In my post "How to Change Silicon Valley’s Brofest: Diversity" I noted the importance of creating what I identify as "ladders in" to technology to combat Silicon Valley's lack of racial, ethnic, and gender diversity brought into focus by the Ellen Pao and Kleiner Perkins trial. The statistics about the dearth of gender, racial, and ethnic difference are not alarming as detailed by this National Center for Women and Information Technology infographic which illustrates the steep decline as you filter in gender, ethnicity, and race. What should prompt outrage is that in 2015, the numbers and the social and educational conditions they document have remained consistently and abysmally low for the two decades since the tech field exploded. Why does this matter? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2020, 1 million computer science jobs could remain open because there won't be enough qualified computer science grads to fill them.
This too is not new. We must go one step further and start connecting the dots. Look at the large role of unemployment and low educational achievement in some of our nation's communities marked by civic strife. Now imagine what a lucrative career in technology could do to help rebuild the lives and cities of Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland.
Instagram and Snapchat are cluttered with girls, low income, and students of color. Latinos over-index on the use of mobile devices and social media. These are clear indicators that these students are exposed to technology. But they are consumers and not creators of tech. Tackling poverty is a daunting prospect that requires a focus on the basics--food in one's tummy and a roof over one's head. But once these needs are met, how do we create a sustainable future for families?
Exposing students to programming at an early age offers a clear way out of the barrio. Let's convert all those selfies and harness creativity to build the platforms and apps that can solve problems--the world's and their community's, big and small challenges alike.
Is computer science taught in elementary schools? Actually, it's only offered in about 10% of K-12 schools, according to data collected by the AP test. That means it is left to parents and community groups to fill this gap.
I hopped online to search. Instead of pages upon pages of online and brick and mortar programs, I found few that teach coding and even fewer to female and minority kids. This differs from a search of fashion or social apps.
Why are Silicon Valley giants and ubiquitous apps such as Facebook and Twitter not leading the charge? The former made a big hire in 2014 to lead diversity initiatives throughout the company. Facebook and Twitter are representative of a whole industry leveraged by innovation. Surely, they can benefit from a more educated homegrown workforce of engineers and developers.
Silicon Valley companies have infinite globs of money to help shape the labor force required to stay competitive. What is lacking is leadership in the form of more robust partnerships and support of local organizations that are engaged in this education and economic fight. Today's urgency should boraden the question from one more local program to support to how can the programs developed in East Palo Alto be scaled to reach children in Texas' Rio Grande Valley, Detroit, and the Anacostia neighborhood of Washington, D.C.?
We don't need any more studies or commissions. We need action and leadership from a group of people who stand to gain the most from their social, educational, and economic investment. Until the tech titans step up, I've identified these 7 groups--two online, another only available in the city of Baltimore, the others in between--that offer computing skills to minority and female students.
7 Coding Programs Targeting Diverse Students
- Girls Who Code: Clubs and summer immersion programs around the country to teach girls computing skills.
- Teens Exploring Technology (TxT): Focus on teaching computing and life skills to junior and high school male students of color in South Los Angeles.
- Black Girls Code: Clubs in the San Francisco Bay Area, New York City, and Memphis, plus events such as hackathons and summer camps, expose black and Latino girls to programming languages and the development of games and apps.
- Code in the Schools: An upstart organization that is bringing computer science instruction to every student and school in Baltimore through programs for schools, libraries, and community groups, plus an annual Game Jam, and mentoring. Psst: Mark Zuckerberg, given the recent events, this may be a good organization for you to bankroll.
- Code Studio by Code.org: A national program offering online classes for grade school children which claims to reach 1 in 10 grade-school students in the U.S. with nearly half of them female or African American or Latino.
- DIY Girls: Teaches technical skills to Los Angeles area Latina girls necessary to program an app or design and build toys through classes, after school programs, workshops, and mentoring.
- Google CS First: An online national program for schools, libraries, and community groups targeting 4th through 8th graders and teaching coding through the program Scratch. Disclosure: a summer reading program for Latino children I co-founded received seed money from Google.
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