Uber's latest initiative supports diversity in tech in the Philadelphia region - Technical.ly Philly

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May 1, 2018 12:26 pm

Uber’s latest initiative supports diversity in tech in the Philadelphia region

Uber's 8-80 Coding program is investing in the region's future tech talent.

Volunteer instructor Mjumbe Poe works with a student at Coded by Kids.

(Courtesy photo)

Imagine how different the region’s tech industry would look if every 16-year-old in public school could build their own website, or code a data visualization in JavaScript.

According to a 2014 report by the EEOC, over 60 percent of high-tech industry employees nationwide were white and more than 80 percent of executive positions were held by white males. A recently shared report from analytics firm Paysa showed that a mere 2.5 percent of Philadelphia tech employees were black and 3 percent were Hispanic. In stark contrast, 44 percent of all Philadelphia residents are black and 14 percent are Hispanic.

There is an obvious lack of diversity within the tech industry. Ridesharing service Uber is aiming to change that with its 8-80 Coding initiative.

Uber is working with local nonprofits to bring coding and technical-employment skills to students of all ages (hence the name 8-80) with the goal of fostering a more diverse and inclusive future population of tech talent. Launched in Philadelphia in 2017, Uber announced this week that it is expanding its investment to Delaware by supporting Coded by Kids.

Three Philadelphia-region organizations that work to build diversity in the tech community by providing education were selected to receive funding from 8-80 Coding throughout 2018: Coded by Kids, TechGirlz and The Item.

Coded by Kids

“For many students of color, entry into technology can be a fluke,” said Coded by Kids COO Maggie Deptola. “If a school is already teaching coding, it’s because they have that unicorn teacher that knows a programming language. But not all schools have that person.”

Coded by Kids brings industry professionals into public-school classrooms in Philadelphia and Wilmington to engage students with its project-based curriculum.

“Education policy conversations often revolve around what’s possible for teachers to learn and teach, and less about what students need to know to participate in the tech economy,” Deptola said.

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A Coded by Kids classroom. (Courtesy photo)

A Coded by Kids classroom. (Courtesy photo)

With the support of Uber’s 8-80 program, Depolta hopes to expand Coded by Kids’ programs into 30 local high schools from its current 17.

Some public schools simply don’t have the capacity or equipment to support advanced tech classes, which makes programs outside of school hours even more essential. Coded by Kids also offers classes in rec centers throughout the city.

TechGirlz

The 8-80-funded TechGirlz, which recently celebrated teaching its 10,000th student, is focused on getting middle-school girls engaged with tech, in all applications, to empower their future careers.

Participants at a TechGirlz summer camp. (Photo by Juliana Reyes)

Participants at a TechGirlz summer camp. (Photo by Juliana Reyes)

The organization’s TechShopz workshops take place in locations ranging from public libraries to spaces in universities and businesses. Subject matter varies from learning coding languages or the basics of mapping to a “day in the life” of working in a TV studio.

“Technology isn’t just about coding,” founder and CEO Tracey Welson-Rossman said. “We are trying to teach girls, who become women, to understand and innovate using technology in their future careers.” TechGirlz has set a goal of having 20,000 students complete its TechShopz by the year 2020.

The Item

A group of "Uber Scholars" attend a workshop run by The Item. (Courtesy photo)

A group of “Uber Scholars” attend a workshop run by The Item. (Courtesy photo)

Opportunities in the current tech market change every year — sometimes every month. “Uber scholar” Catalina Spinnraker knows that opportunities are not set paths.

She received the adult-education scholarship via Uber 8-80-funded organization The Item after working as a customer service rep for Independence Blue Cross.

She finished a cloud computing bootcamp earlier this year. Her next step? Working towards becoming a Certified Solutions Architect Associate (CSAA) for Amazon Web Services.

“Once I become a CSAA, my goal is to work with health and wellness companies to help them leverage the power of cloud computing to take their enterprises to the next level,” Spinnraker said.

What is her advice for people, of all ages and backgrounds, who are thinking about making the leap?

“If it wasn’t for this scholarship, I would have missed the chance to discover a whole new world of possibilities,” she said. “I know that breaking into tech can be difficult. Remember, you probably know more than you give yourself credit for.”

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