Episode 022

Careers for moms: balancing personal and professional life by teaching moms to code

How do you balance career progression with parenthood—especially if you are a woman?

In today’s episode, Erica Peterson shares why she created Moms Can: Code and empowered tech moms around the world.

In this episode, we cover:

Today we’re talking with Erica Peterson, the founder of Moms Can: Code.

When she became pregnant during her studies at West Virginia University, Erica was told that this ‘life choice’ did not fit with her career progression as a graduate student.

Instead of accepting that pregnancy and parenthood can hold someone back from professional achievement, Erica eventually created Moms Can: Code, a global community of moms who are learning to code and a training program to teach moms to code both online and in their local communities.

This is an important conversation about the role of women and parents in the (tech) workplace, and one that shows why it shouldn’t be a black or white decision between choosing to work or being there for your family. Enjoy!

Show notes
  • [00:01:44] How Erica came to found Moms Can: CODE
  • [00:07:03] What Erica did after receiving negative feedback about becoming pregnant during her graduate program
  • [00:08:39] How difficult the decision was to leave her graduate program
  • [00:10:11] How long it took Erica to apply for a new lab position
  • [00:12:24] How long Erica thinks is the right amount of time to wait before going back to work after having a baby
  • [00:16:05] What happened when Erica decided to take time off from the lab she worked at after having her baby
  • [00:21:16] The Family Medical Leave Act and how it affects mothers
  • [00:24:00] How doing science activities with her son and other parents and children helped lead to Erica founding Moms Can: CODE
  • [00:25:52] How the culture affects the way employers think about family leave
  • [00:36:51] Why being there for your family is as important as being there for your work
  • [00:38:25] How Erica launched Moms Can: CODE
  • [00:45:52] What happens when someone becomes a member of Moms Can: CODE
  • [00:48:10] How the creation of the airbag demonstrates why women need to be involved in STEM
  • [00:53:19] Why fathers need to take parental leave
  • [00:57:54] The resource that Erica thinks will help people understand the need for a family-inclusive culture
  • [01:02:53] How people can find out more about Moms Can: CODE

[00:00:04] David: Welcome to The Human Strike Back by Hotjar, the weekly podcast designed to help you succeed by putting people first. I’m David Peralta. Today, you’ll be hearing from Erica Peterson, the founder of Moms Can Code, an organization that teaches mothers to code so that they can become code mentors to other mothers and creates the flexible schedules they need to be there for their families.

Erica’s journey to founding Moms Can Code started when she discovered she was pregnant during her graduate studies at West Virginia University. Her adviser told her that her lifestyle choices didn’t match with being a grad student. Determined not to let pregnant be the thing that held her back from succeeding, Erica eventually set out to help others create the balance that they need between their work and personal life.

We also talked about why it’s so important for women to help design the products that impact us on a daily basis and why it shouldn’t be a black or white decision between choosing to work or to be there for the family, the way it is in so many companies. Regardless if you’re a parent or not, this conversation will give you something to think about. So, here it is.

I would love to start your story at the very beginning and how that journey eventually led to where you are now having founded Moms Can Code. I know it's quite a journey, and I want you to go into as much detail as possible because it's really a very inspiring story. Take us back to the beginning. I think it was when you were in the university as a graduate student?

[00:01:44] Erica: Yeah. The moment that I say changed my life is the moment that I became a mother. I didn't have the best upbringing, I was actually raised by my great grandmother who is an immigrant to this country. There's a revolution in the Dominican Republic, and she had to flee with her daughters here to the United States. It happened overnight, her life changed very quickly. Her daughter, my grandmother, became pregnant with my mother under circumstances that were not the norm for that time. She raised my mom, and then my mom fell into the cycle again, and then I became, my great grandmother who then ended up raising me in New York City. I did not have the best upbringing childhood. My parents were both estranged for periods of time.

In high school, I was, of course, distracted with a lot of personal issues and turmoil as one would expect with someone who's gone through much stuff in their childhood. Parent involvement is one of the keys to success academically in children. If you want your children to succeed academically, studies show that parent involvement and interest in their life is important, that’s it. Now when I look back and of course now as a mom, I see my life makes absolute sense. I wasn't a great student in high school; I was distracted by many things.

I go to the university, West Virginia University, I wasn't a great student there but I really loved research, and biology, and I worked my butt off to get into this graduate school program, and I'm there, and in my first semester, I find out my fiancé at the time and I, who is now my husband, are having a baby. I knew that there would be backlash unfortunately because of the hours we spend on the lab, the reagents you work with. When you're a graduate student, you're expected to work really long hours, and basically live there. You're expected to make use of the showers and devote yourself 1,000% to being a graduate student.

I knew that there would be some backlash, but I had never expected for anyone when I was going to tell them I'm having a baby to go, "Oh wow, that's not a good idea." these are the words I remember, and I play them often in my head, the very first thing that my adviser said, "These life choices aren't conducive to that of a graduate student." and then another adviser saying, "You can't be superwoman." There are so many different things growing up that could have been the reason I did not succeed.

I did not ever think that saying to the world, or making the decision that I was going to be a mother, and do that, that was going to be the thing that derailed my career when I finally figured out what I wanted to do. I had worked so hard towards something.

[00:05:31] David: How did that make you feel when you got that feedback?

