By Lynne d. Johnson
Back in 2014, when it became public knowledge that the big tech players (Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Google) weren't hiring enough women and people of color, there became what seemed like a national call to action to get these underrepresented groups ready for tech careers.
With this big diversity push also came an increasing number of organizations creating tech opportunities for communities of color by launching coding academies and schools, providing programs that offer tech entrepreneurs much-needed resources, and directly connecting young people to tech careers and opportunities. Here are eight of them.
Founded in Chicago in 2011 by two African-American men (Mike McGee and Neal Sales-Griffin, both Northwestern graduates) as Code Academy, Starter League is an 11-week program that teaches people how to build web applications. With a mission to teach people to solve the problems they care about with technology, the program also partners with Chicago public schools to train teachers how to code, so they can teach their students.
To date, over 1,000 people have taken classes at the tech school, learning everything from web development, HTML and even user experience. When the founders first launched the school, they did it because they find a dearth of in-person code training around the country. "So we decided to build it," McGee told Emerging Prairie.
After working in the chemical engineering and biotech field for 25 years, in 2010 Kimberly Bryant decided she wanted to become an entrepreneur. After networking a bit, she kept hearing about the lack of women and people of color in tech. So she connected with a developer from Code for America and two biotech colleagues to launch a pilot program in 2011 in a low-income community.
Now in 2015, the San Francisco-based tech company, with a mission to increase the number of women in color in the tech space, has reached over 3,000 girls of color ages 7 to 17. With chapters in nine cities as well as pilot programs in Dallas and Miami, the program offers afterschool and weekend workshops and summer camps in programming, game development, robotics and tech entrepreneurship. There are also hackathons, where the girls work together to build problem-solving apps.
AllStarCode prepares young men of color for full time employment in the tech industry by providing mentorship, industry exposure and intensive training in computer science. After seeing programs aimed at preparing women for careers in tech, Christina Lewis Halpern (a former journalist for The Wall Street Journal) discovered there weren't many programs aimed at young Black men.
"This is a group that doesn't have advocates and needs more people who are able to speak for them in this industry," Lewis Halpern told FastCompany. "I saw that that's something I could do, and also it seemed that if I didn't do it, I didn't think anyone else would."
The daughter of the richest African-American man in the 1980s, Reginald E. Lewis, Lewis Halpern credits her father's success to the Harvard Law School summer program he attended when he was young. The program runs year-round workshops, hackathons and a six-week summer intensive. Some of the program's alumni have gone on to run high school hackathons, intern at tech companies and win full scholarships to Ivy League universities.
Funded by the Oakland Fund for Children and Youth, and the Thomas J. Long Foundation, Hack the Hood launched its first full summer program in Oakland in 2013. The program introduces low-income youth of color to careers in tech by hiring and training them to build websites for real small businesses in their own communities.
During workshops and six-week boot camps, young people gain valuable hands-on experience building mobile-friendly websites, executing search engine optimization, and helping businesses get listed in local online directories. In turn, the youth get to develop portfolios of the work they've done to prepare them for landing jobs in the tech sector. In addition to relevant technical skills, youth also learn critical leadership, entrepreneurship and life skills under the guidance of staff members and volunteer mentors who are professionals working in the field.
In 2014, the program was awarded a $500,000 grant after placing in the top four of the Google Impact Challenge--a contest that gave $5 million to nonprofits with innovative ideas to make the Bay Area stronger. By 2016, the program officers plan to train over 5,000 young people and build over 10,000 websites for local small businesses.
The Hidden Genius Project trains and mentors Black male youth in technology creation, entrepreneurship and leadership skills in hopes of getting them ready for the high-tech sector. In Oakland, not far from Silicon Valley, these young men are learning new languages like Python, HTML5 and Ruby on Rails. With companies like Pixar, Pandora and Ask.com housed in Oakland, it's disconcerting that they're not tapping into the talent right from the local community. The project aims to prepare young men for careers at those companies.
To join the program, the young men have to apply; once accepted, they must commit to attending classes twice a week, beginning with an eight-week long, 40-hour-a-week summer school. Over the course of two years, participants develop a mobile app from concept to completion. After the first year, students get to work on projects from paying clients.
Founded by Jason Young, Kurt Collins, Kilimanjaro Robbs, Ty Moore and others, the Project wants to create an ecosystem for tech talent. "The goal is, after we've worked with them for an entire year, to then have them stay involved at a different level," Hidden Genius Project volunteer Kilimanjaro Robbs told Mashable. "Maybe they become mentors to the younger students while they're still working on something at a higher level. But at the end of the day, the end goal is to make them all employable. That's the bottom line."
Since August 2013, Emile Cambry's BLUE1647 launched to provide a co-working space for local tech startups and serve as a learning lab for students on the south and west sides of Chicago. The organization also hosts a summer youth coding boot camp. Having worked with thousands of Chicago students, BLUE1647 is teaching a host of technology skills in web, mobile and game development.
"I saw a bunch of youth what needed jobs and opportunity. And I saw a lot of stuff in tech. I thought, lets try and educate the next group," Cambry told ChicagoInno. High school students create projects directly related to their lives, like a DJ app program or projects in fashion tech, like necklaces created on 3D printing machines.
Van Jones, along with Global Social Enterprise expert Amy Henderson and Internet tech expert Cheryl Contee, started #YesWeCode with the plan of preparing 100,000 low-income kids for careers in technology. Launched at the 20th annual Essence Festival last year with a hackathon and headline performance by Prince, the organization (in partnership with Facebook) powered its website as a search tool for youth to find local coding education resources, linking them with coding schools like Black Girls Code and Hack the Hood.
#YesWeCode also launched a $10 million fundraising drive to provide scholarships to youth who can't afford to pay for coding classes on their own. "#YesWeCode aspires to become the United Negro College Fund equivalent for coding education," Jones told USA Today. "#YesWeCode exists to find and fund the next Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg in communities you would never expect to find them."
Demographers believe that by 2040, minorities will become the majority in the United States. Tristan Walker and co-founder Laura Weidman Powers want to capitalize on that by preparing Black and Latino engineers to become part of the innovation economy. Less code school and more an internship mentorship program, CODE2040 started in 2012 to place the top performing Black and Latino engineering undergraduates in internships in tech jobs in Silicon Valley. Often tech companies say they want to increase diversity, but they don't know where to find the talent. That's the problem CODE2040 is helping to solve.
"The reason we called it CODE2040 is that in the year 2040, Black and Latinos will be the majority of the country. If we are not incorporating the perspective of what will be the majority of our country in 20 or 30 years, something is wrong," Walker told Mashable.
On the other side, for students it increases awareness about the kind of careers that can be available to them and provides them with the access to those careers. Before entering the fellowship, applicants must pass a coding exam, a phone screen, and then a matching process with one of the organization's host companies. This year, Google will back a new pilot program for CODE2040 in Chicago, Austin and Durham, North Carolina, giving minority entrepreneurs in each city a one-year stipend and free office space.
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