Friday was the last day of classes for Laboratoria’s 4th generation of developers in Mexico. As always at the end of our 6-month web development bootcamp, our Personal Development Coordinator led an intimate session where each student expressed what the program meant to her, how she felt that day, and what expectations she had for the future.
Few moments in Laboratoria are so powerful. I don’t always get to sit in and participate in the personal development workshops, but this one I never miss.
In Laboratoria, we identify young women with enormous potential and train them to become web developers and designers before connecting them with quality tech jobs. Despite coming from a similar background of limited education and work opportunities, our students are extremely unique and none of them share the same story. However, there are similarities among them that shape their experience as a group during their time with us. They all share a common desire to excel, to overcome obstacles and persevere. They are intelligent, extremely driven and dedicated women.
Unfortunately, many of them also share a common struggle of constantly having to prove their potential when others consistently remind them of their limitations. In their recent past and still today, outside of Laboratoria, people doubt their abilities to achieve their goals because they are single mothers or because they are homemakers or because they didn’t finish school. Many are discriminated against for being gay, for being transgender, for making choices that others don’t understand, or simply for being women.
The closing session of our bootcamp is extremely intimate, and therefore, private, but I want to share part of what was said as each student reflected on her time in Laboratoria. I realized that day that because of our students’ compassion and genuine empathy for each other, they have inadvertently succeeded in creating a small, but very special, ideal society within Laboratoria.
Some students described an experience of profound self-realization and growth as a result of pushing themselves beyond their limits. Dalia declared that “this was the hardest thing [she’s] ever done in [her] life and yet the best decision [she] could’ve ever made”. Her classmate Telma wisely concluded that “I can now say with certainty that being a woman does not limit our ability to follow our dreams; it strengthens it”.
Jimena reminded us how despite the challenges they all experienced in the bootcamp and the several times many of them felt like quitting, the rest of them were there to hold each other up. “I have never believed in myself. Yet every time that feeling came over me during these last few months, all of you reminded me that I was smart and capable. Now I feel like I can take on the world”.
Finally, Agatha, a transgendered woman in transition, remembered how she feared that she might not be accepted by her classmates. Reflecting on this during the closing session, she expressed how she “discovered real love for the first time in Laboratoria, among a group of one-time perfect strangers”. To which Beatriz, a married mother of three, responded, “I want to thank you for teaching me so much. My kids and I are better because I met you”.
As I listened to their many sentiments, I started wondering how much better of a society we would be if we weren’t so obsessed with building walls, with limiting the fulfillment of others’ human rights when they don’t infringe upon ours, with delaying equality in the name of religion, family values (whatever that means), or prosperity. What would happen if we accepted our differences, if we created opportunities for all who want to develop their potential, if we really exercised the power of lifting each other up?
This is what we are trying to build with Laboratoria. It is an extremely rigorous, full-time, intensive training program, where our students study almost 1,000 hours of code in only 6 months, while balancing their personal and professional responsibilities on the side. But it is also a place where people challenge their fears, where they discover themselves by taking risks, where they learn to trust others in their search for something bigger. This happens in Laboratoria because in this “laboratory” of self-discovery, our students are free to explore and to fail without the judgment and the consequences that usually follow in the outside world. After hearing our students’ final reflections, I realized Laboratoria represents a small sample of the ideal society we envision outside these walls, one we are trying to contribute towards through our work.
By complementing a technical education with a personal development program, Laboratoria prepares its students in a holistic way that makes them not only better prepared to overcome their lives’ many obstacles, but also well suited to face the many challenges they’ll experience as they begin their careers as web developers.
Today, it is through their resilience, and the transformation they undergo in our program, that our students are not only the best junior talent out there, but are also on track to become the generation of female leaders the tech industry and the future economy needs.
Martin Luther King Jr. said “I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be”. I have no doubt that our students’ belief in themselves and in each other is what allowed them to create an environment where each of them could excel, despite all obstacles. In that classroom, it was a privilege to hear the testaments of our students, their stories of struggle and perseverance, and their conviction that they are stronger as a result of it. In a way, I heard Laboratoria’s vision, spoken through the lens of the very people we are trying to impact.
Latin America’s development depends on the fulfillment of its youth’s potential. I hope our students’ stories inspire the next generation of young women to pursue their dreams. I know we’ll all be a little better because of it.
*All names have been changed to protect the privacy of our students.