Estimated read time: 7-8 minutes
OGDEN — Not too long ago Natalie Taylor, a disabled, recently divorced mother of two daughters on the autism spectrum, was somehow stretching $1,000 a month to meet her family's expenses. Now, with help from a Utah organization, she is on her way to a well-paying career in tech with skills she never knew that she could develop.
When she first saw an article about Tech-Moms, an organization specifically designed for Utah mothers looking to develop skills and connections to launch their careers in the state's bustling tech sector, she didn't know if it would be a good fit, but she decided to try anyway — for her kids. She didn't want them to know what it was like to wonder if they would make it through the day.
"I never thought in a million years that coding would be something I would enjoy," she said. "Little did I know that my personality could solve computer problems well. It lit up a part of my brain that had never ignited before. It lit a new fire inside of me and brought me hope I haven't known or seen in so many years. It brought a part of me to life that I honestly had lost sight of for a long time."
Tech-Moms, which has operated for over a year under RizeNext, recently announced that is becoming a separate, independent nonprofit. Within the past year, the organization has partnered with Weber State University, Salt Lake Community College and Utah Valley University to launch six cohorts of a nine-week training program and created a sister program called Tech-Moms Latinas, training 80 women in tech skills.
"We were thrilled to support Tech-Moms over the past year as it tested and proved its market and client base during its early stages. Tech-Moms had a stellar first year and is now ready to move into this space as an independent entity," said RizeNext CEO and founder Trina Limpert, also a co-founder of Tech-Moms. "RizeNext will continue to sponsor the mission of Tech-Moms, which is to help women transition into tech careers and to diversify the overall tech talent landscape."
The program has three main pieces: basic coding instruction, exploration of tech careers, and building a strong network and support for women. Some graduates of the program have landed jobs at Degreed, Bamboo HR, Skill Struck, Vistaprint, 3M, MX and other local tech companies. Others have gone onto more training and education with coding bootcamps or certificate programs.
Robbyn Scribner, co-founder of Tech-Moms, was a stay-at-home mom of six for 15 years before she made a transition back into the workplace. She hadn't kept her network connections up to date and "just had to kind of create opportunities" but in the end "was successful and had a great transition back to work," she said.
She realized that, specifically in Utah, there was a large untapped workforce of women like her who just needed something to smooth out that transition. She and other Tech-Moms co-founders Limpert and Mikel Blake had experience in the tech industry and realized it would be the perfect fit for mothers wanting to return to the workforce because of its flexibility, its ability to work remotely, its high pay and its dedication to diverse hiring.
And Utah, with Silicon Slopes and high amounts of stay-at-home mothers looking for flexible work, seemed like the perfect place to bridge those gaps and create a "match made in heaven," Scribner said.
Referring to the fact that women were among the first programmers, Taylor stated, "As they tell us when we first start the program, the tech industry was actually started by women. Men came in and kind of shouldered us out. But really, it's ideal, like it's made for moms." Especially when it comes to parenting children with disabilities who need great health care benefits and flexibility, she added.
Scribner said that the organization is becoming an independent nonprofit so it can raise more money and apply for more grants to pay for the tuition of the massive influx of 150 women who are waiting to be part of the fall cohort. The current tuition price is $400, and there are payment plans available so it can be accessible to the women who need it.
Last year Tech-Moms was able to raise money through its higher education partners as part of the CARES Act, a coronavirus relief bill. This year it has been relying on corporation donations, sponsorships and foundation grants from companies like Comcast, Facebook and Pure Storage.
"We are seeking to scale this program to be able to serve the pipeline of women looking to get into the tech industry. This resource of highly skilled talent has been overlooked for too long and they are ready and eager and just looking for a little support," said Blake, one of the co-founders of Tech-Moms who will lead the new organization as president.
When the Tech-Moms co-founders were preparing to launch the program, the pandemic hit. They considered waiting, but as they saw just how hard the pandemic and the recession were on women in particular, they decided that it would be a perfect time to get started.
Del Yarisantos was let go from her job at a tech startup and became one of 5.4 million women globally who lost their jobs during the pandemic. She had some money saved, but she knew that she would need to start working to be able to provide for her two girls as a single mother. She googled "Utah tech moms" and the first thing that came up was the program's site. She applied and became part of the first cohort of the pilot program during fall 2020.
Before she worked for the startup, she, like so many women, had to sacrifice pay equity and safety in order to just keep her finances afloat. When she asked for a raise or for better treatment, she was told just to be grateful for what she had, dream small and "go after the scraps," she said.
"That's prejudice in its purest form. It's like a triple whammy," she said. "I'm a first-generation Asian American, a woman and a single mother. Growing up as a minority, me and my family, we were grateful for whatever we could scramble for. We don't fight for what we're worth. I'm surrounded by people trying to progress and make changes, but they keep telling me that I should be grateful for the minimum."
Now she has a full-ride scholarship to a coding bootcamp and is leading winning teams in local hackathons, finishing up her master's degree in tech management and refusing to settle for less than what she's worth. She also was a coach for the Tech-Moms Latinas program and will be a teaching assistant for the Ogden cohort this fall.
"With Tech-Moms Latinas, for some of these women, it was their first time opening a laptop," Yarisantos said. "They're still dealing with mental, cultural stigma blocks that these women are not aware of. There hasn't been anyone who has told them that it's not OK (to be treated this way)."
But that doesn't mean they aren't perfectly capable of developing these skills, she added. She felt stretched beyond her comfort zone, but that's when she found what she wanted out of her career and her life.
"Tech-Moms showed me that if I just believe and show up and do the work, anything is possible," she said.
Taylor feels similarly. The program helped her to believe in herself and invest the time in herself she needed to develop these skills, and "that would be life-changing for my daughters and me," she said. "It opened so many doors and windows and brought in so much light that something like that could be possible for me as a woman and without a four-year degree."
Tech-Moms is accepting applications for its fall cohort. Applications are available at the Tech-Moms website, and Scribner is happy to speak with anyone who is unsure if they will be a good fit.
Correction: An earlier version incorrectly reported the University of Utah as an academic partner with Tech-Moms instead of Weber State University.