[00:05:35] Erica: I immediately started crying and shaking. I worked really hard to the best of my ability to get into this program and worked hard to overcome having a GED, having to work three jobs at a time sometimes to make it through college. I was always fighting something, and then I finally get what I want, and I can't have it. I mean it, and now I'm being told, "You just got here, and you decided to have a baby, how dare you." it's like, I didn't plan on this either but it's totally manageable. This isn't going to be the thing, I am a great planner, I can multitask, that's not going to be the thing, but there is nobody to say otherwise.

During my first pregnancy, I'm very open about this, I was very depressed. I slept a lot, I had no idea what I wanted to do. In your early 20's, you're like, “What am I going to do with my life?” When you graduate college you're like, “What's next?” This was the moment of like, “Oh my gosh, now what's next? And how now do I do this with a baby?”

[00:06:58] David: What happened after you got that feedback? Did you stop the program or did you try to continue?

[00:07:03] Erica: I withdrew from that adviser. I didn't do rotations because I had previously done research with this person and we had a great relationship up until that point. I withdrew from his classes, the relationship stopped there because it was just emotionally––so draining, I had really not expected that response. So I withdrew from his classes, I finished the first semester with—I think I was taking two other classes. I finish those, and then I withdrew from the program.

[00:07:44] David: So you stepped out completely?

[00:07:53] Erica: I was in an interdisciplinary program, and in the one department in the biology department, which is where I would expect a lot more of my time, there were only two women. One woman had never had children, and then the other woman had had children later in life during her post-op years. Their advice was to leave and come back later and find a more supportive PI, or you know, go to work.

[00:08:24] David: What's PI?

[00:08:25] Erica: Principal Investigator that’s the person who heads the lab that you work in, so I left.

[00:08:32] David: How difficult or not difficult of a decision was that for you to make?

[00:08:39] Erica: It's up there with one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make. I honestly just didn't see an out, I mean, where do you transfer after that experience? If the person who wrote the recommendations for you to get into this program are the same people who are telling you, you can't. Now where do you go? How do you go to the next program now you have to redo some more schooling, prove yourself again to someone else in another lab, now you're not an undergraduate student, now you're an adult student, now you're going to be a mom.

Where was I going to get that experience? There are so many things going through my head like, okay, if I want to go work in someone else's lab, I have to apply, and I did. after I gave birth, I went to go work in a lab as a biological technician, and then I was hoping that maybe after that experience, I would re-apply again because I'd have now that person's recommendation. It's a long process, the same people who write you the recommendations are the people that are telling you, you can't this, so where was I going to go after that. I had to now think and create a plan to prove myself once again, but now as a mother. It just seemed really daunting.

[00:10:02] David: How long after the birth of your first child did you make this next step to apply for a new lab?

[00:10:11] Erica: I applied for the new lab when I was pregnant, I was seven months pregnant, the graduate students in that lab we're all males, I knew that there were females in there but they weren’t there that day. I remember their faces when they saw that I was totally pregnant at this point, I don't think they knew what to say, or how to act, we were the same age. It was just weird. If they were in serious relationships, they could understand how it happened. I remember the feeling I think or seeming to feel awkward around me, but I applied for the job, and this new principal investigator really liked me, and she was a mom, but the condition was because I was seven months pregnant, with the timing to hire or whatever, that they needed someone rather soon, and that I should come back six weeks after I had my first son.

Me not knowing, and no one, honestly no one, not a single person telling me otherwise that that might be a terrible decision, I said yes. I quickly was looking for daycare that would accept a six-week-old. Now I look back on that and I'm like, “I don't know, could she have waited two weeks?” I don't know, no one should go back to work after six weeks. I did some pretty basic molecular lab stuff wrong, just because I was so sleep deprived. If anyone out there knows what gel electrophoresis is, I ran a gel backwards, it's one of the most simple things you do. Pipetting wrong amounts, I was not all there, and my body was not all there, I was emotionally not there. I really wanted to be with my baby.

[00:12:15] David: Having had the experience of having two children now, if you could go back and wait the right amount, how long would you have waited before going back to work?

[00:12:24] Erica: I think probably three to four months. I think that 12 weeks is the goal I think for most people. I think that's about right. There's definitely you know a time of, oh my gosh, who am I? What am I doing? Now your identity changes. It's a process especially if it's the first time, the second time you know it's coming, but that very first time, you're going through an identity crisis in those few weeks as well as being sleep deprived, and this new human needing you every single moment of the day, and the people around you also now adjusting to the new you, and figuring out how this little new person, this tiny human, fits into their lives as well.

It's a period of adjustment, and I think honestly, three to four months is probably a good time off. Ideally, you're returning to a workplace that understands that there's going to be ear infections, maybe you have mastitis, maybe you need to go to your checkups. There's much stuff going on that needs to be taken care of, and you just can't jump into things full time. Even for that first year, on my son's first birthday, I turned in a resignation letter, I was done.

My husband was the recipient of the “fatherhood bonus” and I said, “I'm going to take the time to figure out my next steps, and I'm going to take the time to stay at home,” but that entire first year, I had already gone over into unpaid time off, because he was making more money. Whenever a situation would arise at the daycare, he has a fever or whatever, I was also closer to the daycare, so it would fall on me to leave work early, or go in late, take him to the doctor, do all the things, it wasn't that he's a bad person , or a bad father, a bad guy, it was just that’s what made sense.

