#YesWeCode looks to close the coding inequality gap
after Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in February 2012, liberal
activist Van Jones was talking with his friend Prince—yes, that
Prince—about the circumstances of the shooting.
think he made the observation,” Jones told TIME, “that when
African-American young people wear hoodies people think they’re thugs,
but when white kids wear hoodies you assume that they’re going to be
dot-com billionaires,” a reference to the outerwear favored by Facebook
founder Mark Zuckerberg and his ilk. “We just started thinking: ‘Well,
how do we turn that around?’”
of that spark was born Yes We Code, an ambitious initiative of Jones’
Rebuild the Dream organization aimed at preparing 100,000 low-income
children for careers writing computer code. While good-paying
blue-collar jobs continue to disappear in the U.S., computer science is a
rare bright spot of opportunity for people without a college education.
“This is another opportunity for people to make a really serious, solid
middle-class income,” said Jones, a former environmental aide in the
It’s an old yarn by now that computer science is one of the
fastest-growing, highest-paying career paths in America. By 2020, half
of all jobs in the STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering and Math) fields
will be in computing, according to the Association for Computer
Machinery. The latest salary survey
from the National Association of Colleges and Employers says the
average starting salary for computer science majors in 2014 is more than
$61,000—just about $1,000 shy of the top earners, engineering grads.
Contrast that with the fact that computer science education in STEM has seen a decrease
in enrollment in the last 20 years, with a particularly precipitous
drop in the past decade as school districts have reconfigured
curriculums to meet standards set by the No Child Left Behind
initiative. Those students who do enroll in computer science are
overwhelmingly white and male. In 11 states last year, not a single
black student took the Computer Science Advanced Placement exam for
college credit. That may not mean much in a place like Maine, but in
Mississippi, where more than 37 percent of the population is black, the
statistic takes on a whole new significance.
Put simply, many parts of the country have systematically reduced
educational opportunities in the growing field of computer science for
students who depend on the public school system. “It has become
privileged knowledge,” said Chris Stephenson, executive director of the
Computer Science Teacher’s Association. “The haves have continued to get
access and the have-nots, however you want to define that, have not.”
There are dozens of organizations around the country working to
address this disparity—Black Girls Code, Hack the Hood, and many others.
What Yes We Code hopes to do is connect those groups with the tools and
resources to radically scale up. “There’s a ton of wasted genius in
low-opportunity communities,” Jones said, adding that Yes We Code does
not exist solely to serve black children. “African-American, Latino,
low-income Asian, Native American, Appalachian. We aren’t only for
African-Americans,” he said.
Beginning with a launch at the 20th annual Essence Festival in New
Orleans on July 4—Prince agreed to headline the event on the condition
that Yes We Code be included in the festivities—the group will unveil
its website to connect coding education organizations with low-income
pupils. At the festival, Yes We Code will also launch a fundraising
drive to amass a $10 million scholarship fund to pay for the cost of
coding education for kids who can’t afford it on their own. (Disclosure:
The Essence Festival is a production of Essence magazine, which is
owned by Time Inc., the parent company of TIME.)
The cadre of young, poor kids Jones hopes to help teach to write code
will not be young forever and Jones hopes they won’t be poor forever
either, creating a new generation of role models he sees as lacking in
their communities today.
“Athletes, or rappers, or hustlers or President Obama. That’s it. All
four of those are very hard and unlikely pathways for success,” Jones
said. “We just haven’t really been putting a spotlight on this
opportunity.” Yes We Code intends to turn on that spotlight.
“The future,” Jones told TIME, ”is being written in code.”
thanks for thread. I was going to post one today about Google's plan but I'll add it here.
Google Invests $50 Million to Close the Tech Gender Gap
Google has promised to do all it can to recruit more women into
Silicon Valley, and now the company is putting its money where its PR
is. On Thursday, it launched a $50 million initiative to teach young
girls how to code.
Google hopes Made With Code will invade both households and classrooms.
It has pledged a $15 million investment over the next three years in
computer-science grants to develop the Girls and computer-science
education system. It has also partnered with national organizations like
the Girl Scouts to bring coding to programs in which girls already
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