For Libby Wuller, starting a new school has involved some myth-busting — myths such as: a good education costs a lot of money up front; you have to be good at math and science to do well in a tech field; software engineering has been traditionally male-dominated.
Wuller became executive director of the Holberton School’s Tulsa campus in October, and the school launched its first cohort of students in January. Her first months on the job were a blur of soliciting potential applicants and building relationships with area employers.
“Now that we’re up and running, I still do both of those things,” she said.
But she also focuses on making sure students are supported in the school’s unique structure. Holberton students don’t pay tuition; after graduating and landing a job, they pay the school a percentage of their income for a few years.
“It’s a contractual promise that we will give them a best-in-class software-engineering education,” Wuller said.
And if students don’t make more than $40,000 a year after graduation, they don’t pay anything.
“We are literally invested in their success,” she said, adding that housing assistance is available, too.
Wuller and Holberton are also intent on breaking stereotypes about who makes a good software engineer.
Wuller noted that in the 1950s and ’60s, the U.S. was graduating an equal number of women and men from software engineering programs. But then came the rise of the isolated coder — the nerdy guy wearing a hoodie and working in his basement.
In reality, she said, “the things that make a good programmer are someone who is inquisitive and determined and creative — someone who has grit. And I think that’s actually something women do very well.”
Wuller sees an opportunity to help reframe women’s roles.
For the school’s part, she looks forward to seeing Holberton build strong partnerships with organizations such as the Tulsa Dream Center and the Girl Scouts to reach future coders earlier.
For her part, she follows the advice she gives young women: Surround yourself with strong women.
“It’s those strong interpersonal relationships that women are so good at building that can actually become such a strong business asset,” she said.
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