[00:14:51] David: You just came down to a financial decision, if someone's going to have to take time off, who is it going to need to be, well, we need to pay the bills, so it's going to be whoever isn’t making as much money needs to take the time off. I can really relate to exactly that situation. I also have two kids, I have a six-year-old and an eight-month-old. So this whole time, I'm 100% relating with what you're saying. Not only in terms of having to make these decisions that you wish you wouldn't have to make because of financial reasons, and at the same time, the amount of time that it actually takes to adjust to having a brand new being in your life that is 100% dependent on you, and how that's going to be a new part of your life which you have no way of knowing, and even if you have had a child, you have no way of knowing how that second child is going to integrate into your life, or what kind of challenges it's going to create. I do want to touch on this a little bit later about how we can create a more supportive environment and what that can and should look like. For now, so you decided to take time off after one year of working at this lab. Then what happened?

[00:16:05] Erica: That was a hard year. We were able to move into a nicer home into this area where there were mommy and me classes, and mommy and me groups, I am just going to do this 1000% and spend that time that I really missed with my son. Now with my second, I cherish those moments where—I just posted about this on Instagram—yesterday, I was having a good day, a full day of accomplishments. We went to story time at the library, then we went to open play, we had to get food and snacks at Target, and then this and that, and I made breakfast and I fed them, lunch and I fed them, and I somehow managed to also finish our sponsorship decks, work on our email, fix our website, so many things, while they were all doing that.

It was 1:30 PM and I was just frustrated, and it wasn't that the stuff I had to do or like necessarily have done that it was only 1:30 PM, I had changed too many diapers, not had enough coffee, it was just chaotic. I have two boys that are constantly hitting each other, sitting on each other's head, pretending to fart, the most ridiculous stuff and I was just so tired. However, it was that moment when my two-year-old, it was nap time and he finally started whining down, he came up to me goes, “I sleepy mama,” and I go, “Okay.” He crawls up on my lap; this is the moment where I decided with my first son that I needed to stay at home.

It's that moment when you're smelling their hair; their little hand is in your hand. Moreover, your bellies are rising up and down. They're riding by right now. That's the moment that every mom, every dad should have, deserve to experience. More moments like that, I'm not one of those moms who is posting every moment on Facebook and going, “Oh, these moments are fleeting.” I'm not that mom, but we need to acknowledge that that's important, that bond that you have with your child, that being present in that moment is so important. Moreover, we all deserve that, and they deserve that.

When I was a stay at home mom, I mean I still am sort of, that year, my goal was, “How do I give this child the most fulfilling experience?” so we went to the mommy and me classes, at music to gym, I filled our calendar but in that process, I lost myself. It was this weird year of like, I'm being a great mom but what do I do because there's a big part of me that is not being fulfilled. It was again, this is year two of motherhood, first year is pregnancy, all these crazy stuff happening, and I'm working and then again now, I'm being a stay at home mom but like wait a minute, it was all or nothing each time.

[00:19:45] David: I know you mean it. I know you mean about the sense of this lack of fulfillment that you have because my wife, she's an amazing mother, incredible at being present with our kids but it's the same thing where she tells me, if she spends all day long doing housework, and all day long doing diapers, at the end of the day as much she loves spending time with our kids, there's this lack of fulfillment that she feels at feeling like she has so much more to offer the world and so much more that she feels she wants to be doing but she can't because of these household chores that she has to do.

There's this kind of a false expectation that some people have, and some mothers have that they have to be this kind of perfect mother, and that they have to sacrifice themselves. It's like you said, it's either all or nothing. it's either you're all in, and you're responsible for everything, or you're all out, and you're at work and somebody else at daycare, a complete stranger is responsible for your child and there's really this lack of somewhere in the middle where it's like no, it's important to be there and be present with your children but it's also important for you as a human being to be fulfilling your potential and how can we create environments that are supportive of that. I think this takes us to the next step of your journey towards Moms Can Code. We're in year two now, what's going on in your life now?

[00:21:16] Erica: This was all a couple of years ago, in between stay at home and now and Moms Can Code. I had started a startup, I've gone to school as mom, a lot of other experiences that were also all or nothing. I had another experience where I had applied for a job and got the job but when they brought up the fact that I was thinking about having a child, a second child, I was nearing 30, they're three and a half years apart, I knew that I didn’t want them to be five or six years apart for my husband and I's sanity of course as well.

I had brought up that I was thinking about having another child, and that PI said, "Oh, so you come back in two weeks?" AndMoreover, I was like, what? And she goes, "You don't qualify for FMLA if you have a baby within this year." and I went oh, Family Medical Leave Act. You're not entitled to have that leave because companies are only obligated to offer it if there are 50 or more employees and if the person has been working there for 12 or more months. At that point, I always talk to young women about this because it's a thing, I'm a millennial, so that's not right, but like younger millennials and young women coming out of college, the statistics show that they only stay at jobs for about a year, that’s the medium, a year and a half maybe.

I've had these very quite candid conversations with many of them. If you're thinking about having a family, I would advise you not to job hop, or if you are, be aware of what you're entering what your options are if you are in a relationship and you guys are discussing this because you just might not be entitled to that leave. You might be the first person creating policies at the startup or whatever. I had had these series of experiences where WTF, like I'm just trying to work. I'm trying to go back to school, and I do it, absolutely bananas when I did that for a year.

