Disrupting the classroom - Page 3

Tech companies teach city kids programming skills


Mejia smiled proudly as he showed us his game. He said he wasn't interested in making games while in school, but Mission Bit turned him into a believer. Now he'll study computer science at the University of San Francisco.

Mission Bit's class body is 8 percent African American, 24 percent Latino, and over 50 percent Asian, according to the company's internal data (that's in line with SFUSD's own demographics). Nearly half of the students come from the south side of San Francisco, around the Ingleside District.

The program is still small, but Daugherty says it's designed with scalability in mind. There's potential for these students to one day not only fill tech's diversity gap, but to allow tech jobs to be filled by San Franciscans, born and raised.

But Daugherty says such goals are secondary. The focus is on the students.

"The industry has a very specific agenda about where they want their engineers diversified," he said. "If this is where our students want to go, we'll support them. But there are other paths to take."

Students can use their programming skills in many jobs and industries, he said, not just tech.

Still, the students will have an opportunity to visit local tech companies Square, AirBnb and others, meeting engineers who one day may be peers. Daugherty calls these people "touch points," making social contacts for mentorships and job seeking that blue-collar SFUSD students may not have themselves.

Ultimately, the program "lets you get programming skills without going through the money filtering step of a university," said Anthony Phillips, CEO of Hack Reactor. Counter to the belief in pure meritocracy many in tech swear to, Phillips acknowledged he had help: his brother, a Twitter employee. When Phillips first learned code and started to fumble, his brother told him "you're so smart, but so dumb. Just keep doing it."

So Phillips aims to do the same for the students at HackReactor. He's like a coach in the corner for new boxers taking their aim at advanced coding skills.

"Not everyone has someone there that can say, 'just keep doing it,'" Phillips said.

Now these students do.