Code2040 — shaping the future for minority coders
Blacks In Technology recently sat down with Laura Weidman (Founding Executive Director of Code2040) for a one on one interview about the Code2040 program.
In case you aren’t aware Code2040 is an organization that matches high performing black and latino undergraduate and graduate coders and software engineering students with Silicon Valley start-ups for summer internships,
and also provides them with the insight, networks and support to ensure their successful participation in the high tech innovation economy
1. When was the organization founded?
CODE2040 was founded in February 2012. We’re a startup, too!
2. Who is CODE2040 (employees and roles)?
Tristan Walker is the founder and chair of the board of CODE2040 and I (Laura Weidman Powers) am the organization’s founding executive director.
Amy Schapiro is CODE2040’s program manager, running point on all recruiting and summer programming.
Jonathan Brack leads program evaluation and alumni programming, ensuring we’re maximizing our effectiveness and supporting our alums.
Jocelyn Jarrett manages accounting and HR operations, using her expertise in helping set up nonprofits to ensure we’re making efficient use of our resources.
The rest of the board (beyond Tristan) is Ben Horowitz, Amber Saloner Tennant, Marc Hedlund, and Bea Perez, and we’re fortunate to have an awesome group of advisors and volunteers as well.
3. What is the goal of CODE2040?
The latest census projections show that people of color will be the majority in the United States in the year 2040. And yet there is no indication that the substantial minority achievement gap will be closed by that same year. We launched CODE2040 to make a direct impact on the achievement gap by increasing the numbers of underrepresented minorities participating in the high-value innovation economy – an economy centered in Silicon Valley.
4. Why is CODE2040 important?
There are three main trends we see in our country today: 1) the demographic shift I just described, 2) the increasing importance of technology in all segments of the economy, 3) the importance of entrepreneurship in job creation and innovation.
Currently, blacks and Latino/as are not participating in technology and tech entrepreneurship in large numbers – yet before long, they’ll make up a huge portion of the workforce. We have to ensure that they’re able to succeed and lead in this space or we’re going to have an even more severe talent crunch in technology and innovation in the future than we’re seeing now.
5. Why do you think minority students have a much harder time seeking internships in SV?
We see several factors contribute to the underrepresentation of blacks and Latino/as in Silicon Valley:
First, companies tend to look to their employees’ networks for potential hires. This is is an efficient practice, but as a result, if you’re not already networked into the startup scene, it can be challenging to get on the radar of hiring managers, particularly at smaller companies and startups.
Second, students who are interested in Silicon Valley and entrepreneurship in theory often don’t know where to begin in practice. It can be hard to even figure out which companies are hiring or could be a good fit for you without someone to help you navigate the waters.
Third, I think there is a tendency by those unfamiliar with Silicon Valley’s startup scene (of all ages and races) to overestimate the level of risk associated with a technical career in the Valley and thus to not even pursue the opportunities that are there. Startups seem risky and scary, but in reality, talent is highly valued in Silicon Valley and top performers generally don’t have issues with job security – if anything, they’re getting too many offers!
6. How many students participate in the program?
We ran a pilot of the program with five students at five startups the first summer, 2012, and we’ll have around 20 students participating this coming summer. We’ll be continuing to scale from there!
7. In talking with the students, what seems to be the biggest thing they take away from the program?
My favorite thing is something one fellow said to me: before participating in CODE2040 and hearing from all the speakers and meeting with her executive coach, she thought there was a mythical “entrepreneur” personality type that meant that you were destined to be a founder. After hearing firsthand from dozens of entrepreneurs, she realized that they were ordinary people with great ideas, great passion, and great work ethic, and she could be a founder, too.
8. Why do you think that companies like TechCrunch and Andreessen Horowitz agree to become partners with CODE2040 and how does it benefit them and CODE2040?
What excites me most about our supporters is that they are the exact companies and organizations that will benefit from increased diversity in Silicon Valley (and beyond) and they totally get it. Venture capital firms like Andreessen Horowitz want in their network the best entrepreneurs who will create innovative companies today and tomorrow, and Andreessen Horowitz thinks that our fellows have the potential to be those entrepreneurs. For them, supporting CODE2040 is not charity, it’s just a different type of investment.
9. What is the application process like?
It’s four parts: a written portion, a coding assessment, a phone interview, and a matching process with our partner startups. It’s pretty rigorous!
10. How do you feel about the notion that there shouldn’t be an organization that caters to a section of the population such as minorities and that everyone should make it on their own merit?
At CODE2040 we believe strongly in the importance of making it on the strength of one’s merits. However, the ability to do just that is predicated on having the opportunity to showcase one’s merits in the first place. CODE2040 aims to raise awareness about and provide access to such opportunities.
11. The atmosphere is changing, more and more organizations geared towards helping minorities in tech are popping up. Do you think one of the goals of CODE2040 is to make it to where an organization like CODE2040 doesn’t have to exist?
Absolutely. I describe our ultimate goal as “executing ourselves out of existence.” If we do our job well, by the year 2040 there will be no need for us anymore!
For more information about Code2040 visith them at www.code2040.org
Follow them on Twitter @Code2040