Resilient Coders Tackles Tech Diversity Issues, One Person at a Time

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won’t go that far, “especially when you consider the fact that startups, and technology companies broadly, hauled us out of the recession,” he argues.

The problem, he says, is not everyone is getting a shot at taking part in the economic prosperity of the tech boom. “It’s not equitable change.”

In Resilient’s early stages, Delmar took vacation days while still working at PayPal to teach coding classes at a Boston-area youth detention facility. He found that many of the students grew up under difficult circumstances at home and in their neighborhoods, and had “slipped through the cracks of the traditional education system,” he says. But many of them possessed the right traits for coding.

“A lot of these young people are very intelligent, very resourceful, very aggressive people,” Delmar says. “Those are the things that make for good technologists.”

After Delmar had some early success training kids at the detention facility, he decided to quit his job at PayPal to run Resilient full time.

So far, about 120 people have participated in the organization’s various programs, Delmar says. Resilient initially focused on teaching software skills to high school students, but this year it expanded its focus to adults hoping to find employment in the tech industry. It added a seven-week bootcamp for people ages 17 to 27, and 21 students have graduated from the two sessions it has run so far, Delmar says. Those students pay nothing out of pocket to participate; Resilient’s programs are funded by donations and revenue it generates from an in-house Web design and development shop, Resilient Lab.

The best of the bootcamp graduates can get hired for a three-month apprenticeship at the lab. During the apprenticeship, they continue learning while also getting paid to work on projects for clients. Those apprenticeships ideally lead to employment, Delmar says.

Resilient—which currently operates from CIC’s downtown Boston offices—also runs a more informal “coworking” program where youths and adults can hang out for a few hours a week working on various software projects.

Delmar says almost all of Resilient’s students have been black and/or Latino, and many of them are men.

“Before this year, we had a hard time recruiting young women,” he says. “This is largely due to the fact that we tend to work with ‘high risk’ and ‘proven risk’ populations, which skew heavily male. Our most recent bootcamp included two young women, who swept first and second place in the class” and earned apprentice spots in the lab, he says.

So far, Resilient has helped eight people land software internships or jobs at places such as the Boston Globe, Boston University, and digital design firm Fresh Tilled Soil, Delmar says.

Julien-Stewart is one of them. After completing Resilient’s bootcamp and scoring an apprenticeship in its lab, he was offered an internship with Colaberry, a data analytics services firm that also trains military veterans and people of diverse backgrounds for jobs in software. Julien-Stewart is currently pursuing an associate’s degree in business management from Southern New Hampshire University, with plans to get a bachelor degree.

He says Resilient supports and encourages its students, showing them what it takes to secure a job as a coder. But it’s up to the students to follow through. “What you put in, you get out,” Julien-Stewart says. Resilient is “not spreading any false hopes,” he adds.

Resilient’s job-placement numbers won’t make a dent in tech’s diversity problem any time soon, but it’s still early days for the nonprofit. And Delmar says he prefers working with smaller groups of students in order to have a bigger impact on them.

“If you can say as an organization that you have alumni that go through your program and that really hasn’t changed their lives, other than to give them warm and fuzzies of ‘maybe they were inspired’—fuck that,” he says. “We’re in the business of making real change. For us that means concentrating on fewer young people.”

Delmar says Resilient might increase the size of its programs eventually, but that will depend on raising more money and growing the pool of partner businesses looking to hire Resilient grads. “We don’t want to outstrip the demand with the supply,” he says.

In the long run, Delmar says he thinks employers can help move the needle on the diversity of the tech workforce by instituting more in-house training programs for new hires. He says such initiatives could provide more opportunities for applicants of diverse backgrounds who show promise but still need to learn some additional, specific skills before they’re ready to do the job. Some Boston-area companies already have such programs, including Akamai Technologies, Wayfair, and Intrepid Pursuits, Delmar says.

He wants more companies to say, “We’re going to take someone who’s not quite there yet, but shows the characteristics we need—integrity, hustle, urgency—that we want as part of the mosaic of our company culture.” He adds, “That’s how this problem is going to begin to tip.”

[Top photo of Devonte Stewart taken by Steven Julien-Stewart. Courtesy of Resilient Coders.]

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