Europe, Interviews

Shannon Graybill – Co-Founder of Le Wagon Portugal

I feel that many of us, and particularly women when it comes to technology, have these preconceived ideas about ourselves and our own abilities which create self-imposed prisons.  The only way to combat the ‘fake news’ women tell themselves is by educating women in technology and proving to them through this education how capable they really are and how creative and fun it can be.

Shannon Graybill is the Co-Founder of Le Wagon Portugal. Founded in 2013 in Paris, Le Wagon quickly became one of Europe’s most innovative coding schools, bringing coding skills to creative people and business professionals. She spent the first 5 years after university working and traveling through Asia and Africa before discovering her love of Southern Europe – Portugal in particular.

Shannon’s professional focus was mainly on marketing and business development, but entering Lisbon’s startup scene changed her tune. She decided she wanted to learn to code herself and then thought ‘why not just open a school in the process’. And that’s just what she did.

In a nutshell, tell us a bit about your job, and what role does technology plays in it?

Technology plays a leading role in my day to day work. In short, I own and manage a coding school franchise. I co-founded Le Wagon three and a half years ago with my business partner, Carlos Mendes, in Portugal after I realized I wanted to deepen my own technical understanding of digital products.  

While my original mission was solely to learn how to code, I now like to think of Le Wagon as a center for transformation rather than just a coding school.  I see learning to code as the tool to shift people’s mindsets and inspire a level of confidence in their own abilities that they wouldn’t have otherwise.

Where did your professional journey start and how did you get to where you are now?

Having just graduated from university with a degree in international business, I moved to Shanghai.  Frankly, I had no clue what I wanted to do besides travel, study Mandarin and eat as many jiǎozi as my stretch pants would allow.  I ended up working for a small trading company’s toy division in supply chain management.  It was one of the hardest jobs I have ever had.  It taught me that I could handle pressure and also made me believe that my natural abilities were more geared towards creative work and less towards analytical tasks.  

I see learning to code as the tool to shift people’s mindsets and inspire a level of confidence in their own abilities that they wouldn’t have otherwise.

After three years in China, my professional story continued to be an unstructured maze of curiosities and impulsivities.  From working in Israel for Toys R Us to business development in South Africa for a Chinese loyalty card platform to landing in Portugal and eventually entering the startup ecosystem through an early-stage accelerator, all these random career pivots allowed me to understand exactly what I did and did not enjoy which lead me to my dream job, Le Wagon.

What is the greatest transformation in technology you’ve witnessed in your career?

Education and access to information.  There are so many more free or low-cost alternatives to traditional university education.  Through coding boot camps like Le Wagon to free online courses to 10-minute TED talks, you can literally explore everything and anything.  It’s exciting.

Tell us about the first image that pops up in your mind when you hear the term “female empowerment”?

I think I am going to sound like a broken record, but the word for me is ‘education’.

The only way to combat the ‘fake news’ women tell themselves is by educating women in technology and proving to them through this education how capable they really are and how creative and fun it can be.

Growing up, I struggled more than most in school which made me academically insecure.  I remember my father encouraging me to study engineering at university.  I not only thought he didn’t understand my abilities, but it sounded like such a boring area of academia.  But, oh man, was I wrong!  

Later in life, through Le Wagon, I discovered engineering, specifically software engineering, to be incredibly creative and fun! It’s like the equivalent of playing legos when you were a kid or sudoku as an adult.  You lose yourself in the process of building and finding solutions.

I also discovered that I was capable when it came to problem-solving and analytical reasoning.  I realized these were skills like any other that can be developed given the right amount of focus and support.

I feel that many of us, and particularly women when it comes to technology, have these preconceived ideas about ourselves and our own abilities which create self-imposed prisons.  It holds us back from entering into opportunities that we would not only surprise ourselves by enjoying but opportunities we would thrive in because being ‘tech-fluent’ is the 21-century  equivalent to speaking English.  And the only way to combat the ‘fake news’ women tell themselves is by educating women in technology and proving to them through this education how capable they really are and how creative and fun it can be.

I also discovered that I was capable when it came to problem-solving and analytical reasoning.  I realized these were skills like any other that can be developed given the right amount of focus and support.

We always hear there are not enough women working in tech. What needs to happen to change that?

Education and…drum roll…more role models.  

I became interested in coding and attending a coding school myself because of a very cool and bold lady, named Catarina Campino, who works for Academia do Codigo, Portugal’s first coding bootcamp.  Catarina came to speak at my office about the incredible work for unemployed young adults they were doing with Academia do Codigo.  She is one of these women who say “yes”.  She might not have all the answers, but she’s comfortable to put herself out there, not be a perfectionist and share her story. Her style was so refreshing as I find that many women I work with are slower to raise their hands in comparison to their male counterparts as they don’t feel they’re “ready” or “know enough”.  Which for me is funny because more often than not they’re even better prepared.  

This is all to say, next time you’re asked to share your knowledge and experience, say “yes”.  You never know who you will inspire and it’s said you only need to know 1% more than the person sitting across from you to be perceived as an expert (I made that up, but it sounds good, so I am sticking with it).

What skills do you need for a career in tech (aside from the actual tech skills)?

Growth mindset coupled with the ability to look for answers, aka Google.  So if you don’t know what is a growth mindset, start by Googling. 😉

What and who were the influencers of who you are today?

Honestly, the most influential people in my life right now would be the community of students surrounding Le Wagon.  These are people from different professional backgrounds, nationalities, and ages, who want to make a change in their lives and actually take the leap of faith to make that change.  

I recently started swimming lessons – breaststroke to be specific.  And I quickly found myself frustrated with the feeling of being a beginner again. It was uncomfortable, slow and discouraging, but then I remembered our bootcamp students.  By watching them push themselves outside their comfort zones and hit goals they didn’t imagine they could reach previously, I was reminded of my own need for patience and trusting myself in the learning process.

Today, I can proudly say I am able to swim two laps breaststroke without a break.

If you had 1 Million € to invest in women, what would you do? 

I would sponsor an all women’s coding bootcamp – run by women, taught by women and attended by women.  While some may say it’s discriminatory or ‘reverse sexism’, I believe it’s necessary.  We have found that when we do not include “women” in the title of our workshops, the female representation plummets and we are back to having mostly men. So until the majority of women feel comfortable showing up to ‘tech events’ that are not geared towards women, it’s important to continue to create environments where women feel safe to explore, learn and play!  I also think more women would consider doing a Bootcamp like Le Wagon if they didn’t have the financial risk. This leaves me to ask, “Who wants to sponsor?”.

So until the majority of women feel comfortable showing up to ‘tech events’ that are not geared towards women, it’s important to continue to create environments where women feel safe to explore, learn and play!

Shannon Graybill is the Co-Founder of Le Wagon Portugal. Founded in 2013 it quickly became one of Europe’s most innovative coding schools, bringing coding skills to creative people and business professionals. Shannon spent the first 5 years after university working and traveling through Asia and Africa before discovering her love of Southern Europe – Portugal in particular. Shannon’s professional focus was mainly on marketing and business development, but entering Lisbon’s startup scene changed her tune. She decided she wanted to learn to code herself and then thought ‘why not just open a school in the process’. And that’s just what she did.

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