Yes, you can learn coding at 50: How one Brooklyn mom did it

By Faye Penn

Those who say you can’t pick up coding over age 50 haven’t met Brooklyn’s Susan Ferugio, who just learned Javascript alongside 23 other New York City moms looking for a tech-career reboot.

Ferugio, 51, has been a financial risk analyst, a stay-at-home-mom, and most recently, a branding-and-marketing consultant. Now she calls herself a front-end web developer, too, thanks to a nine-week course sponsored by in partnership with MotherCoders, Google and the Brooklyn Public Library.

MotherCoders is a Bay Area-based non-profit that teaches moms coding to counteract a phenomenon known as “The Mommy Effect.”; nationwide, a woman’s odds of getting hired falls by 38% after the birth of her first child.

“Forward-thinking companies are realizing that MotherCoders grads—all of whom have undergraduate degrees and work experience—are an untapped, diverse talent pool that can hit the ground running and make important contributions right away,” says MotherCoders founder and CEO Tina Lee.

In New York, six of the women in the nine-week pilot program received job offers before classes ended and Ferugio had her first freelance web-design assignment.

“It’s the kind of project I would have never applied to if it hadn’t been for MotherCoders,” says Ferugio, who lives and works in DUMBO. “Coding is another tool in my toolbox, but I think this is the one that will really open some doors.”

What were you doing before MotherCoders?

I majored in finance as an undergraduate and worked as risk analyst. But when I got into the finance industry, I hated it! So I got an MBA and became the director of marketing for a graphic design company. I left when I had my daughter. I was lucky enough to stay home for five years without having to get a job. As she got older, I wanted to re-enter the workforce. I started my own marketing and consulting practice. That’s what I’ve been doing for the past 10 years.

In New York, six of the 24 women in the pilot program got job offers before classes ended.

You’re an established marketing professional. Why start coding at 50?

Having my own practice has been a good way to get back to my working self. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve taken a bunch of classes—graphic design, digital marketing—related to my practice. Now I’m ready to go back to work full-time. I kept seeing press about how coding is a great job for moms to get back into the workforce. I also see coding as a good addition to the skills I have.

MotherCoders students showed off their websites and coding skills with friends and family at the end of NY’s pilot program.

How do coding skills like HTML enhance your marketing expertise?

I talk to a lot of companies that have less than $5 million in sales per year. They hire me to do strategy and branding, but when I started my practice, they also kept asking, “Can’t you make a website for us?” I’ve done websites in WordPress and Wix. I thought if I know more about what goes on behind the screen, it would enhance the skills I already have. MotherCoders gives you HTML, CSS and JavaScript skills to do that. I was able to use those skills to redesign my own website,

I don’t have to pretend that I’m not a mother, that I didn’t do the stay-at-home mom thing or that I don’t have a life outside of work. At MotherCoders, I could be honest.

Why did you apply to MotherCoders?

I was Googling “coding jobs for moms” one day and MotherCoders came up. It was exactly what I was looking for. The timing was right, and the price was right: free! It just seemed like the stars were aligned.

What has it been like to learn coding over 50?

It’s not as hard as you think it is! Seriously, one thought that kept going through my head is, “People that are doing the coding want it to be mysterious!” But it’s not rocket science. It’s truly just learning a different language. If you want blue on a screen, there’s a code for that. It’s not complicated. Granted, I’m just scratching the surface, but MotherCoders made it so easy to learn this stuff.

Throughout the class you constantly hear: “You know more than you think you do. You can do this.” At first, I thought, “Oh, it’s going to be cheerleader thing.” But the teachers were right. It’s amazing what you can learn in nine weeks! In nine weeks, I have a working website I could launch to the public if I wanted to.

Anything else about MotherCoders that’s been helpful as you pivot your career into more tech-related fields?

It’s not a job-placement program, but there was a field trip that gave me direct exposure to companies and people I would have never had if I wasn’t in MotherCoders. When we went to SAP Next-Gen, Chief Content Director Sandra Moerch-Petersen was on a panel with women who worked at different levels in the company [Dagmar Ludwig, VP SAP Upscale Commerce; Design Strategist Elisa Mirkil; and Charlotte Ruge, Social Media Lead]. They talked about what it’s like to work in the company and the different jobs that were available in tech. That was direct exposure to an actual business.

MotherCoders Founder and CEO Tina Lee (second from left) with students from the program’s pilot program in NYC.

MotherCoders is a tech program, but a big part of its mission is helping women push past barriers. Do you relate?

My goal is to have a full-time job. I’ve had people say things to me like, “You haven’t worked for 15 years.” It’s crazy! I’ve been running my own marketing practice for the last 10 years! But there’s this perception that if you’re not plugging away in an office or you’re not steady in your career for your whole life, you’re not doing anything else. That’s so far from the truth!

I had my resume reviewed and there was a line about a fundraiser I ran for three years for the PTA. We raised $100,000, but I was told to take it off my resume because when hiring managers see “PTA,” they’re going to see “stay-at-home mom baking cupcakes,” not the $100,000. I took it off my resume, but it’s horrible that women have to do that.

Did learning with other moms make a difference?

Getting into MotherCoders was competitive. I had to submit an application and do an in-person interview. It was not a low barrier to entry.  But when I got in, the mom aspect made a big difference. Women were in their early 30s to 50s, but we are all on the same level as moms. That was the equalizer. I told [MotherCoders CEO] Tina Lee, “You know, I can finally let my hair down. I don’t have to pretend that I’m not a mother, that I didn’t do the stay-at-home mom thing or that I don’t have a life outside of work.” I could be honest.

Any advice for other women who are thinking about going into coding at 50?

Why wouldn’t a company want to hire someone over 50?! Our priorities are in order. As moms, we’ve been in difficult situations and have dealt with them, and we really want to do the work.

How will you use MotherCoders to make your next career move?

Coding is another tool in my toolbox, but I think this is the one that will really open some doors. Now that I understand coding, I can go for a marketing job at a tech company. I can be a product manager. I’m leaving the door open.

Interested in learning web development? Apply through by July 1 to participate in a tuition-free bootcamp offered by Fullstack Academy in partnership with the NYC Tech Talent Pipeline.