CODE2040, named for the projected year white people will no longer be the largest demographic group in America, aims to address that imbalance. The nonprofit places promising black and Latino STEM students at summer internships with companies including Facebook, Etsy, and Jawbone, among others. While the program has had success with the interns it’s placed–90% of last summer’s fellows received full-time job offers–one challenge has been that the interview skills of potential fellows didn’t match their technical abilities.
CODE2040 mints fellows by first performing a technical assessment, conducting an interview, and then matching them with a fitting partner company. But not enough companies were accepting the match. “We were naïve,” says CODE2040 cofounder and executive director Laura Weidman Powers. “We could identify these talented students, but we weren’t getting through to hiring managers. Companies couldn’t recognize their abilities without demonstration.”
So CODE2040 recently built an online applicant toolkit to guide aspiring interns through the application process. The toolkit aims to close some basic awareness gaps common among people applying for internships. For example, “students didn’t know how to perform in phone interviews,” explains Weidman Powers. “They didn’t know how to talk someone through what they were doing while they coded in a Google Doc. It’s an entirely different experience than just putting on headphones and writing code, and they couldn’t effectively show their skills.”
Companies want to see students’ outside projects, but applicants didn’t have portfolios. Students at less tech-focused schools didn’t know what hackathons were. The toolkit–which CODE2040 made available to anyone, not just its applicants–addresses all of that.
By helping students with technical prowess properly showcase their abilities, CODE2040 aims to increase the number of minority students it places each summer in tech internships.
A program like CODE2040 benefits participating companies by increasing the diversity of their workforces. For individuals, it also can help eradicate in a matter of months income inequalities that have existed for generations. “One of our fellows realized that she was making more from her internship than both of her parents combined,” says Weidman Powers. “The starting salary in the tech industry is twice the average household income of a black or Latino family.”
CODE2040 founder Tristan Walker grew up in a Queens housing project and is now an entrepreneur-in-residence at Andreessen Horowitz. More than financial security, the goal of CODE2040 is to show students that similar opportunities are open to them. “We do anything we can to illuminate the path,” to a career in tech, says Weidman Powers.