Investing in programming workforce diversity is more than a public relations move or a human resources checkbox. It’s a business investment because diversity means more options and chances to better the company.
One of the best ways to invest is targeting educational institutions such as coding bootcamps — intensives that give students the hard skills for entry-level programming jobs. Funding scholarships and initiatives for minority bootcamp students attacks the diversity problem further down the pipeline. It allows employers to proactively diversify their staff by hiring the best of the graduates they invest in.
The media has beaten the “not enough women in tech” issue to death and bootcamps and employers alike have invested heavily in mitigating it. What about other minorities? Only one percent of coding bootcamp students are African-American and less than one percent are Hispanic, according to studies from bootcamp curation sites Course Report and SwitchUp.
Employers and bootcamps are already on the move. Galvanize, which has coding bootcamps and similar career accelerators in data science, recently offered the Reverend Jesse Jackson Scholarship in Data Science. Funded by Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, it will provide a full scholarship for one African-American student at Galvanize U, Galvanize’s data science masters program.
Galvanize’s director of special projects, Ryan Nadeau, said Galvanize has also formed corporate partnerships with dozens of companies including Google. With many of the partnerships, employers invested in diversity scholarships so they could hire before anyone else.
Dozens of these companies are based in Galvanize’s incubator space, which allows efficient collaboration on diversity initiatives and business partnerships. Melinda Epler runs Change Catalyst — a company that invests in funding and training a diverse range of female entrepreneurs and tech workers — out of this space. Epler has advised Galvanize and other companies working out of the space on diversity. Similar companies such as RocketSpace, which hosts the RocketU bootcamp, have tried the strategy of having bootcamps, companies and diversity initiatives in the same incubator space.
Some employers fund diversity remotely, making it difficult to measure their return on investment. New Relic, a software analytics company, provided the New Relic Diversity Scholarship in Software Development and Design for minority students at online coding bootcamp Bloc.
Victor Yudi Tomo, who lives in Brazil, received the $500 scholarship and put it towards Bloc’s $5,000 iOS development course.
“I wanted to start doing Bloc, but it was too expensive,” Tomo said. “Here in Brazil, $500 is a lot of money.”
Tomo did not know New Relic was funding this scholarship until weeks into his bootcamp. He was grateful but uninterested in working with them. Instead, he achieved his ambition of starting his own company, HeyCheff, an app that helps Brazilians plan their restaurant-related outings.
Some employers take another approach by granting the scholarships directly to a student they intend to hire with the condition that he or she performs well in the bootcamp. There’s no guarantee the student will live up to the employer’s expectations, but it’s a justifiable risk, according to Dev Bootcamp Founder Jon Stowe.
“The cost of sending somebody through Dev Bootcamp compared to the cost of hiring somebody as an employee and then losing them is much less,” Stowe said. He said these investments have paid off because the scholarship encourages the student to work harder.
Dev Bootcamp also has the Engineering Empathy program built into the bootcamp experience. The program requires students and instructors to discuss diversity and hidden biases. It’s part of a culture of inclusion that encourages students to bring their whole self every day, according to Stowe.
In spite of these positive steps, there is still much work to be done.
“There are more blacks in Congress and state legislatures than there are in Silicon Valley,” Rev. Jesse Jackson said during an interview with Wayne Sutton, who has also partnered with Galvanize by leading BUILDUP, a company that supports underrepresented entrepreneurs in technology.
Jackson said he was interested in diversity in Silicon Valley because “access to capital” was a key part of the next stage in African Americans’ struggle for equality. It’s time for more employers in the tech space to help the black community — and all underrepresented communities — advance.