I was doing a certification program for Insider Technologies, I'm certified by the American Society of Clinical Pathology to look at FNAs and all these things, and I was going to go back to cancer research, and then again to hear that, I just felt so defeated so between that time, and now I had also started a nonprofit because I was doing science experiments at home with my son, and we were we looking at DNA and doing this higher level things and other parents started asking about it. That's how Science Tots started—me teaching other moms how to do these science activities with their kids and spending time with them, and showing them look; it doesn't have to be Pinterest pretty, 10 minutes max to do something sciency .

Moms Can Code is born out of these conversations with other moms. What we need to do to prepare our children for the future. Starting my own businesses, and starting all these different things have all started from motherhood, and needing that flexibility to make my own decisions, to decide when can take off, and when my kids go to the doctor. I don't have to ask anybody.

[00:25:11] David: I find it strange, infuriating, ridiculous, that the words that this potential employer use was, "We're not obligated to give you that leave." As if the only reason they're doing it is because there's a law in place and not because it's actually the right thing to do because if you actually supported a young mother who is coming in, that might actually potentially lead to more loyalty, more engagement, more performance once that mother comes back. But no, they only do it because it's the law, and if they didn't, that they would actually be fine.

[00:25:52] Erica: This is a culture problem, so this isn’t the sciences, and tech as well, it's all coming to light now in all the industries. My husband's in the automotive industry. We can spend hours talking about that too. There's so many cultural problems and when that person says that to me, I don't go mad, they're a terrible person. That person continued to say, "I came back after two days, I was bored." Success equals this, and if you don't do these things, that you are not a good founder, you are not a good scientist, you are not a good graduate student.

Mothers come along and we're like, “We can do all these things, just let us do it.” People look at us funny, but we can do all the things. Things don't have to be on these timelines that it happened in these ways, it's just giving people with different backgrounds, it is not even a mom thing, giving people with different backgrounds the opportunity to prove themselves and excel in these different environments. It needs to happen, or we're going to continue having the same problems over and over again.

[00:27:12] David: I think what you're saying is spot on, that there's a cultural issue. There's kind of a status and image attached to perform in a certain way and being present a certain way that gives people the feeling that they have to be there for their work potentially more than for their family. I think that this is really kind of a broken way of looking at it. there's this Harvard study that was done over a period of about 80 years where they picked the graduating class of either the 1920s or the 1930s, and then they followed that class, and they checked in I think maybe once every 5 or 10 years and ask most of the questions about how their life was going, how happy they felt, how successful were they, and they looked at quantitative and qualitative metrics, and finally after 80 years I think in like 2010 or sometime around there, I'm not quite sure, they published the results of the study and hands down, the most important factor that lead to happiness, a sense of fulfillment, and success in your job was relationships, and family.

Having that love as a foundation is also life expectancy. It also increased life expectancy. Somehow, there's a lack of understanding that this is actually the foundation for our life, strong relationships, strong ties to our family, the ability to be there for our family feeds us, nourishes us and gives us more energy to contribute at work. It's actually more productive to spend less time at work and more time with your family because when you go back to work, you have so much more to give than if you cut yourself away from your family life, and feel like you have to be giving 60, 80, or 100 hour weeks at work is actually counterproductive and actually kill people. That actually leads people to an early death. Anyways, just going back to this concept that moms have this feeling that they have to go back after two days or two weeks.

I think it's something that's actually very destructive not only to the women, and to the families, but also to the workplace because it's actually keeping people from being in their full potential because there's actually something incredible that happens in this bonding process between a mother and a child, it not only sets the tone for that child's life, this bonding experience and this time that they spend with mother and father is like from a physical standpoint, from a neurological standpoint, from a hormonal standpoint, is so critical for the development of that child. There's actually studies that show that having that early stage bonding leads to more wholesome, integral, holistic children that are more effective at school, that are more successful 20 years down the road and we're robbing the next generation of that when we have to take the parents away from them to put them back into work, and we're also robbing the parents of being able to be in their full capacity by keeping them from nourishing those relationships that they have with their own children.

[00:30:35] Erica: We've talked about briefly the importance of infant mental health and their studies, I was posting for Science Tots today more of these studies. I was doing the research. Due to what's going on right now, we're not going to get into politics but the fact that children are being taken away from their families for coming into the country, that weighs heavy on my heart. As a granddaughter, and great-granddaughter of Hispanic immigrant,  Latino immigrants to this country, I've been really looking for research and videos that really press on these issues of why it's so important for parents and children, especially young children to be with their families, and in that way, sharing those to my outlets and saying, "Hey, this is why this matters, and this is why your voice matters." I'm glad that we're getting a little bit of a nod to that here. It is so important, and if you have the opportunity to be with your children, you should, you absolutely should.

[00:31:52] David: Yeah, and this is something that really riles me up because again, this thing that your potential employer said to you about how they were not obligated to give you this family leave, that's something that I was reading this a New York Times article the other day about how there was a woman who was pregnant at Walmart, and she had to do all kinds of heavy lifting, and when she asked if she could not do that heavy lifting because she was pregnant, her supervisor said to her, "Well I saw Demi Moore do a backflip when she was in full term, so that's not an excuse."

