Since I cofounded Girl Develop It, a nonprofit dedicated to helping women learn software development skills, I’ve learned a lot about how to be a better leader. Here are the key pointers I wish someone had told me when I was starting out.
1. Share your values
Early on in any venture, getting the right people on board is crucial. As it turns out, finding the “right” people has to do with communicating to them why you’re doing something, rather than how you’re doing it. This is crucial because your programs or goals might change over the years, but your core values likely won’t. When your core values are clear, it’s easier for people to support you even as your specific plans change.
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2. Share your vision
Even if you don’t have a plan for how to get there, make a career habit of sharing where you’d like to go. This holds true for dream jobs you’d like to have someday and for programs you’d like to run next month. You’ll be surprised at how many people want to help you succeed—but the only way they can help is if you’re willing to share where you hope to go while you’re still on your way.
With Girl Develop It, we knew adult women could learn to code, and we shared our vision for low-cost, judgment-free classes. We wanted to help women learn software development, but we weren’t sure how to make it sustainable. Over time, we found dozens of companies and community spaces willing to host our classes for free or at a steep discount. We also had people volunteer left and right to teach classes. They all supported our vision, and together we figured out the how and made classes happen.
3. Listen selectively
As a leader, you’ve got to listen to others—but you will drive yourself crazy if you try to follow every suggestion you’re ever given. Leadership is about deciding whom to listen to and then politely ignoring everyone else.
Girl Develop It’s mission is to empower women interested in learning software development. While our work has a positive impact on the tech industry (most of our community leaders work in the industry and many of our students join the industry), we don’t look to the industry as our primary source of guidance; we look to the women we serve.
When we listen to women, we empower them with knowledge and opportunities. We set them up to be role models, and we see them pay it forward by teaching, mentoring and guiding their peers and future generations of women toward making their dreams of coding come true.
Vanessa Hurst is the cofounder of Girl Develop It, a nonprofit dedicated to providing affordable, judgment-free opportunities for women to learn software development.