How a Tech Movement like StreetCode is Giving Rise to a Generation of Leaders in East Palo Alto
Posted on March 17, 2017
Mark Zuckerberg isn’t the only one talking about building supportive, safe, informed, civically-engaged, and inclusive communities. Very recently, in a 5800-word epic letter to the public he said, "This is a time when many of us around the world are reflecting on how we can have the most positive impact.” Even though we talk more and more about diversity, yet, we have become so frighteningly polarized in our like-minded homogeneous echo chambers that people don't know and can't even understand the problems of those who live just a few miles away.
I made a resolution of sorts this January, one that would push me to get out of my bubble and get more face time with those that are not part of my community. That journey lead me to StreetCode Academy in East Palo Alto. I found out that StreetCode’s mission aligns very well with my own thoughts about technology being the great equalizer. There is indeed a lack of access to high-tech training for youth and adults in communities of color and impoverished areas like East Palo Alto, and their goal to create leaders in tech that can hack, hustle and design resonated with me. Formerly known as the murder capital of the country, East Palo Alto has double the unemployment rate of its rich neighbor to the west despite all the economic development that has happened in the last ten years or so. Even now, fifty feet is all that it takes to divide the rich and the poor in Silicon Valley.
As a technologist myself, I had always wanted my children to be ahead of the learning curve. That is why I introduced coding to my son at a Python camp over summer while he was still in elementary school. That camp lead to a more serious passion in programming that eventually made him dabble in multiple entrepreneurial pursuits while in middle and high school. Now as he is heading out to college I wanted to see how he can give back to an underserved segment of society that has been ignored too long. With that in mind, I decided to make the trek to East Palo Alto twice a week to see how we could help.
To my surprise I discovered a family from Tayo, the 12-year-old StreetCoder who is churning out apps like Spike Run, which was endorsed by none other than Mark Zuckerberg, to Mama Jennifer who cooks a healthy Jambalaya on every class day, to Brother Clint who blesses the food. This is a family of givers.
My son Armaan is a high school senior who was recently accepted into Harvard’s class of 2021 as a Computer Science Major. The exposure and opportunities Armaan got in his growing years is sadly not available to many bright and underrepresented kids from impoverished areas, and that is why I encouraged him to join the movement at StreetCode and become an instructor. Technical directors and instructors at StreetCode like Nathaniel Shak and Abaho Katabarwa of Stanford University welcomed Armaan as the newest mentor on the block. Brian, a bright student, and Armaan, the fun tutor, seemed to be such a good match that it warmed my heart to see how there was an authentic connection between the two.
My daughter Anya, an extremely kind 12-year-old, has never had to step outside of her insulated bubble until now. Anya is a passionate coder and a talented athlete, and like her brother she is already designing and developing applications. Instead of creating new things with just her own circle of friends I encouraged her to try and make new friends from StreetCode, learn technical skills alongside them, and eventually pull them into her software projects to collaborate. Schools don’t give that kind of opportunity as they create these borders between districts. Something that Founder Olatunde Sobomehin has said, struck a chord within me, “We just want to create the best Silicon Valley that we can, you know, the most equitable Silicon Valley. We think that we can show Silicon Valley how to really build technology equitably, and we believe we have a model for how you can be inclusive.”
I am very hopeful and optimistic that the diversity deficit in tech can be closed by programs like StreetCode. It’s time that we all come together to support the needs of StreetCode by increasing access to high-quality tech education. If I have inspired someone in tech to make an investment in the program, I will consider this a blessing. The StreetCode Team is fundraising and if any of you are interested in investing ( corporate grants are welcome too) or running a story on them or could assist with mentoring the bright young coders there ( requires some commitment), please feel free to get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
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