May 20

An “Origin”​ story

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A few years ago, I met an amazing young lady at a JavaScript meetup. I think her name was Amy, I’m terrible with names, so let’s go with that. She was full of energy, super smart, and taught herself the fundamentals of web development. She explained that she had picked up a little bit in HS, but she was eager to network (which is phenomenal for a developer). I was very impressed, but at some point in the conversation, she shared that she was sleeping in her car. I was stunned when she shared how not having a mailing address was making it hard for her to order books and signup for online services. I’ve never had to deal with that and I was caught off guard.

If everyone has some superpower how do we ensure we are not missing out on talent, like Amy. Amy is just one of many Americans that will not have a degree at the age 25. I was terrible at school. Being the son of two teachers meant that they were never happy with how I was doing. My parents would always tell me you are going to end up pumping gas for a living. I was made to feel that if I didn’t have a degree I would never be successful. 

But a majority of Americans 67% do not have a bachelor’s degree by the time they are mid-twenties. I was one of those people for a long time. I was on the 10-year plan, but I was lucky. I worked a few part-time jobs and could afford to support myself. And, since I was a kid I had a computer in my home. I loved to try to code.

I eventually earned a degree in computer science, but it wasn’t until years of coding as a hobby. When I met Amy I was working at a startup. We had dogs in the office, two catered meals per day, unlimited PTO, free haircuts and massages, and beer O’clock on Friday. But, I wasn’t seeing many folks that looked like me (a middle aged Black man). 

It broke my heart to hear from so many early-career engineers that wanted a job in tech, but the local tech startups would only hire Senior engineers. I would sometimes see young women like Amy across the room, or one other black engineer and think, let me go chat with that other unicorn.

Talent is universal; opportunity is not. 

So how do we ensure we are not missing out on talent. There is no one answer to this question. We need to create opportunities for everyone, regardless of their background or circumstances. We need to level the playing field so that everyone has a fair chance to succeed.

We can start by ensuring that all young people have access to quality education and training. We need to provide them with the skills they need to succeed in the workforce. We also need to create more opportunities for them to get their foot in the door, whether through apprenticeships, internships, or other programs.

We can start preparing them for career success, not just college readiness, and making sure that we don’t look down on kids that choose to go to a new collar tech trade school instead of pursuing a 4 year degree.

We also need to give everyone a fair chance to compete for jobs. That means ensuring that hiring practices are fair and transparent and that everyone has an equal opportunity to apply for open positions based on the skills that they have, not their pedigree.

Ultimately, we need to create a society that values talent and potential over all else. Amy had talent. Amy was not homeless, she was experiencing something I hope was temporary. She was experiencing homelessness but it doesn’t define who she is as a person.

After seeing so many STARs (Skilled Through Alternative Routes) crush it as early-career developers I am convinced we have the talent in untapped communities which is greater than the number needed to fill our open tech roles.

My ask is that you remember the unicorns just trying to make it and commit to taking action. You can choose to become an ally, mentor, volunteer, or make a donation. But please take action.

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