Diversity numbers in the tech industry remain stagnant. Despite African-Americans being one of the top demographic groups for digital consumption, when it comes to forging career paths in the tech industry there isn’t a level playing field. According to a study released by the National Urban League, at major social media and tech companies, less than five percent of employees are Black. Disrupt Harlem Code Squad—a free Harlem-based tech and entrepreneurship program—is aiming to change the status quo by empowering opportunity youth through STEM education.
The program—which is an initiative led by the Harlem Business Alliance—was created as an avenue to connect young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 to the New York City tech industry. Over the course of 15-weeks, program participants are provided with one-on-one training, courses on how to code, field trips to the headquarters of tech giants in the New York City area, and ongoing mentorship. Disrupt Harlem Code Squad also puts the emphasis on entrepreneurship; empowering students to design their own mobile and web apps. After completing the program, some of the participants are aligned with internships in the tech industry and others continue to expand their skills at a full-stack developer coding program led by The Knowledge House.
As New York City’s tech landscape continues to expand and there are talks about it transforming into the next Silicon Valley, its imperative for opportunity youth from inner-city communities to be able to compete in this industry. Furthermore, tapping into this talent pool can be a solution to closing tech’s diversity gap. “Through our Disrupt Harlem Code Squad initiative, HBA aims to level the playing field for Harlem’s opportunity youth when it comes to entering the tech industry. African-Americans represent less than 2 percent of employees at major tech companies,” Regina Smith, Executive Director, Harlem Business Alliance, told NewsOne. “Shifting the narrative starts with exposure. One of the catalysts for change is introducing STEM education programs to all inner-city youth. We educate young adults about coding, career pathways in tech as well as basic business fundamentals. We realize our youth possesses tremendous untapped potential and it is our responsibility to invest in the next generation of leaders.”
Disrupt Harlem Code Squad has proven to be effective and impactful. Some of the students have received job offers from major tech companies and others have launched their own businesses. Many of the program participants pay it forward by serving as mentors.
“Disrupt Harlem Code Squad targets a vulnerable subset of our community—young adults who are under or unemployed—and gives them the tools to make a positive change in their lives. Tech is a growing industry, but members of our community weren’t being prepared to have those careers,” said Disrupt Harlem Code Squad Program Director Philomena Boateng. “We’ve made our program free because we recognize they don’t have the resources that other “non-traditional” students do to pay the high cost of programs like these. We believe that by educating our youth on a new career path, we’re also giving them the means to improve their economic situation on a long-term basis. We put real action behind inclusivity efforts in tech that some companies only talk about.”
As the program gears up for its next cohort, it aims to continue to make an impact in the lives of youth. The program is currently accepting applications and the deadline is September 16.