Hack the Hood - Promoting diversity in tech

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13 April 2015 3 minute read

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Last October Marc Andreessen, one of the 2013 QEPrize winners, donated $500,000 to three non-profits that promote diversity in tech: Code2040, Girls Who Code and Hack the Hood. We talked to each organisation to find more about them and how the generous donation is being used. This week we spoke to Mary Fuller, COO of Hack the Hood, about the organisation’s purpose, ambitions and future plans.

Hack the Hood is an Oakland based non-profit that introduces low-income ethnic minorities to careers in tech. What is truly innovative about Hack the Hood is that it’s not just a school where people from disadvantaged backgrounds can learn to code, but an effective training and hiring programme. Those who join Hack the Hood build websites for real businesses in their community, gaining an invaluable set of not only tech but also entrepreneurial and communication skills. Hack the Hood, Mary tells us, stemmed from a hyper-local journalism project on issues around education, poverty and gentrification. ‘Oakland has a high unemployment rate, but at the same time there is a lot of tension since young people of colour are power users of mobile technology compared with their peers, without having the same opportunities to contribute directly to the tech world’. This is a very pressing problem, especially in Silicon Valley where black people represent an astonishingly low 2% of total workers. ‘We thought this is something we could contribute to directly’, Mary tells us. A half a million-dollar grant won through the Google Bay Area Impact Challenge set Hack the Hood on the right track: ‘The Google Challenge really catapulted our growth. In the course of a couple of weeks, we went from being a tiny seasonal side project to something that was capturing people’s imagination around the globe. We were getting requests from all over the US, and as far away as South Sudan. We’ve managed to take that excitement and translated into some impressive growth in our programs and capacity. We’ll serve 10 times as many youth and small businesses next year as we did before we won the Challenge’.

While the Google investment was essential to launch the programme, the money donated by the Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen Foundation will consolidate its grounds and keep the programme in sync as it grows an expands. ‘This summer, we plan to expand to five locations’, says Mary enthusiastically: ‘we didn’t have any actual employees when we started, and now we have a team of 11 and growing. We’re also partnering with non-profits in other communities to start Hack the Hood programs there. It is important for us to measure what we do as we move forward and make sure that our programme model is robust. The money will go towards creating a really strong evaluation framework, and so we can constantly improve the curriculum ’As for what is in store for Hack the Hood’s future, Mary has ambitious goals – that are needed if we want to change the face of tech for good. ‘We have an eye on growing this in other regions – but we want to make sure we do it right and have a strong structure before doing so. The issue of income inequality is an issue all over the world, not only in America and certainly not only in the Bay Area. This programme can be expanded to wherever these issues are a reality’.

Hack the Hood has the potential to make a long-lasting impact on the lives of people it works with, thanks to the career-oriented focus of the programme: ‘Hack The Hood is relevant because it teaches people how to think about technology and design, and how to consider yourself an entrepreneur whatever you are doing – trying to be your best in whatever role and create your own legacy. These kinds of things often aren’t taught in schools, particularly those serving people with low-income backgrounds.’ Find more about Hack the Hood here.

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