And I just feel like man, you don't get it, you don't understand how important it is for pregnant women to take care of themselves, and actually to remove themselves from stressful environment because again, there is so much science and studies that show that the state of mind, and the state of being, and the emotional health of a mother from pregnancy directly impacts the child also for a lifetime, and the more space that we can give to women to just enjoy their pregnancy, again you create a generation of people who are born healthy, wholesome, and much more ready to be effective in our society.

My hope for this episode is that really, people who are out there, who are listening, especially any kind of founder, or anybody who has started their own company, just has more of an open mind, and an open ear for the need to accommodate pregnant women, and young mothers, and also young families but not because the law requires them to, because it's actually the right thing to do, and it's actually something that would contribute to a much healthier society. But I do want to bring this back into your story, and into Moms Can Code. How did founding Moms Can Code kind of help you move toward the lifestyle—by the way, if you need to take care of your kids during this interview, don't worry.

[00:34:02] Erica: They're here. It's all happening. Sorry.

[00:34:40] David: Actually, first of all, there's no reason to apologize, and that reminds me of a TEDx Talk, that's actually all about not apologizing. Exactly, like how many times young mothers have to apologize, or also young fathers like, "I'm sorry I'm late, I had to change a diaper. I'm sorry I'm late, my kid is sick from school. I'm sorry I can't do that today because I have to pick up my kid from school because the nanny is not available. I'm sorry for this, and I'm sorry for that." Somehow, this lack of recognition that this is all a part of life, that this is all a part of what we need to be, to be successful human beings, and to be successful at work that again this division that happens when it's like, okay, I'm not working now, I can't think about my family life, this is so unrealistic, and justice does line up with how life actually works.

I say this being at a company that 100% recognizes that, so people-oriented, and family oriented, we have four months of paid maternity, or paternity leave, and I think that that's a minimum. I was living in Vienna, Austria where you automatically from the state got a minimum of 12, 18, or 24 months of leave, and you are guaranteed to have your job back, and the state would pay you for that time. That's where my first daughter was born, and it was just incredible to have this support so that we didn't have to worry financially, we could focus on our kids. But anyway, back to the company now, there's no apologizing. Our company Hit ChaT Channel is all the time like, "Okay, gotta go, got to pick up the kids. Nanny is sick today so I'm going to take a half day today." there's no apologizing. There's no like, "I'm sorry and I'm also a parent." It's hey, this is a part of life, and we expect you to be there for your family, so that when you're here at work, we expect you to give your best as well.

[00:36:51] Erica: I love to hear that because I seldom do. In one week, the things that I've experienced, during the year when they go to school, and daycare, and they're home with me this summer, because the cost is just too high to have them both do something full time during the week. This week has just been me trying to still take meetings, and phone calls, and interviews like this one, add things just come up. I try to make it to this Hackathon this morning, and I went to support another mom, from Moms Can Code team, I missed the beginning because breakfast, the diaper, we're potty training, we're trying to do all that, people don't realize it takes a lot of work to make a tiny human go into potty.

Maybe months, maybe years you never know but it's an effort. All of that took way longer than expected, and I was late, so what? The world did not end, it was fine when I got there. My son who ended up coming with me, he got to see something cool, no big deal.

[00:38:12] David: Tell me more about Moms Can Code, and how you actually launched that, got it off the ground, and what you envisioned when you got that started?

[00:38:25] Erica: Moms Can Code, we're in June so it's 10 months since launched. The idea came to me about this time last year through my work with Science Tots, I talked to a lot of parents about the importance of education. For whatever reason, whenever I would talk about coding, no one would talk about it, like it was just this weird thing. There's a huge computer science initiative here in Western Pennsylvania, there's a lot of schools offering these programs, but the parents did not want to talk to me about it, or come to workshops, or anything. I was just always like, why? What's going on here? as a mom of a child that’s going into kindergarten, at a very steam-rich school, I was concerned because I know that I need to know more for him to succeed in this environment, I know I need to support his learning at home, how do I do that?

There was this thing in me; I have to do it, I know how important this is, I want to share that with other moms. I'm going to revisit coding, in college I took SaaS, in high school I knew HTML and CSS. I understood the concept of coding, and I have done some but how do you talk about it with your kid, to each other, it just seemed like I couldn't break it down. I wanted to find other moms, have these conversations with because it is so important. I started joining tech groups online, and I started sharing, are there any other moms out there, I think I want to start this thing where moms come together with their kids, we'll figure out the daycare situation, maybe we'll offer daycare, you come to the workshops, and talks, or whatever, maybe we'll do it online. Are you interested?

Immediately, so many people, hundreds of people signed up, I had to create a landing page because people were sending me their email addresses, and I know from my previous startup experience, that does not happen, when is this happening, when can I sign up? That's not typically how startups typically work. I have no concept of what it could be, or what it was; I just knew that I needed to connect with other moms who are also interested in this, and then what would happen would happen. I was doing really well the Science Tots so I had no intention of starting a tech startup, but it grew very quickly, and a lot of people started joining the email list, and then I held several meet ups , and people started attending there. I had a lunch party, and people came to that, all of a sudden, it was something.

In October, we started offering memberships, and people started signing up, and then when we were four months old, we received an email that we were selected as a finalist for South by Southwest Accelerator Pitch, in the social and culture category. I am not one of those people who screams out of elation and jumps around the room, not ever at Christmas. There are videos of people and me are going, act excited, and then I put on a show. These are one of the very few moments of my life where I jumped up and go, “Oh my god this happened.”

