Today, the tech industry is booming! Not only is the technology we use becoming more advanced and accessible, but jobs in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields are becoming increasingly more popular and more well-paid. And yet, as the industry booms, many sources warn that there are shortages in the STEM labor pool--that there may be close to 1,000,000 unfilled positions in tech from now until 2020. There is another big problem with this growth that needs to be addressed. The majority of people succeeding in these fields are White and Asian males. The groups of people who are being left out of this success are largely women and people of color.
Although the proportion of Black and Latino students graduating with computer science degrees is small (roughly 9%), the numbers of Blacks and Latinos being hired in the tech industry is far smaller (roughly 5%). So, there is an abundance of tech work, and yet people of color who are qualified to fill these positions are not being hired. Why is this lack of diversity in the tech industry a problem? It’s a problem, because specific groups of already marginalized peoples are without access to some of the most highly-paid and relevant jobs, diverse user-bases for technology are not being represented by those building said technology, and ultimately, because this is a sign of a larger problem--cultural and structural racism and sexism.
This is a big problem that is not going to be “fixed” overnight. However, some large tech companies, such as Pinterest, have taken strides toward increasing transparency with their demographic hiring statistics, and are making efforts to increase diversity in their hiring practices. Perhaps more importantly, there are many groups actively working to change this reality as well, empowering women and people of color to gain the skills necessary to be competitive in an industry that does not welcome them with open arms. These are groups like Girls Who Code, and The Hidden Genius Project. Another important and innovative group is Telegraph Academy.
Telegraph Academy is an intensive 12-week bootcamp intended to turn aspiring “techies” into full-fledged software engineers. It is built in partnership with Hack Reactor, a well-established programming bootcamp in San Francisco. What sets Telegraph Academy apart, however, is that it is designed and operated specifically for people of color. Albrey Brown, a young black man and graduate of the Hack Reactor intensive bootcamp (2014) developed the idea for Telegraph Academy after graduating from the Hack Reactor program. Seeing the real benefits of the program, he was able to develop valuable skills to increase his pay-grade and do what he deemed to be important work. Albrey started talking with others about the value of his experience, trying to convince them to go through the Hack reactor program as well. He found that many people of color did not take him seriously, that they could not imagine themselves filling the role of “software engineer.” Albrey says this is due to a lack of, “exposure, education, opportunities, and role models.” Albrey, a naturally-inclined educator, decided it was time people of color stop missing out on these opportunities. So after working with Hack Reactor for 6 months, he brought the idea to its founders to create a boot camp specifically geared toward people of color. They jumped at the idea.
Telegraph Academy, operating since March 2015, offers its students multiple ways to finance their bootcamp, and transforms adults of color into viable software engineers, ready to enter into the tech industry and get the jobs they deserve. It is people like Albrey and groups like Telegraph Academy that are working to change the current reality of the tech industry, making it more diverse and inclusive. There is still a long way to go, and the struggle must be a comprehensive one. But groups like Telegraph Academy make it possible to imagine positive change on the horizon.
Theodora (Teddy) Alexander is currently a senior at the University of California Santa Cruz, studying international foreign policy and interning with Veracity Media for the fall. Her major field of study is Sociology, and she is interested in learning how technology can be used to enhance social justice. She has previously worked as a program assistant in transformative after-school programs, and has interned with Unite HERE!, a hospitality workers’ labor union. Teddy is excited to learn about the world of digital campaigns, and is prepared to contribute a fresh perspective to the team.