Theresa Garrett, Kirsten Henagin, and April Stevenson joined forces in 2019 to form Arise! Communities, a nonprofit dedicated to making the tech industry a more diverse and equitable place.
By creating judgment-free, inclusive learning environments, the ladies behind Arise! are helping marginalized groups explore technology in new and meaningful ways.
In a brief summary, what do you do?
KH: We believe in a truly inclusive and equitable technology industry, and that belief fundamentally goes back to how we provide education services. It comes back to providing education that’s truly accessible. So we offer a variety of in-person classes targeted to women, people of color, and other marginalized communities to learn new technical skills and build on the ones they already have.
What issues do you see in the tech industry today?
KH: One of my biggest struggles is when it comes to retaining talent. Our industry is built for white, straight men. And so even when you have different people that don’t fit that description, companies still try to put everyone into the same box. I don’t think the tech industry has evolved past that. It’s not one-size-fits-all.
AS: One thing I frequently hear is people talking about how, “Oh, we’re always hiring for developers. We’re having such a hard time finding developers.” But they are not even tapping into a resource that is right in front of them. So we are trying to create awareness, to show that there are options out there, there are people to employ who can actually create a really nice product. I feel like once that resource is tapped, it’s better for everybody. It creates a more cohesive team.
TG: Companies that hesitate or simply do not address internal issues like lack of allyship, unfair treatment, microaggressions, and unconscious bias that diverse employees experience while working at the company. The tech industry is very comfortable, and when you’re comfortable, you don’t want to get uncomfortable, to tackle hard things.
How are you making tech education more accessible in our community?
TG: We’ve noticed a rise in the bootcamp experience, which is great. Those are still really valid experiences and we want people to participate in them, and we’re providing different educational experiences for different types of learners.
KH: And the cost associated with our classes comes down to the hours that the instructor is in front of students. Our HTML and CSS class, which is about eight hours, is $55 for the whole class. And 40 percent of that fee goes straight to the instructor.
What is your favorite part of what you do?
AS: I am constantly challenged in ways I did not expect and I love it. For a more selfish reason, I wanted to take this on because I really wanted to learn more and challenge myself and explore different aspects of tech.
TG: Telling our story to people and partners in the community.
What are your dreams for Arise! Communities?
KH: I really like our in-person classroom experience, but I want to find a creative solution for us to bring this beyond the Fargo-Moorhead area, whether it’s a webcast or some other sort of digital component. That’s something that’s on our wishlist right now, but we want to really iron out our in-person classes first because those are our bread and butter.
TG: For Arise! to be a safe space and pillar in the Fargo-Moorhead community.
AS: I want to create a legacy so that, if something were to ever happen to one or all three of us, this would continue to grow and sustain itself.
How can the community support you?
KH: Of course, one way is financially. If you give us money, we’re going to put it to good use, whether that’s for a scholarship or buying hardware or helping somebody take the classes beyond the classroom. But if you are a person in tech and you care about diversity, inclusion, and equity and you want to see that in your workplace, come volunteer with us. Come teach a class, come help us build curriculum around something that you think is relevant in the tech industry. Sometimes hardware is an issue—for our classes we want you to bring your own laptop so you can continue working on it at home, but some people may not have one. So if your company has devices that they are not using, we’ll take them.
What is the best career advice you have ever received? Or, what’s the best advice you have to offer?
AS: Ask yourself, “Why not me?” Why can’t I be president? Why can’t I be CEO? l hear stories from so many successful people who never really planned to be where they are today, so why not? Why can’t I do that?
KH: Talk to yourself how you would pump up your best friend. You would never say the crap to your best friend that you say to yourself.
TG: Take the first step. You never know what’s going to happen unless you take the first step. Fear is good and being uncomfortable is even better because that means that real growth is happening.