We've been fortunate enough to be recognized there, at one local pitch competition, and this is what's been cool at Moms Can Code. Growing a community, and they have molded Moms Can Code into what it is today. I get user feedback immediately, that's super important in these early stages. My community has a say, and what tools we use, how things happen, and we've been able to grow this suddenly over the past few months, and it's been really amazing to see women become more confident, learning how to code.

Moms Can Code has become an instructor training program, a basic coding instructor training program. Moms learn how to code, and then they pay it forward to the community, and in their local communities by teaching others at Moms Can Code workshops. I get personally so excited when I see one of our moms this past week; there was one of our moms Renee who went to our lunch party last year, she just gave a live webinar on what is game development.

She had previously had a career as a game developer, she worked on some of the games that I played as a child, there was a Barbie game that she created. I remember playing this game, but when she became a mom, soon after she became a mom, she left her career as a game developer. She's been a part of the Moms Can Code community and trying to get other moms interested in game development. Two months ago, she wasn’t on social media, she wasn’t sharing, "Hey, look at what I just created on Unity, what do you guys think?" and then to see her now saying, "I'm hosting these virtual co-working hours, come join me. I'm living right now. I'd love to show you how I did this."

I'm so proud of her, and that is what Moms Can Code is. Seeing these women learn and slowly but surely take these bits and pieces of knowledge and teach it to them the next mom. First of all there aren't enough trained coding teachers, or professionals, technical professionals to teach everyone. We are filling that gap. We're able to create economic opportunity for these moms, and provide them with a way of making money. That was previously unforeseen to them, they had never thought, I can learn how to code, and as I'm learning, I can teach someone else and earn some money, that's amazing. Even if it's a few hundred dollars, that's a big deal to a mom who hasn't made any money for a very long time because she's been staying at home.

[00:45:35] David: Right, I mean to be able to do that with a flexible schedule on your terms when you have the time to do it, that's also something you can't really find as a stay at home mother. There's not a lot of opportunities like that.

[00:45:52] Erica: When you become a member, you have access to coding classes online, we partnered with a Tokyo-based startup to offer 55 new coding lessons that you can access via app or mobile, and then you are able to once you feel comfortable and confident, to opt into our training program. You can teach online or you can teach in your local community. We teach you how to do that and go through the process, and we get to share what we do with other moms everywhere. I'm pretty excited about that and what's to come this year.

[00:46:23] David: There's something else that you mentioned in your TEDx Talk which really stood out to me, about the need to have more women in science, and stem engineering jobs, and programming, and coding jobs which I had never thought about it this way because I share a similar feeling because I feel like that women have certain qualities in certain intrinsic traits that are different than what men have, so they bring a different picture, they bring a different point of view that compliments and many times is actually much wiser than a hyper-masculine point of view.

Maybe you can share the story about the creation of the airbags back in the, I remember—I can summarize the story basically which is that when the creator of the airbag first came up with the concept, and it was engineered, and designed, it was designed and created by a panel of 100% men who designed the airbag for the average male height and the average male weight, and what ended up happening was that those initial airbag designs actually ended up creating a number of deaths for women and small children.

[00:48:10] Erica: I had actually seen the story about the airbag and need for women in tech in a documentary about women in tech. I believe it was, Debugging the Gender Gap, was the documentary I was watching, and they gave that as an example but I didn't think anything of it, and then I was like, there has to be more to this. I started looking more to the person who had patented what we know now as the airbag, and I was like, "Oh, that’s it. He's a dad." Initially, he invented this to protect his child because they were in a car crash, and he invented the airbag because they were, I don't know where they were, what they were doing, there are stories about it online that you can read from his accounts.

It was so violent, and they had to hit the brakes, he and his wife had to put their arms out to protect their young daughter from hitting the dashboard. That's why this man invented the airbags. My point when I brought that up at the TED talk was that, it's about mothers being at the table, but also fathers, and I gave that example because he had created this well-intentioned product specifically inspired to save the life of his daughter or another child out there, but when it was put into practice, it was designed by the people who weren't parents, it didn't serve that purpose.

We all need to bring our different perspectives, mothers, fathers and have these conversations. We all use technology in different ways, at least once a day, we should start keeping a log, we in our group come across something where we go, there are no women on that team or absolutely no women on that team, we know that for a fact because no one took into consideration this feature, or this feature, I have to go in and find some examples because it happens at least for today where we go, why is this happening right now? What is this thing? Why would somebody do that?

[00:50:37] David: Exactly, that story really painted such a clear picture for me of why it's so important to have diversity, to have mothers, fathers, to have women in the conversation, to have minorities in the conversation. It's not just so that we can have a career's page that has a picture of the new distribution, or so that we can say that we're overcoming the gender gap, it's because there are such a variety of point of views that need to be taken into account into these technologies that we're developing that impact our day to day lives, that if we have just one small group with one limited way of thinking that's designing it for everybody, we can't ever possibly reach the full potential of creativity, or usefulness, or safety that we could if we had a broad representation of people having been at the table, and having a say in that conversation.

