Tech employees in Austin and across the country are an overwhelmingly white and male group, which can be somewhat attributed to a culture and recruiting system that favors white males. At the same time, many local tech firms like Dell, Intel, and Apple, have expressed a commitment to diversity, yet the number of women, African-American, and Hispanic employees hasn’t changed. One reason tech firms say they have such a homogeneous employee group is because there isn’t a pipeline of minority computer or software engineers prepared to be hired.
But a growing nonprofit in Austin, Code2College, is addressing that concern by identifying minority and women high school students and preparing them for work in the science and technology fields. “We started two years ago with 30 students in two Austin schools,” said Matt Stephenson, founder of Code2College and a former investment banker. “Last year we had 123 students and we’re entering this year with 251 students,” with students coming from two high schools from Pflugerville ISD, three high schools from Manor ISD, Del Valle High School, and two high schools from Austin ISD.
The nonprofit’s accelerated growth is mirrored in the number of volunteers it recruits as well. Code2College recruits professionals from tech firms like RetailMeNot and Silicon Labs to mentor and train the students, and more have jumped at the chance. Two years ago, Chris Morrow, a software development engineer at Silicon Labs, was one of just three tech professionals volunteering for Code2College. Last week, he was one of more than 100 volunteers at a Code2College training.
Morrow said he had been looking for a way to give back to the community when he saw a post about volunteers to mentor students in tech. “It struck me right away,” said Morrow. “This is something I know how to do, and I can really help people here.” Since then, he’s mentored students at Ann Richards School, Pflugerville High School, and this year, Eastside Memorial High School. Twice a week, he leaves work early to work with a small group of students on campus for an hour. As one of the original volunteers, he’s also helped craft the curriculum. “It helps to work at Silicon Labs where they have a company culture that supports our volunteer work,” Morrow added.
Stephenson said the program builds a pipeline to tech employment by addressing the barriers minority students face. “There are real structural barriers for these students,” he said. “First of all, there’s a lack of appropriate tech education.” But Stephenson adds that minority students lack exposure or knowledge of job opportunities in tech. “If you don’t know anyone in science or tech, how would you know about any of these available options? We’re looking to level the playing field.”
PHOTO: Pflugerville High School student Amelle hands a volunteering award to Chris Morrow of Silicon Labs for his work with Code2College. Contributed by Code2College