Google announced today that it’s awarding $775,000 to CODE2040, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting diversity in the tech sector.
CODE2040 was cofounded by Tristan Walker and Laura Weidman Powers. Walker, one of Fast Company‘s Most Creative People in Business, was profiled in our December/January feature “The Visible Man”:
Walker is a celebrity in Silicon Valley, known primarily for his success and creativity as head of business development at Foursquare, which he joined in 2009 and left in 2012. Foursquare was one of the original location-based “check-in” apps, and Walker put the startup on the map by landing hundreds of partnerships with merchants and brands such as American Express and BravoTV. His regular appearances at South by Southwest, on television, and on Twitter—where he’s garnered an audience of nearly 300,000 followers—promoted both Foursquare and Walker himself. By the time he left to become entrepreneur-in-residence at Andreessen Horowitz, everyone wondered, “What’s next for Tristan?” Walker’s hustle and charisma aren’t the only reasons for his fame. Walker is black. In Silicon Valley, even in 2014, a visible, successful African-American is big news. The technology industry’s lack of minority representation is deplorable. Venture capitalists, startup founders, and big-time CEOs like to brag that the tech business is a color-blind meritocracy, but their boasts don’t reflect the facts.
Code2040 will use the Google grant to launch a Technical Applicant Prep (TAP) program. TAP’s goal is to give black and Latino students the resources and skills to land and thrive in full-time jobs in the tech world. CODE2040 takes the approach that technical skills alone are not enough to overcome the opportunity gap facing aspiring non-white coders. Rather, the abysmal lack of black and Latino coders stems from having a smaller network and institutional resources to help them connect to jobs.
And speaking of abysmal employment rates: Google’s are among the worst in the industry, making this investment all the more meaningful. Just 1% of Google, Yahoo, and Facebook tech employees are black. And with one of the five highest market capitalizations among publicly traded companies in the U.S., Google’s seal of approval on CODE2040 could indicate a seismic shift within Silicon Valley.
In addition to its TAP program, CODE2040 is today launching a residency program for an “entrepreneur-in-residence” in three pilot cities around the country: Austin, Texas; Chicago; and Durham, North Carolina. Residents will receive $40,000 in seed money from CODE2040, but no equity stake will be taken by the nonprofit.
“Chicago, Austin, and Durham were chosen as pilot cities for the CODE2040 Residency because they are diverse cities with young, thriving tech entrepreneurship scenes,” Powers tells Fast Company. “We’re excited to experiment within communities that are committed to building diversity into the ground floor of their tech ecosystem. It’s a different challenge than working in Silicon Valley, where we’re trying to work with decades of hiring practices and a workforce that isn’t currently very diverse.”
In other words, CODE2040 is taking a dual-pronged approach to mitigate entrenched hiring practices within Silicon Valley while also fostering young entrepreneurs of color to succeed in running their own startups and making an impact in their local communities.