These Women Are Coding Their Way To a Better Life

Flickr/CC/Dmitry Baranovskiy

By Santiago Martínez

When one thinks about the stereotypical coder, one usually thinks about the young man with a computer science degree, a MacBook and a coffee in hand, a T-Shirt with some kind of HTML joke, and ready to go for a 14-hour session in front of a computer. n Peru, there is a social enterprise challenging that stereotype. Its name is Laboratoria.

Laboratoria was born with the purpose to address three troubling statistics: 20% of Latin American youth are “ninis” (Spanish term for not working nor studying); 88% of youth from poor households have no access to higher education; and 7% of web developers in Peru are women. What do these statistics tell us? There is a great, untapped potential not only for web development and the digital economy; but also, for coding to become a tool for personal, economic and social growth.

So, what does Laboratoria do exactly?

It is a social enterprise dedicated to training young women from vulnerable economic and social situations as web developers. Through free intensive courses, selected girls that have just finished high school are required to go every day from Monday to Friday for 6 months to learn how to code, build a website, use content managers and other software. It has been clear that women have been outsiders in the web development industry, so they not only have the objective to bring them in the sector, but to become leaders.

Laboratoria also provides web services for corporations, such as building websites for them and so forth, and they have a job-placement service for their alumni. Usually the partner corporations hire the alumni as interns, and in some cases, employ them full-time, doubling their household salary. This is what sets them apart from any tutorial session that teaches web development; they get their students jobs with important enterprises.

What do the women learn?

Flickr/CC/Michael Pollak
Flickr/CC/Michael Pollak

They are taught mainly HTML, CSS and Javascript the main coding programs used in the web developing industry. Think about it as learning English to write in an American news site.

Laboratoria insists that they are not only forming web developers, but also leaders, so they push for personal growth. They are taught in workshops dedicated to different skills for life, such as leadership, entrepreneurship, and learning itself. This is an essential part of their program as they really care about their students breaking the chains of vulnerability and poverty.

Seems like a great project, but how do they get any money?

Laboratoria has three major funding sources. The first one is private capital. Enterprises such as Google and Telefónica donate money to keep the program going. This is not necessarily a selfless act. They are investing in future potential interns and employees. By funding projects like Laboratoria, companies ensure that the quality of the training and in consequence, have a bigger pool of capable candidates.

The second source is public finance. The Peruvian government is a major funding partner through the National Council of Science, Technology and Innovation. Just like the corporations, they are betting in the future. Digital technology is a fast growing sector that could yield growth in the long-term for the Peruvian economy, and Laboratoria can be part of the project.

The third source is the payment they get for providing services to companies. This is what makes Laboratoria a social enterprise. They are seeking financial sustainability by building websites, coding apps or other web-related services to companies and charging for those services. By working for these companies, the girls gain experience, the organization gets funds and the companies get a quality product.

There are also individual donors that fund the project as well as other government programs, NGOs, etc.


Flickr/CC/Heisenberg Media
Flickr/CC/Heisenberg Media | Cecilia, a Laboratoria alum, got a job in Wayra as a web developer

Laboratoria has been working for only two years and has achieved promising results. In 2014, they had only 15 graduates from the program. This year (2015) they will have 130. Of the current 30 graduates, 20 already are immersed in the working environment earning an average initial salary of $370 dollars a month, more than doubling their monthly income.

To give you an idea of what these women can do, here are some of the portfolios of the alumni Camen Luyo, Maritza Vst., and Carolina Javier. They have worked in developing websites for NGOs, companies and other organizations. Here are some examples from alumni Ana María Alvarado, Arabela Rojas, Mercedes Zubieta.

Here a complete report of results from this year: <laboratoria> Reporte.

In addition to their chapter in Peru, Laboratoria has opened offices in Chile hoping to consolidate solid ground in these countries. It seems like a great opportunity not only for Peruvian digital economy and social landscape, but also for other Latin American countries to join the race.