Rob’s article about WordCamp paying their speakers got a lot of pushback last week. Rob stressed correctly that one of the biggest factors when it comes to inequality in tech is finances. The tech field has historically been seen as an upper-class, white male field. Taking out the financial barrier is only one step toward fixing this gap. The most interesting critique to me about this was that this is something that would not work or has not been done before. Also, that it would possibly have the opposite effect of making the already privileged in the community more powerful.
I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about the different organizations that have helped alleviate the inequality in tech by paying their students, and the impact it is making on the tech community.
The TechHire initiative was a federal program that awarded full scholarships and paid internships to underrepresented persons. Their goal was to not only help fill the number of tech jobs that go unfulfilled every year but also to help those who have faced barriers to getting employed in life in general. Tech Hire presented opportunities to individuals with disabilities, limited English proficiency, and even individuals with criminal records. The grants averaged $4,000 per person and paid for books, classes, resume help, and a game-changer when it comes to getting your first tech job, paid internships. There was also no expectation of paying them back, working for a specific company or giving part of your salary in return for this. The expectation was that the more help that was given to people who have historically never had a chance to succeed in tech, the more that it would benefit us all. We would have more workers in the tech field, and the field would become more diverse and expand with ideas that would change the world.
TechHire also targeted rural areas of the country that had very little access to tech resources. Millions of dollars were sent to South Central Appalachia, an area that has been devastated by drug issues, poverty, and brain drain. It was very refreshing to see this type of initiative go to places where people were routinely told to leave to have a good education or a good life. The onus was not on those who did not have resources or guides to learn but on us as a country. As a result, tech hire was able to put thousands of people into tech jobs across the United States. Including myself. I am a graduate of the TechHire program and a success story of how much you can do for someone when you believe in their worth.
Resilient Coders is a non-profit organization that provides a free Bootcamp for underrepresented people in tech as well as a stipend. Founded by David Delmar Sentíes who was frustrated about the lack of diversity and systemic racism in the tech industry. The goal as stated on their website is,
Resilient not only teaches the MERN stack but goes beyond to help students obtain food, housing, childcare, and mental health counseling resources. All of which can be very big barriers to education and success.
If you think that’s where the company stops helping, you are indeed in for a surprise. While Resilient cannot admit everyone, Leon Noel, the managing director at Resilient Coders, started a free coding Bootcamp that teaches code and provides resources for newbies on how to break into the tech industry. You can follow along at your own speed and meet with Leon and others for additional tutoring. One of the most meaningful things that the program has done is encourage the #100Devs to connect with those in the tech industry already to get advice and help. This way developers who may not be able to help people get into tech financially can provide insight, help, and mentorship all very valuable to success.
There are many other programs that are also bridging the gaps in tech by paying their students or providing full scholarships. 42 offers tuition-free code training and even housing. Kable Academy is free to residents of Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana and they also receive a $350 to $400 weekly stipend.
Paying/providing underrepresented people in tech with resources has been successful for those who have taken the initiative to do it. It has also been life-changing for the sheer number of people involved. I am someone that not only gives back my time by mentoring and helping newbies into tech (I absolutely love the 100Devs I mentor) but I was also in their shoes. For someone who left an industry filled with abusive bosses and systems, finding these programs were a breath of fresh air.
I want to also point out something very important. My journey into tech was not an easy one. I dealt with racism, sexism, the death of two siblings while I was learning how to code, and an uncertain future in a city where being black and a woman in tech almost certainly meant I was not going to be able to get a job. At no point in this process when given the opportunities to be paid, mentored, or helped, did I think, “Well this is great that they want to help me, but what about the people who will take advantage?” Now I’m not saying that isn’t a valid concern to have. As disgusting as it is, it is not uncommon for people to take advantage of systems that are meant to help those in less than fortunate circumstances. But why is that the first thought that some people have? With so much good that these programs have done for others, why would we want less of them based on the imaginary thought of someone privileged taking advantage?
We have a long way to go when it comes to bridging inequalities in tech – heck, in the world. The divides we feel and work through weren’t created overnight and won’t be solved as fast either. There is also no one solution to fixing these problems. However, if we take these chances to follow the leads of these incredible people and organizations that have already done the hard work for us, we have a greater chance of ending these biases sooner.