Episode 27: Helping Low-Income Women Establish Careers in Tech

Welcome back to Tech Forward, listeners! On this week’s episode, I spoke with Michelle Glauser, founder and CEO of Techtonica. Based in San Francisco, Techtonica is a nonprofit that offers free tech training, plus living and childcare stipends, to local women and non-binary adults with low incomes. Michelle is also a software engineer and the lead organizer for PyLadiesSF — the world's largest chapter of women who code in Python. In 2015, she spearheaded the #ILookLikeAnEngineer ad campaign. We discussed her motivation behind founding Techtonica, what makes it different from other boot camps, as well as her journey into tech and entrepreneurship.


Despite a lifelong interest in computers, Michelle found herself working full time at a startup doing everything except software engineering. Noticing the high demand for engineers, she signed up for a training program in 2012. While her experience was overwhelmingly positive — she had a new job within 2 weeks of graduation — she also witnessed, firsthand, the lack of diversity in the tech world. She attributes part of this to the high cost of tuition (which, on average, has since tripled). But that isn’t the only barrier: many programs require participants to already have their own computer or tech network, or impose age limits. Through her crowdfunding work with the #ILookLikeAnEngineer ad campaign, Michelle had the revelation that would steer her towards entrepreneurship: “It was such a big challenge, but at the end of it I thought, I can do hard things! What other hard things can I do?” She turned her attention to socioeconomic diversity.


With the bootcamp model growing in popularity, Michelle didn’t want to reinvent the wheel.  By providing living and childcare stipends to participants, Techtonica supports locals in danger of displacement. “We want to train the people who are already here, alleviate the high and rising cost of living, and have the tech companies who are interested in building diversity support that training.” Companies partner with Techtonica and sign up as sponsors for participants in the 6-month apprenticeship program. After 5 months, sponsors and apprentices interview each other in order to find the best match, and the apprentices have their final month to prepare for their new role within that company. The companies who partner with Techtonica also have diversity and inclusion training to ensure the apprentices enter a welcoming environment.


The curriculum at Techtonica is open sourced and created with input from the sponsor companies and industry professional volunteers. From their rigorous application process, to workshop activities designed to evaluate the characteristics of a successful engineer, Techtonica strives to ensure that every participant ends up in the best possible role. In fact, Techtonica has now graduated its first class of apprentices, and placed 100% of them with partner companies!


If you’d like to support Techtonica’s mission, you can donate, volunteer, or sign up for their newsletter. Michelle, thank you so much for sharing your story this week, and for the work you’re doing with Techtonica. Thank you also to all my listeners tuning in, leaving reviews, and sharing the show. See you next week!


Connect with us

Twitter | Instagram | Facebook