The Company That's Turning Activists Into Coders

Jane Porter | Fast Company | November 21, 2014

Code for Progress is bringing more women and people of color to the tech world, and using their skills to change the world in the process.

Coding isn't just for tech-wizards whipping up gadgets and apps in Silicon Valley. It has the power to create needed social change. Just ask Aliya Rahman, program director at Code for Progress, an organization that focuses on bringing more women and people of color to the tech world. While most tech diversity initiatives are focused on building a pipeline of young people to tech companies, Code For Progress, which launched in 2013, focuses on teaching social activists coding skills that they can use to address issues of inequality.

Rahman got involved in community organizing and social justice work after three years in a PhD program in astronomical engineering—a career path she left after realizing it wasn't having the kind of grassroots social impact she knew the tech world could have. But she recognizes too that educating social activists in coding isn't a simple solution. Less than 10% of people working in STEM are African American or Latino, according to census data. "For me the writing is on the wall why people don’t have this education," she says. "It's not something wrong with their brain. It's about access to resources."

In its first year in running, Code For Progress selected a dozen fellows from hundreds applicants. The program did a lot of community outreach to organizations and activist groups across the country in order to find candidates with an established history of social activism. Code For Progress pays each fellow a monthly stipend during their five-month training program in D.C. After fellows complete the coding program, Code For Progress helps place them in code-related jobs and offers ongoing support. The first incoming group of fellows was 75% women, most did not go to college, and 5 of the 12 participants identified as LGBT...