chops are essential. College can be an excellent place to have the random serendipitous interactions vital to this broadening.

  • I know that what Ryan Carson is saying here might sound a little extreme, but as a female and someone who did this myself, I think it's definitely a good option for women who cannot afford a degree, be it due to financial circumstances or time constraints.

    In my case, I did not want to saddle myself with enormous student debt and the course offerings did not seem to suit my interests or overlapped with my existing skills (I was a nerdy kid). I got a job with a big tech firm right out of high school, and right from the get-go I was making a good wage. I have since gone to design school and transitioned into working for myself as a self-employed web and graphic designer / coder and the availability of online courses to keep my skill set current is just amazing. Keeping a focus on what you want to do and the skills you need to do it is the main thing, and I think with a 'track' laid out for you, it would make things a lot easier.

  • If the video at the top is this guy. Then first thing is he nees to lift his wrists off the table before he gets a repetitive strain injury.

  • tkennedyhill

    There needs to be a balanced approached to this--while inspiring that they are encouraging women to enter into a traditionally male dominated field there is absolutely no reason to discourage pursuing a higher degree which provides longer term job stability. Perhaps the tech industry provides more flexible job placement opportunities to support women while they are in college to both gain the technical skills but also advance in leadership/management positions. College degrees also provide the additional confidence boost for women to overcome institutionalized barriers to success.

  • Advice from the able-bodied white male that will only work for other able-bodied white males. This is simply moronic and horrible advice for anyone other then able-bodied white males - and maybe even for them.

  • gabush

    The bad news about this is that it seems to ignore that a person's quality of life benefits a lot from a college experience and the broad academic exposure you receive there. The good news about the idea is that most people are probably not prepared to get the most from college right out of high school. Some work experience, global service experience or even a couple of years in the military gets the mind ready to learn and grow in a way that college can offer a person. The best part is that girls who go through this will likely feel more accomplished and that they really belong in a high achieving environment.