Each spring, tens of thousands travel to Austin, Texas, participate in the iconic SXSW festival featuring art, music, and film. As part of the family of festivals, the SXSW EDU conference brings together educators and innovators to inspire and learn from one another. At Code Nation – we are empowering the future founders and entrepreneurs, the next generation of coders and programmers, and the people who will tackle complex issues to reimagine how we solve problems with technology. This year, Code Nation was excited to be a part of SXSW EDU and present a session highlighting how we build community through coding.
Beyond Tech Skills: Community Through Coding was held on March 9 – the final morning of the SXSW EDU conference and festival. We believe that exposure to coding in high school in a community-based model, where we engage with tech industry professionals can make an impact far beyond technical skills. Code Nation has more than a decade of experience cultivating these partnerships, and we were excited to engage with educators and practitioners at SXSW EDU and discuss how this exposure is especially impactful for historically excluded and under-represented groups in tech — those who often lack access to coding and computer science in high school.
The discussion was moderated by CEO of Etsy and Code Nation Board Chairman, Josh Silverman. We were excited to have Josh lead this panel – as a CEO in tech and a leader passionate about making progress towards more equitable access to computer science education, Josh is well-positioned to speak to and lead a discussion on the power of public-private partnerships and building intentional communities.
We also welcomed Shawntee Reed, head of inclusion and diversity at Block, to highlight how our company partner model comes to life, and share actionable steps companies like Block can take to partner with schools in their cities. Cara Tait-Fanor is a principal with the New York Department of Education and a long-time partner of Code Nation, hosting multiple Code Nation classes in her school, seeing the impact they can make in real time. Finally, Abdoul Barry, a Code Nation alum currently working at Bloomberg in New York, joined us to bring it all full circle and discuss the positive impact a model like Code Nation’s has on students.
Josh kicked off our panel and set the stage with some stats: approximately 50% of high schools offered some kind of foundational computer science class, and rural, urban, and schools with high percentages of economically disadvantaged students continue to be less likely to offer these courses. Among other barriers to increasing this statistic, there is a lack of access, lack of qualified teachers, and lack of access to mentors in the tech industry to pave the path for high school students interested in pursuing tech careers. And, perhaps most staggering, just 15% of tech workers identify as Black or Latine/x, and only 26% of tech workers identify as women. It’s clear: there is a lot of work to do. Next, we turned it over to our panelists.
Shawntee spoke to the importance of Code Nation’s pillars of exposure, access, and inclusion, and how together, those three things can lead to incredible outcomes and ultimately increase the pipeline of diverse and qualified candidates for positions in companies like Block. Cara talked about some of the barriers many educators in the room may face – just like her. Schools simply can’t tackle the problem of equitable computer science education alone. There aren’t enough computer science teachers, and there is a lack of funding in schools to shift curriculum and provide equipment. Schools are often slow to adapt to changing needs. Instead, partnerships with organizations like Code Nation and local tech companies can give schools the resources and tools they need today: annually updated, industry-relevant curriculum and volunteer teachers who can come to the classrooms – meeting students where they are. Abdoul then shared more about his own story and reflected on how his exposure to coding in high school, and the ease with which he could enroll in a class, put him on the path to become a software engineer at Bloomberg.
Abdoul also talked about how the mentorship he had in the classroom and the volunteers he met through Code Nation were a key part of his journey. Even now, after college, Abdoul keeps in touch with the network that Code Nation helped him to build. He shared how the culture of giving back that helped him grow has inspired him to do the same, and volunteer with Code Nation in New York. Through coding, we are building strong and supportive communities that are offering real support and in-roads to careers for all students interested in pursuing coding and tech.
Following the discussion, newly appointed Code Nation CEO Ron Summers introduced himself to our audience and reminded all of the educators in the room the power we have when we work with each other. Next, we were excited to answer questions from members of the audience, ranging from how Code Nation volunteers support students as they navigate learning a new skill to what it means to be an effective mentor for Black, Latine/x, and women-identifying high school students, and even educators asking how to get Code Nation in their cities!
We are so excited to have been a part of SXSW EDU, and we look forward to so many more opportunities to learn from and engage with each other!