The co-founder of Code Fellows on his amazing week teaching coding at a women's shelter. By Will Little (Co-founder & CEO, Code Fellows)
Every day I read about hot, new companies that have been forged with the help of incubators like Y-combinator or TechStars. It’s amazing to think of the resources that are poured into these companies in an effort to get them from seed to blossom.
In my mind, however, it raises a number of questions: What if we gave individual people – those that need a little help getting from seed to blossom – these same resources and attention? Who would they become? What impact could they have on the local community? Can fostering individual enrichment be as rewarding as business achievement?
These are the questions Code Fellows set out to answer by launching a summer Code Camp for at-risk kids and disadvantaged women in Seattle. Each morning for a week in August, we met with the kids and women at Hope Place, the Union Gospel Mission’s shelter for women and children in Seattle.
Knowing that many of these women and children are facing some significant challenges, we set out to enhance their lives by teaching them how to write code. We feel strongly that anyone can learn to code, and everyone should be given the opportunity. By giving them a glimpse into the world of software development, we were hoping to inspire them to lean in and connect with it – and perhaps spark an interest in pursuing it further.
What I didn’t expect from the experience was the inspiration that the women and children would give to all of us. While we taught them the same fundamental skills that top programmers use to develop games and apps – and that many technical employers in the Seattle are seeking – they, in return, gave us a greater sense of the value that Code Fellows can deliver.
For example, I came to know a woman named Francie who had always been interested in learning more about computer programming – but her ulterior motive for joining the Camp struck me in a profound way. She thought learning to code would be an interesting way to find a common ground with her son – an interest that they could share together. She viewed programming as a bond that could strengthen the relationship she had – or was presently working on – with her son.
She also had a strong desire to help animals in shelters find homes, and she immediately recognized where technology could assist with fulfilling that dream.
Thank you, Francie, for showing me that coding can be used to improve the world around you and to address the things we care about most in life.
I also met an 11-year old boy named Dwayne who is amazing. This was the first computer class he had ever taken in his life, and by the end of it he was convinced that he wanted to be a future app developer. We could tell he had a true passion for technology and learning. He would arrive early and leave late. He reminded me of the thrill that only the wonder of discovery can provide, and how hot the fire of genuine curiosity can burn.
Thank you, Dwayne, for invigorating me with your passion and the wide-eyed fascination that I remember so fondly from my early days in programming.
Lastly, there was a woman named Crystal who was a former paralegal who had a background in IT. The Camp was an experiment for her to see if she was interested and talented enough in programming to earn an income on the side while she worked a day job. She knew she had some skills to polish, but was curious to know if programming was going to be a serious part of her future.
Thank you, Crystal, for showing me what true courage and hard work really looks like. I admire you for taking steps toward improving your life.
While this experience was just a toe in the water, it has helped us realize that we should dive in head first and focus on building long-term relationships with our students so we can advocate for them. Within only hours of concluding our week with these amazing students, the Code Fellows team was making plans to host additional Camps and after-school programs in the coming months. Thankfully, we are seeing a solid number of technical professionals contacting us who want to help move these efforts forward. If you live in the Seattle area and want to volunteer, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the guest blogger: Will Little is the co-founder & CEO of Code Fellows, a Seattle-based digital trade school, technical recruiting agency, and distinguished professional society wrapped into one. Their staff, students, and alumni are passionate about helping individuals, communities, and organizations thrive by providing world-class technical education.