One of numerous coding bootcamps to recently establish themselves in Philadelphia to meet the high demand for talent in the tech economy, Boston-based Resilient Coders has trained its first cohort including local Black and Latinx technologists since its launch here in January 2021.
This first cohort includes just five students from Philly (out of an expected 10), as well as 21 from Boston, a spokesperson said. It officially concludes May 28, and until then, Resilient Coders will guide its students through the job search process.
A day after members of this inaugural cohort shared their presentations on their work at a virtual Demo Day, two soon-to-be grads told Technical.ly about what led them to the program, and what they have spent the last four months building alongside their training.
Finding community through technology
Georgia Gwinnett College graduate Jasmin Alvarez was working in ecommerce when she found out about Resilient Coders via the Techqueria Slack channel. That’s where Alvarez, a former exercise science major, connected with an alumni of the program who explained what the training was like.
“It was something I [saw] myself doing,” said Alvarez, now 25. “I wanted to solve an issue back home in my home state Georgia. I would see problems and while we said we could solve them through technology, no one took the initiative. That’s where I got into coding and self-teaching.”
Alvarez decided to take a big step and moved to Philadelphia for personal reasons while a part of Resilient Coders’ first local cohort, though the program hosted all of its coursework virtually.
During the program, Alvarez built an app called Food Amor, which would allow customers to purchase leftover food at a steep discount. She got the idea from her time working at a bagel café that made bagels fresh, only to have employees throw away leftovers at the end of each day.
“There is so much food waste,” she said. “I read an article [that said] in Europe, they have refrigerators that they leave leftover meals in and people can grab them if they want them.”
Alvarez said she’s appreciated the support of Resilient Coders’ staff: As someone used to learning on her own, she noted a distinct difference in her getting hands-on help from instructors that she didn’t find learning on her own. And being a part of the org’s first Philadelphia cohort took on a new meaning after Alvarez acquired COVID-19 during the course of her training.
“It was a struggle because there were deadlines for my work,” she said. “The [Resilient Coders] staff supported me and they actually told me to not work, but I kept working whenever I had the strength. I had emergencies through the program, but they were really understanding toward that, especially when it came to my family and my own well-being.”
As a Mexican American used to only speaking Spanish at home with her parents, the transition to coding in English has presented a significant learning curve and she hopes that in the future, Resilient Coders can teach people how to code in non-English languages. Still, she said her experience has been a positive one and set her on a positive trajectory.
New country, newer skills
Like Alvarez, 24-year-old Danstan Kimuli saw a different path for himself by pursuing a career in tech. Originally from Uganda, Kimuli arrived in the U.S. three years ago and started working as a pharmacy technician in Kensington four months after his arrival.
Kimuli was reliant upon using public transportation to get to work. But when the pandemic happened and he felt less comfortable on SEPTA, he resigned from his job and focused on his passion for technology.
“I started taking a few tutorials on the internet,” he said. “A few months after taking tutorials, Resilient Coders found me. I received an email from the Nationalities Service Center about Resilient Coders. Interestingly enough, this was the first cohort in Philadelphia, and it’s managed to set my life on a different [course].”
Kimuli considers adaptability and problem solving among his characters traits, so he’s appreciated how Resilient Coders teaches its students how to learn new skills and adapt to new situations. He also values the organization’s business model that provides free training to its participants and a stipend to go with training.
“Most bootcamps cost you money and people end up getting in debt,” he said. “They changed the game.”
Kimuli built an app that can connect people experiencing homelessness with places to stay. The idea resonated with him on a personal level: When he was new in the U.S. a few years ago, he was sometimes unsure of where he would live next.
“[This] can be crucial to society,” he said. “Other people may face a similar situation. My app will help connect people who will face temporary homelessness to rooms that may be available in homes, or new homes altogether.”
After his time with Resilient Coders, Kimuli, like Alvarez, plans on starting his tech career while helping others like him thrive. He’s currently looking for work.
“It’s not about just getting a job but also supporting my community and others who may be in my position, because I needed help,” he said. “I want to see others prosper. I was a new kid in this country and couldn’t afford college. This is something I really appreciate.”
Michael Butler is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.