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Erika Carlson

By Amanda Lewan
September 27, 2013

Learning another language is a daunting task that requires time, dedication, and plenty of practice. Learning to code is like learning another language. Erika Carlson, however, is living proof that with the right guidance and dedication anyone can learn pretty quickly how to code and land a job in Detroit’s tech industry.
Erika didn’t start off as a programmer. She graduated with a degree in psychology thinking she would continue on to graduate school for counseling. As she worked in the field, she began to crave making more of an impact in the world.
Erika had always watched over her husband’s shoulder when he worked on computer programming at home. One summer she tried out a programming class online through MIT. She fell in love with coding and took a few more classes.
"I’ve always been a problem solver and a math nerd," says Erika. "Code is a tool. It’s a way to solve problems in an elegant way."
After only coding for about 10 months, Erika landed a job as a programmer at Pillar Technology. She says the best advice she received was that "there’s no speed limit" with programming.  As long as someone wants to put time into learning how to code, they can learn as much and as quickly as they want.
Erika now works at Detroit Labs as a mobile developer and helps runs the Detroit chapter of Girl Develop It. Girl Develop It is an international organization dedicated to providing affordable programs for teaching women to learn how to code. The Detroit chapter was started by Michelle Srbinovich, Digital Director of WDET, and Erika last November. In just under a year they’ve attracted over 500 members to the group.
The classes are mostly introductory level, teaching all types of programming from HTML and CSS to Python and Ruby. Erika describes it as a great way for women to get their feet in the water. It’s also a great way for others to follow in her footsteps, to learn basics they can build upon and land a job in tech in Detroit.
Technical talent is always in demand, but female technical talent is even harder to find. Getting more women into the tech industry is a concern for companies. According to the National Center for Women in Information Technology, greater diversity on technical teams leads to higher creativity and problem solving abilities in groups. Their studies have also found a higher return on investment for corporations when women are on technical teams.
"I probably get an email every week from companies wanting a more diverse development team. They’re always looking to hire more women," says Erika. "We always ask our students why they are here and what they are looking to get out of their classes. We try to make their goals happen."
Detroit is home to many tech-based companies including Quicken Loans, Detroit Labs, Compuware, and dozens of advertising agencies. Girl Develop It Detroit has established relationships with other groups and companies, helping their students learn where to go next for an internship or job.
The group is also dedicated to making their classes affordable for Detroiters. Erika is currently working on expanding their scholarship program that’s offered through the national organization to Detroiters.
"We don’t want to be a limitation to anyone," says Erika. "We know that $80 for an eight hour class can mean a lot to someone in Detroit. We are always working on ways to continue to make them more accessible."
In Detroit, Erika describes the tech community as supportive and collaborative, an important culture to keep Detroit’s technical hub growing. Girl Develop It Detroit fosters this supportive culture at all of their classes. If you’re interested in picking up a new technical skill, just sign up for their next class. Grab a cup of coffee and learn to code with this energetic and passionate group of female professionals. 

All photos by Doug Coombe. 

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