LIMA – Laboratoria is a project to transform disadvantaged young women from Peru, Mexico and Chile into computer programmers who are ready to compete in a professional field “full of men,” founder Mariana Costa told EFE.
Costa, recognized by MIT Technology Review as one of its outstanding innovators under 35, said that only 10 percent of Latin America’s software developers are women.
Created in Peru last year with support from firms such as Google and Telefonica, Laboratoria offers women 18-30 whose socioeconomic circumstances denied them access to higher education an opportunity to work in the burgeoning field of technology.
“The country has a thousand problems and the state is not going to solve all of them,” Costa said.
Data from the International Labor Organization show that women make up 74 percent of the 21.8 million young adults in Latin America who are neither employed nor in continuing education.
“Socio-cultural factors are involved there, because many still think that women should stay home and keep busy with domestic chores,” Costa said.
Costa took part this week in an activity organized by the Inter-American Development Bank to showcase initiatives such as Honduran Brayan Salazar’s wind-powered cellphone charger or Mayan Pitz, a videogame developed by Guatemala’s Daniel Monroy to preserve his country’s cultural heritage.
Writing software is a career “with plenty of flexibility,” as “you don’t have to have a university degree to succeed, because a lot of people are self-taught,” Costa said.
The women who complete Laboratoria’s intensive six-month training program are ready for the technology industry.
Laboratoria, described by its founder as “social entrepreneurship,” has graduated 130 programmers this year. Next year, Costa expects to train as many as 800 young women at centers in Lima, Arequipa, Mexico City and Santiago.
To enter the program, candidates take tests to evaluate their perseverance, ability to learn new materials, and level of tolerance for frustration and change.
Evaluators then interview each participant and their families because, as Costa explained, “if the families do not support the students, it is more likely they will drop out.”
Thanks in part to Laboratoria’s alliance with 15 companies, 60 percent of graduates already have jobs.
While students do not pay tuition during the training, once they get programming jobs, they are expected to contribute 10 percent of their salaries for three years “to finance someone else’s education,” Costa told EFE.