Shannon Burns was pleasantly surprised and financially unprepared when she was accepted to Hackbright Academy. Coming from a low-income network, Shannon had to think fast, so she founded Hacking for Women and the CodeShannon Scholarship to finance her own education, and she’s not stopping there. Shannon will “fund-it-forward” by donating 10% of her first year’s salary to support another woman’s coding education.
We talk with Shannon about her journey to Hackbright, her goals as a developer, and how her Fund-it-Forward model is going to help women around the world.
What were you doing before you decided to apply to Hackbright?
I got my degree at San Francisco State and I ended up getting a job at a small startup working in an attic. One of my buddies suggested that I try computer programming, so I went to a Women Who Code event and made my first program, fell in love with it, and realized that this is what I want to do with my life.
Which bootcamps did you apply to? Why did you ultimately choose Hackbright?
I spent a good six months researching coding schools- I interviewed students and teachers, checked out placement stats and average salary stats. I had found this thing that finally fit for me, so I wanted to make sure I was preparing myself the best that I could by choosing the best school for me.
How much did the all-female aspect of the camp factor into your decision?
When I first heard about Hackbright, I was actually really turned off. I was concerned that it was all women, and that it wouldn’t prepare me to work in the real world, which is mostly male-dominated. My perception didn’t change until I interviewed. As soon as I walked into the office, all the preconceived notions that I had about being a coding school for women just melted away- it was such a positive environment, and that really sealed the deal for Hackbright for me. I had been to Hack Reactor, App Academy, and Dev Bootcamp, but the visit to Hackbright cemented my decision.
Did the fact that Hackbright teaches Python have an affect on your decision?
What was the application process like for you?
Ok, so you’re accepted to Hackbright- what’s next? How did you come up with the idea to use GoFundMe?
Well, I didn’t think I was going to get in, because I had heard that Hackbright only accepts 2% of students. So when I got in, I was in shock, and thinking about my options- how was I going to come up with a 5K deposit and 10k tuition. At this point, I had two months. I looked into all of the traditional methods. Since these coding schools are so new, they’re not accredited or considered university programs, so you can’t qualify for FAFSA or government aid, and you can’t even take student loans out. So the only loan options are to get a high-interest credit card with a very high limit, or getting a personal loan, or just asking somebody. I come from a very low-income background, and a low income network, so there was nobody in my network who had $15k to lend me, and on top of that, I couldn’t even find a cosigner to get a bank loan. I started crowdfunding and raised about $300. It wasn’t working, because it didn’t make sense for me to ask people to give me money to increase my own salary, so how can I solve this issue? It’s going to come up for a whole bunch of people, especially for women and minorities who are more likely to have lower-income networks.
So tell us about the “Fund-it-Forward” model?
It hit me all at once- I thought, “What if I donated 10% of my first year salary to enable someone else to go to code school too.” So now, instead of just funding myself (which I am!), after I graduate and get a job, I’ll donate 10% of my first year salary to the next woman, who can use it for coding school. Then she donates to the woman after her, and so on. The scholarship fund is called the CodeShannon scholarship, and the organization is called Hacking for women.
There’s also a mentorship aspect of the program, because I’ve noticed that there aren’t a lot of mentor relationships for women in tech. I want to make it a community, a place to go with a lot of resources in case you don’t know where to start. Like, don’t start with 5 languages at once! Nobody told me that.
To my knowledge, this is the first “Fund-it-Forward” scholarship. The women I know in my situation aren’t looking for handouts. I know that so many people have contributed to me change my life for the better, and all I want to do is give that to somebody else too.
How close are you to your goal? Why did you choose GoFundMe?
I’m about half-way to my goal. As of right now, I’m at $10,716, and my goal is $25,000. Kickstarter doesn’t allow you to fundraise, and IndiGoGo charges up to 9% on top of PayPal fees. GoFundMe’s fees were a bit less, but it was still a lot.
So, not only have you decided to attend Hackbright, but are you essentially setting up a scholarship program for Hackbright?
I want to make it very clear that this scholarship is program agnostic, and for women anywhere in the world. I want to encourage women abroad to apply as well, because I know there are even less resources for women abroad. So it’s not just for Hackbright, it’s for any woman who wants to go to coding school.
What are your goals after the program?
Well, I would love to come back to Lyft, but I’m really excited that I’m in a position where all of these doors are opening up. Hopefully I have more than one job offer, so I can make a choice.
How can people contact you or donate to your GoFundMe campaign?
You can donate directly on my website, www.hackingforwomen.com (preferrable). Or you can donate on my campaign at gofundme.com/codeshannon. If you want to follow me on twitter, i’m @karishannon and @hackingforwomen. And I like emails too! email@example.com.
Since we interviewed Shannon, she has already sent us an exciting update- Women Who Code has graciously offered to merge with Hacking for Women. While the details are still being worked out, Hacking for Women officially has non-profit status and can offer tax deductions for all donations.
We’ll follow up with Shannon about her Fund-it-Forward campaign and her experiences at Hackbright Academy, so stay tuned!