Laura Weidman Powers, the cofounder and CEO of Code2040, is doing something unusual for a founder in Silicon Valley: She is resigning of her own volition.
“I think that part of what makes a good CEO is being really clear-eyed about what a company or an organization needs at any given point in time, in order to have the best chance of success,” Powers told me. “I took a step back and thought about what my strengths and skill sets were, and I just realized it wasn’t a perfect match.”
Since 2012, Code2040 has sought to help close the racial wealth gap by diversifying tech and creating opportunities for black and Latinx professionals. As Code2040 moves into its next phase, the nonprofit will continue scaling its community of fellows and entrepreneurs, but will also zero in on leading culture change and coalition building with other organizations–say, Black Girls Code–that do similar work.
Powers, who has been at the helm of Code2040 since its inception, worried that if she had a steep learning curve to climb, the nonprofit might lose some of its momentum.
“The truth is, particularly when you start something from the ground up, you’re always learning new things and developing new skills,” she says. “What the organization needs changes at every turn. But the key part of that is: Are you in a place where you can scale the learning curve at the pace required for the organization to have the leadership that it needs?”
Passing The Torch
Powers didn’t have to look too far to find someone she felt was up for the job. When she went on parental leave in January, Powers installed Karla Monterroso, the nonprofit’s VP of Programs, as acting CEO; Monterroso will now take over as CEO for good.
Part of the reason Powers can comfortably step down is because she has a natural successor in Monterroso.
“But that’s not a coincidence,” Powers points out. “That comes from hiring talented senior leaders and ensuring that they have the infrastructure and the opportunity to really shine and drive change, even while you’re still there in the CEO seat. Karla had so much authority during her three years as VP of Programs, where she was driving all sorts of decisions across the organization. When it came time to think about transition, she wasn’t a wildcard.”
In six years, Powers steered Code2040 through multiple rounds of funding and built its flagship fellows program, which pairs black and Latinx students with internships at major Silicon Valley companies; later this year, Code2040 will bring the program to New York. Even after Powers officially leaves the company in August, she will continue to work with Code2040 in a “committed volunteer” capacity.
“Laura helped make this industry wake up to the problems that not only existed but exist,” says Tristan Walker, who founded Code2040 with Powers and remains the chairman of the board. “The reason why we only had Karla on the list–and she was at the top of the list and was our number one choice–was because she was close to Laura in that regard. Every day, day in and day out, they believed the same things; they wrote down the same things; they pitched the same things. That belief really isn’t going away.”
Going forward, Monterroso says Code2040 will focus on bringing together a coalition of organizations working on racial justice and building on Code2040’s network–creating a temp-to-perm strategy for its fellows, for example.
And on a personal level, this promotion marks a milestone for Monterroso. If Code2040 unlocks opportunities for people of color, Monterroso is certainly among them.
“I grew up poor, and I’m a Latina,” Monterroso says. “There are just not that many CEOs that look like me. I was just on the phone with my brother yesterday, and we were reflecting on what it means that my niece is always going to grow up in a world where her aunt is a CEO. That’s a big deal.”