Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Inside Etsy’s Gambit to Hire More Female Engineers

When Marc Hedlund joined Etsy last fall to lead engineering, he was confronted by a woeful gender ratio on his new team. Just three people on the 100-person engineering and operations staff were women.

Surely Etsy, of all places, should be an attractive place to work for engineers who are women, Hedlund thought.

As an online marketplace for handmade goods, more than 75 percent of Etsy’s buyers and sellers are women. And further, the company’s engineering team works on interesting problems around product discovery, has a quick-moving culture (it releases, on average, 27 live updates to its site per day, according to a live display when I visited), and is part of a company recently certified as a B Corporation — recognizing its social purpose beyond profit.

Marc Hedlund

Plus, Hedlund has a three-year-old daughter, and he wants her to eventually feel like she has the opportunity to share his career, if she wants to.

So he made hiring women to his team a sort of personal mission.

Hedlund had some early success — increasing Etsy’s number of female engineers to 12, by doing things like cold-calling recruits himself and finding promising candidates straight out of college — but in the past couple months, he’s gotten more creative.

In April, Hedlund — who previously founded the failed personal finance start-up Wesabe – advertised $5,000 in grants for women to attend a three-month program to turn people with a passion for programming into professional engineers. It’s called Hacker School, and it takes place in New York this summer. He also volunteered to host the session at Etsy’s Brooklyn office.

After having one female student in all of its past three classes, the current batch at Hacker School now has 23 women out of 53 students, said co-founder Nicholas Bergson-Shilcock. That’s still under half of enrollment, but some 661 women applied for the summer program, with an enormous bump following Hedlund’s announcement. “If anything, the admissions standards went up,” Bergson-Shilcock said.

Etsy ended up raising its grant amount to $7,000 for 10 students, to allow for taxes, and signed on Yammer and 37signals to provide four more grants each, for a total of $126,000 offered for female students who asked for financial assistance.

Hacker School's first day in session at Etsy

Hedlund said he’s ready and waiting to recruit some of those women when they finish the program, which was kicking off its very first day when I visited Etsy’s office last week.

That’s actually part of the premise of Hacker School, a year-old unstructured program based around independent learning and contributing to free and open source projects. There’s no cost to students, but Hacker School tries to place graduates at programming jobs in exchange for a $20,000 fee paid by the hiring company.

(Hacker School evolved out of a Y Combinator start-up called Hackruiter, and has raised $200,000 from Founder Collective and SV Angel.)

After dropping in on the gender-balanced Hacker School classes, Hedlund said, “It almost feels like time travel, more futuristic than any technology project I’ve seen: A trip to the future of what our industry should and will look like.”

(Image courtesy of James Duncan Davidson for Web 2.0 Expo NY 2010 presented by O’Reilly Media and UBM TechWeb)


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— Gitesh Pandya of BoxOfficeGuru.com comments on the dreadful opening weekend box office numbers for “The Fifth Estate.”