Erica Peterson is many things, among which are a graduate in animal science and nutrition, a mother of two, and an entrepreneur. For her work as founder and CEO of Moms Can Code, a membership-based community dedicated to providing learning resources and connection opportunities to mothers making their mark on the world of STEM, Erica won first prize at the 2017 "Invest in Her Pitch" competition - and with the drive with which she continues to advocate for women's education in coding, it seems that such recognition is just the beginning.
Speaking at a TedxPittsburghWomen event in late 2017, Erica broke down the genesis of Moms Can Code. It began, she explained, with addressing an issue that lay broadly across the spectrum of motherhood: the impulse to apologize. Erica apologized for being late due to ultrasound appointments; she apologized for her house being a mess when her pregnancy left her too exhausted to clean; she apologized when her hormones made her sex drive take a dip, and she wasn't in the mood to have sex with her husband on that particular night.
With self-awareness and a piqued interest, Erica turned to the mothers of the internet to ask what they'd most like to be able to stop apologizing for. The answers came in their hundreds - everything from "my body" to "enjoying my work" to "breastfeeding" to "being 'just a mom.'" Some women beat around the bush even less, and simply said "everything." Erica wanted to encourage moms to show themselves compassion by quitting their apology habit - and to help them kick it, she decided to teach them how to code.
"I personally know what it's like to not get anything accomplished with two children lying across my lap," Erica says. "Whether it's daytime or nighttime, it is hard. But the truth is, we need to. Because moms who can code don't just have better jobs. Moms who can code don't just have more flexible schedules. Moms who can code are special. We need moms not just to be the consumers, but the inventors of new technology."
In 2016, only 26 percent of the computing workforce was made up of women. Only a tiny percentage of those were mothers. Moms Can Code is on a mission to change those figures forever by providing a space where stay-at-home and working mothers alike can hone their skills in the industry that's shaping the future their children will one day operate in. The website makes a point of featuring mothers who have founded tech companies and are otherwise inspiring others with their technological prowess and leadership skills.
One of these beneficiaries is Georgene Huang, a co-founder of Fairygodboss, a marketplace where professional women on the hunt for jobs, advice, and insider information on companies can connect with employers who believe in gender equality. When asked by the Moms Can Code team about her favorite "founding mom" moment, she noted, "My four-year-old recently taped one of my business cards to the kitchen trash can and called it 'the Fairygodboss trash can.' I loved that."
The vibrant Moms Can Code network is teeming with women of all backgrounds and motivations, from picking up coding as a fun hobby to career aspirations. This means that insider advice for just about any situation is never far. When asked about how she balances her education in coding, a full-time job, and her role as a mother, Moms Can Code member Marjean Mayo-Baker highlighted the importance of a support system - and allowing her kids to get involved in her projects. "What worked for me was to include my sons," she said. "It opened a way for me to teach to reinforce the skills that I am learning myself."
It's this kind of give-and-take approach that's key to the central philosophy of Moms Can Code: the act of helping can itself be helpful, and the importance of Erica's work to create a space in which women assist other women in taking a running jump at STEM projects has proven itself time and time again.