Code/Interactive Hosts Its First-Ever Diversity in Tech Awards

A celebration makes for a good reason to reflect on work that still needs to be done.

Last night in New York, Code/Interactive held the city’s first Diversity in Tech Awards to honor standout students and advocates who have been shaking up the homogeny in the technology scene.

Code/Interactive is a Bronx-based nonprofit organization that brings education in programming to students in underserved communities to better prepare them for the tech-centric jobs of tomorrow. This includes introducing computer science curriculum in schools, workshops to further develop students’ skills, and summer internships with tech startups.

Dr. Mayida Zaal accepted an award on behalf of her late husband Hank Williams, founder of Platform.org. (photo by Joao-Pierre S. Ruth)

Mayida Zaal accepted an award on behalf of her late husband Hank Williams, founder of Platform.org. (photo by Joao-Pierre S. Ruth)

The awards, part of Social Media Week New York, honored groups and individuals including Digitalundivided, CSNYC, and a posthumous award for Hank Williams, the late founder of Platform.org and a diversity advocate who passed away in November. Williams’s widow, Mayida Zaal, accepted the award on his behalf. “He hoped the Platform community would become a critical mass of engaged and connected individuals who would reach back to those younger generations and serve as role models,” she said.

Student achievement award winner Irving Perez plans to study computer science in the fall at Brandeis University. (photo by Joao-Pierre S. Ruth)

Student achievement award winner Irving Perez plans to study computer science in the fall at Brandeis University. (photo by Joao-Pierre S. Ruth)

A student achievement award went to high school senior Irving Perez, who was turned down numerous times before finally being accepted into the Code/Interactive program—and then he went on to become president of the student executive board.

Minerva Tantoco, New York’s chief technology officer, gave a keynote speech calling for the creation of more economic opportunity for all of the city’s residents, and also cited a continued need to encourage more people from different gender and ethnic backgrounds to become creators of technology. “Even the most diverse tech companies can only boast six percent Black and seven percent Hispanic workforces,” she said. “This divide in technology opportunity and access is a huge priority for us in the city.”

Though there are tech jobs available and many more expected going forward, few students—especially those from lower-income, minority communities—have access to the training necessary to compete in such a market. “You can’t be it if you can’t see it,” Tantoco said, echoing a demand for gender and ethnic diversity that has been repeated across the innovation community.

New York, she said, has some 300,000 tech-related jobs that generate $30 billion in wages. By 2020, some 1.4 million tech jobs will be available across the nation, Tantoco said, citing the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but the country is expected to be able to fill only 29 percent of those positions based on current education trends. “In order for New York City to flourish—and compete—in the digital age, we must prepare New Yorkers to not only consume but create the technology that defines our lives,” Tantoco said.

That call to action continues to be a recurring theme across the city’s private and public sectors, also voiced by presenters last night such as Dawn Barber, co-founder of the New York Tech Meetup, and Assemblyman Michael Blake—who spoke about making the Bronx known for more than the Yankees, hip-hop, and doo-wop. “You don’t have to be a baller or rapper to make it, you can change the game through technology,” he said.

Trending on Xconomy