[00:51:39] Erica: Absolutely, all the different points of view need to be considered. From a business standpoint as well, you want to make better decisions to make a better products. It seems like, why not? Also, I can understand from a founder perspective it being scary to consider all options, time-wise, or deadlines, costs associated with different things. But when the end results of something you created is deadly, it does matter. Certain phone features, or certain things that are a nuisance to us, we can live with that. There are certain things that have gravely affected people's lives as a result of there not being women on the team, or parents, or people of color to give their opinion.

[00:52:49] David: Right, and this goes back to what we were saying at the beginning which is why it's important to create workplace cultures that encourage mothers to be part of the team, and then give them the time they need, or give the fathers the time they need to be there for their families so that once that time is done, they can come back to the team and contribute instead of environments where it's like okay, either there's no time for your kids and you're 100% there for the company, or join the company because we're not going to give you any time for your kids.

[00:53:19] Erica: I want to say something about that point, it's come up a lot lately, the founder of Reddit, Serena Williams' husband.

[00:53:32] David: Yes, I forgot his name but we'll put his name in the show notes.

[00:53:46] Erica: There's an article he wrote about parental leave. This came up and the topic of conversation in the Moms Can Code community. I have to say that part of this also us moving forward, fathers need to take a leave so it's one thing to get the leave, but fathers need to take a leave. A disclaimer here, I am married to a wonderful man, and husband, and father, these conversations on these topics in these issues, they don't happen outside our home, these are part of my daily life, my husband and I openly discuss these things because it all directly affects us.

I often look at my husband, and we have the same struggles as any couple, any married couple, no matter what you do. I will often look at him and I'll say, it starts with you, if you don't take this time off on the day that you're supposed to be off, I really pushed for him to hire women and especially mothers in his industry, but if you don't take the time off, then you're sending a signal to the rest of your employees who have families, and the women, and the moms, that they don't deserve their time off, because you worked extra harder as if that's a badge of honor to work on your day off, you have to lead by example.

Then I on the other hand also have to lead by example. What I do is an online community, and I'm always online and live, and there are times where I just have to say, I have to lead by example, and this is where company culture starts with me right now, so I'm going to take this time off, and I'm going to spend the next two hours uninterrupted with my children. When you have a leave, and have the opportunity. You have to take it. If you're that father, or a man in your company, you need to do it because then it gives permission to the rest of the other individuals at the company. It's sad to see it that way but it's true. If the person in charge doesn’t do it, then nobody else will follow. It goes on and on.

[00:56:14] David: That's right, and actually, I'm very grateful to say that at the company that I'm at, we actually just had one of the founders come back from his paternity leave because he did take it, he have a baby. It's really inspiring to see, it's not even like leading by example, it's like they're taking advantage of an amazing policy that their own company created so that they could go and spend time with their kids, and guess what, because it created a team with such a supportive culture, when they left, the company didn't fall apart.

Obviously, we didn't have their perspective, but we knew that they'd come back, and their team was able to still function, and get things done, and do things without them. When they came back, he was with open arms, this is exactly I think what we need more of for sure. By the way, the founder of Reddit, his name is Alexis Ohanian.

[00:57:09] Erica: Yes, I knew that. Hi, Alexis.

[00:57:19] David: I’m sure he’s listening.

[00:57:22] Erica: He might be.

[00:57:23] David: You never know actually, you never know. One question that we usually ask our guests is, if there was a single resource that you could recommend to our listeners to help them succeed by putting people first, what would it be? but in your case I'd like to ask a little bit differently, if there was a resource that could help people understand the need to create this family inclusive culture at work, what would that be?

[00:57:54] Erica: I have to say, to be honest, it's literally sitting down with mothers and hearing their perspectives. This is part of our Facebook group, if you can join and be a part of these conversations, we welcome everyone. We've posted articles about when you're a mother, there's a penalty, and you don't make as much money, and we'll ask, how many of you have been affected by this? Slowly but surely, the post start coming in. I haven't made any money since I gave birth because I stayed at home, or I've been at the same wage as when I first started, but my husband has increased, and you'll hear all these different perspectives.

You'll also hear and understand these different perspectives from women from different cultures, and different parts of the world, asking us, what do you need? Off the bat I know a few things that don't help, it's meetings at 5:30 PM or 4:00 PM, right before you have to go pick up from daycare, the daycare closes at 6:00 PM, and you have to sit there in traffic, things like that, or early morning meetings at 8:00 AM. Daycare opens at 6:00 AM guys, you have to wake up your child for you to make it to that meeting.

Being okay with people leaving, having a half day to make sure that all their doctors appointments are good, finding out what is that thing that's going to make them happy. I would say that sitting down with your employees, with your coworkers even, asking them what is the thing that would make you feel more fulfilled working here. Even if you don't have kids, it might mean a lot to somebody to have the flexibility to go home, and take their dog out in the middle of the day. I used to do that when I was in college, it brought me so much joy to go see my puppy in the middle of the day, and let him out, and wag his tail, I go back to class feeling super energized because they got to see my buddy, give him some water.

I know he's okay and I'd get back to school, or maybe it's their mother, or father, or loved one who's sick, maybe they need to check in on that person, maybe they've done everything in their power to make sure that person's okay at a close location. You don't know, you have to sit down and ask your employees, your coworkers, what is the thing that would mean so much to you right now? You really never know what you're going to hear, and to give people the space to open up in this way, you don't have to delve into things but you never know.

