With a degree in computational physics, Olga Nelioubov was used to studying in a field traditionally dominated by men.
The 2016 University at Buffalo graduate might’ve grown accustomed to a male-centric classroom and professional setting, but she felt like, for better or for worse, she was sometimes treated differently. And when it came to asserting herself, it was difficult to build confidence or earn recognition.
After college, Nelioubov received a job offer as an administrator for a local company and needed to focus on her computer programming skills. Girl Develop It, a national nonprofit that provides programs and networking opportunities for women interested in web and software development, not only helped Nelioubov land a software engineer position, but the Florida native is now a Buffalo chapter leader, helping other women interested in growing their programming skills.
Girl Develop It was founded in 2010 in New York City and has 57 chapters across North America, including three in New York state. Led by Lena Levine, Buffalo’s GDI chapter was the 12th in the country, and currently has almost 800 members.
The organization’s mission is to provide affordable programs for women of all races, income levels, and education levels in a judgement-free setting. Today, it has more than 55,000 members nationally.
Levine has her own web development studio, where she builds websites and applications for companies locally, from Valu Home Center to UB. She launched the Buffalo chapter of GDI in 2013 to give women an environment where they can learn programming languages, network, and ask questions in an effort to break down the barrier of entry that still exists in the computer programming field.
“We started at the brink of the whole Buffalo resurgence,” said Levine, a native of Russia who moved here in 2009. “I’m excited that we were able to contribute to that movement forward as well.”
Girl Develop It works with a spectrum of women, from college-aged seeking a skill set that isn’t offered in a traditional classroom setting, to accomplished professionals being asked to update their company’s WordPress page. Buffalo’s GDI chapter offers “office hour” meetups for coffee and networking, courses in Python programming language, and Saturday morning brunch, with times and locations rotated to accommodate as many people as possible.
Nelioubov leads some of GDI’s local programs and said the mentorship and networking opportunities are as important as reinforcing skillsets.
“Some of the meetups I went to helped more than the classes themselves,” Nelioubov said. “There were chapter leaders there offering clear advice and providing motivation.
“I was timid. I didn’t think I had what it takes to become a software engineer. But [GDI] leaders spoke with me, they coached me, they helped me along, and because of that, I have the job that I have now,” she added.
Nelioubov found confidence through the GDI networking opportunities, where she was encouraged to take chances on her career. “The worst thing they can do is say no,” she said. But for Nelioubov, companies said yes, and relatively quickly.
In addition to courses and meetups, GDI offers bootcamp courses and hackathons, both of which present challenging, supportive environments not always accessible to women in traditional settings. Levine does monthly talks on different technologies and trends and newsletters keep members engaged.
Levine said with more opportunities available outside the traditional classroom setting, programming is becoming more accessible to both men and women. But GDI provides something more: a valuable professional network for women in Buffalo to lean on.
“It’s about getting women excited, and creating a network of women to get more women into the field,” Levine said. “It’s great to see our members get in those great tech jobs and advance their careers. And we are here for them.”
Both Levine and Nelioubov said they see GDI members across Buffalo’s professional landscape in every sector. Liazon has hired other GDI members, Nelioubov said, and Levine has hired GDI members for her studio.
In the university setting, programming languages that are taught often become quickly outdated, or the cost for a semester-long course is prohibitive. GDI members are encouraged to bring their professional projects where program leaders can offer advice and answer questions to push them forward.
“It’s comfortable, it’s welcoming, and it’s really nice to be around other women in the tech field,” Nelioubov said.