Bootcamp rebels: coders who want social impact
Aliya Ram meets tech professionals who have quit the corporate life to pass on their skills to disadvantaged groups and minorities
Presented by Aliya Ram. Produced by Ruth Lewis-Coste
You could call them the boot camp rebels. A growing number of coders are quitting corporate jobs to use their technology skills for social impact. Some are starting training schools where they pass their skills on to disadvantaged groups, while others are joining cooperatives to develop tools for charities and activists.
Particularly in terms of diversity, actually, if anything the tech industry is taking two steps back.
That was Dan Sofer, the man who started Founders & Coders, which is a social enterprise that aims to improve diversity in the tech industry by providing free coding boot camps to under-represented groups.
If we make it just available to the same group of people that already have opportunities, we're not really doing very much to change the tech industry or society.
Founders & Coders started in Camden in North London, but then open schools and Nazareth in Gaza to bring coding skills to Palestinians and Arab Israelis.
Gaza has the highest rate of graduate unemployment in the world. It's operating under extreme political and economic isolation. And to be able to go in there and to train people up, and to make connections between the UK and Gaza and help people find work remotely in Gaza with companies in the UK, it's just been the most exciting thing we've done.
Owen McCarthy is a 25-year-old developer who joined Founders & Coders to escape the mainstream tech industry. Owen has taught at the campuses in London, Nazareth, and will soon go to Gaza.
I think that the tech sector has a diversity problem. And as a country we have a problem with diversity within many technical areas, from uptake of maths and science in schools to people studying STEM subjects in universities. What we found in Founders & Coders is by keeping our cohorts very small, we could do our hiring in a very focused way, very much focused on the competition of the cohort we've got. And what we now find, a couple years down the line, is that we get many applicants who are minorities. And I think this is because we've become known as this inclusive space. And so now it's very easy for us to find gender balance in our cohorts.
Founders & Coders is not the only group teaching web development free. On weekends, Code Your Future does the same thing for refugees. A year ago German Bencci quit his job as Samsung's head of strategic partnerships when he read about the refugee crisis in Europe and started Code Your Future.
In my previous life, I was an engineer working for Samsung electronics. And just over a year ago-- so Code Your Future is now just over a year ago-- I set myself the task of wanting to create a place where we could use technology to help people, to create a positive and direct impact in people's lives, and not just by trying to create some nice products, well-designed, but really using technology directly. And that was the way we found, was that the most immediate and tangible one was through education.
Amir is a Sudanese refugee who works night shifts moving boxes for Amazon and is hoping this course will bring him out of the warehouse and into the office.
I'm studying here in Code Your Future, hoping to be a front-end and back-end developer at the same time. It's quite overwhelming, because you are new into the country. You've got, like, barriers because of the language, because you don't know many people, and because maybe you don't know how to apply for jobs. So it's really hard doing two jobs. You know, when you do coding it's like, wow. You just tap some codes and then you see the output, and you feel like you're creating something, like you're creating pictures. And then you write some code to make some interactivity, and then animate it. You feel like you're doing something great.
More and more organisations in Europe are popping up to try and use technology for social aims rather than to generate a profit. Most of these focus on education or democratic participation, but some have different aims. Outlandish is a technology startup like any other, but it works as a sociocracy. It's a structure invented by the Quakers to encourage co-operative decision-making. The group is co-owned by its members and doesn't take decisions without everyone's consent. It chooses projects that feel good to everyone, a system that's attracted 1.3 million pounds of revenues.
I was always really interested in working in tech. But when I came across the Outlandish website and read everyone's bios and what their mission was, it became very clear to me that Outlandish were and still are very passionate about using technology to change the world, to make it a fairer and better place. And before Outlandish I just kind of felt that this was probably a pipe dream.
Amil Vasishtha is a graduate of Founders & Coders who became a full-time member of Outlandish this year. He says more and more coders have begun to think differently about how they use technology.
People are realising that the world is in a kind of state of turmoil. Like things are really unstable and people might be realising, I hope they're realising that they can use their skills to improve things on the planet and make a difference.
As society changes and technology becomes embedded in every part of our lives, groups like these have become more common. According to Nesta, the innovation charity, the number of projects focused on using technology for good has doubled in two years.
This is Aliya Ram reporting for the Financial Times.