We're not yet an employee-based company, we've had independent contractors, and I remember saying something like, "Oh what are you doing tonight?" not needing anything by it, just like, oh it's so busy about this day of the week, and that person, they were going to visit a very sick relative who is in hospice. I didn't know that was happening, I didn't know, and I had just carelessly like, "What were you doing that’s keeping you busy tonight on this Thursday that you can't help me out or answer this phone call?"

I didn't mean anything by it, that really made me, from now on, I'm not going to say something like that because that person was dealing with something that was really serious, really heavy, and you never know, you just have to ask and that'll change the company culture when you start asking, "How are you doing today? How was your weekend?"

[01:02:12] David: Right, exactly. A lot of those decisions and a lot of those policies, and culture, and value, a lot of that has to come from the bottom up because you can't just come from the top down with people having the best intentions without really understanding what is your life actually like, what's the life of your team members like, your employees, the contractors, what's their life actually like and how can you support them in the best way possible, that's only going to come once you talk to them and understand their life more or if you've been there yourself. Like in the case of Moms Can Code and finally Erica, where can people go to learn more about you and the work that you're doing with Moms Can Code?

[01:02:53] Erica: They can go to momcancode.com but the other avenues that I recommend are Twitter. At Twitter, we're @momscandodePGH. If anyone at Twitter is listening, I would really love @momscancode, let's do something about that.

[01:03:14] David: You mean somebody else already has that @momscancode.

[01:03:15] Erica: Yeah, but they're not using it. We're @momscancodePGH. What we do on social media is retweet and share the members of our community and what they're up to, and what they're doing. You're seeing firsthand and understanding what it's like for these women, some of them are juggling full time jobs, creating apps at night, going to boot camps, training with us to become online teachers, mother of two, this one person does all of these things, I'm talking about one person so far.

A mother of two, a wife, and she has hobbies and blogs about them, and then we have another mom who is a mother of four going to boot camp, all the kids are home this summer. She's still a wife and doing household chores, and then also going to the boot camp, she's training with us, teaching other moms, blogging, making sure her repository of up to date. She's doing all these things, and they're all doing such amazing things and if you see a share, or retweet one of their tweets or something, like it, give some love. That's a really easy way to get to know us, who we are and what we're doing, and then also Instagram @momscancode.

There we also share, we often ask the moms to take photos of themselves, selfies of whatever setup you want of you working because, so often we have these photos of these glamorized people, men and women sitting at their computers, or they're standing wearing these outfits, and the makeup, that's not real life, that's not what it looks like when we sit down to actually code. there's beanies on our laps, there's spin up, our hair is maybe hopefully washed, there's a messy dusk, there's a broken lamp, I want to see and I want us to show that side, the real mess of what it's like to be somebody juggling all the things and especially as a mom.

[01:05:42] David: Yeah, I'm not good at that because I actually have a giant pile of unfolded clothes on the other side of this microphone, and it's there because my wife, she just told me, "Look, you're going to have to take care of your own laundry. I'm going to take care of my laundry and the kids, I need you to be responsible for yours." Because it's just too much and I said, "No problem." I don't have as much time to fold the clothes, I don't like that, but I am still willing to at least not put that burden on her if that's one small thing that I can do to help. That's part of the real life situation of what's going on here at this home, office, recording studio.

[01:06:22] Erica: My husband and I always fight at that one, it's not a uniform, but he wears certain pants with certain shirts to work, and I absolutely hate seeing our laundry because I'm like, “I cannot. You handle your own stuff. I'll take care of myself and the kids,” but inevitably it gets in there. I don't fold it, I just jumble it up and put it in the drawer, he can figure it out.

[01:06:49] David: Right. We have separate hampers now.

[01:06:53] Erica: We tried that, I'm sure a lot of couples deal with this. If you figure out a better solution, let me know. That did not work.

[01:07:05] David: This is just one tiny thing among many. My wife because I work from home, can you do the dishes when you come out during a break, and one part I'm just like, “Well, I want to take a break during my break,” but at the same time I see how much work you are doing and so, I try to do something, I try to have certain responsibilities that I can fulfill, like okay, I'll empty the dishwasher on a break, I'll fill it up, I'll do this, I'll do that.

[01:07:31] Erica: We divide chores like that.

[01:07:32] David: We try to put a balance, and even still, it's too much. It's more than two people can handle. It's not meant to be that way, this nuclear family thing, that's not meant to be the way that it is. It is more than two people can handle, and I think it's important.

[01:07:49] Erica: We can do a whole podcast series on that topic. I've been watching a Netflix special, it's called The Ascent of Woman. It describes how back in the day as my son says, way back in the day, people lived in these villages but when you had your child, when you had a baby, it wasn't your baby, it was the village's baby. It was everyone's responsibility. The documentary goes into, how these duties became assigned to women, and what became a man's job, or the woman's job, and it was actually the rise of agriculture. It's fascinating.

[01:08:40] David: Yeah, I could also go on about this but like you said, that is a separate podcast. Erica, thank you so much for coming on and sharing some personal and vulnerable side of your story, it was really inspirational. I really appreciate what you're doing with Moms Can Code, and I hope that this can serve as an example for other people at their own companies, or moms wherever they are. Yeah thank you so much for taking the time.

[01:09:04] Erica: Thank you so much, David. Thank you.

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