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The Diversity Crisis and What That Means for the Tech Community

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David Delmar and Resilient Coders logo

David Delmar is looking for a fight. Not in the pugilistic sense, but rather the fight for social progress and income equality for those who just need an opportunity.

His original plan coming out of the Boston University College of Fine Arts was to be a comic book illustrator, which seems appropriate since you get the impression he’s doing superhero things when you hear him speak passionately about Resilient Coders.

David founded Resilient Coders in 2014 with the idea that technology goes hand-in-hand with social progress. Technology is just the name we give to the tools that we build to advance the standard of living for everybody. And in that sense, David says coding, is not the message, it’s the megaphone. “If the day after tomorrow, what’s employable in this city is something else, we’ll do that, but for now it’s coding, so we are Resilient Coders, because that’s the way that we are economically empowering the communities in the city.”

In our discussion David identifies the four parties chiefly accountable for access to jobs and development of talent:

  1. The workforce
  2. The employers
  3. The education system
  4. The government

It’s a classic case of everyone thinks it’s the other group’s responsibility. Resilient Coders is trying to show them all that it’s each of their responsibilities by providing trained and skilled coders ready to ship product.

Come to UX Fest on June 4th to hear David speak about job creation and what that means for our tech community.

Register now

Listen to the Show:

Show notes:

Podcast Transcript:

Heath: David, thanks for joining us on The Dirt, and-

David: Thanks for hearing me out.

Heath: More importantly, for joining us at UX Fest in June.

David: I’m all about it.

Heath: Tell me a little bit about your background in design, and how you ended up founding Resilient Coders.

David: Yeah. I am first and foremost, I’m an artist and designer. The only reason we did Resilient Coders with engineering rather than design is that I’m not, maybe this is a little snobbish, but I’m not convinced that design can really be taught, if people don’t necessarily have already a natural proclivity towards it. I hope that generates some fights, I’d be happy to take that on at UX Fest.

Heath: Yeah.

David: I found my way into technology kind of sideways. I went to art school, I went to the BU College of Fine Arts. Plan A was to be a comic book illustrator. I got my first job at the Boston Phoenix, which was fantastic, and I sat down with the creative director, and I was like, “Alright. I’m doing this coding thing, but how can I get back into illustration work?” He basically was like, “Aren’t you the guy that can code? Don’t you do design and development?” And I said, “Yes,” he goes, “Oh, my God, do that.” This was at the time when sort of all weeklys all over the country was starting to shut down, and the illustration was starting to fundamentally change. I kind of rediscovered a passion for technology after that. Actually shortly after that conversation, I used the Facebook API to create a comic book that you sign into, and the characters of the comic book are your friends, and the many characters, it’s your name, it takes place in your city, it basically uses Facebook data to populate a comic.

Heath: Facebook gives its data away? Sorry. Timely humor.

David: I worked at the Phoenix, I did kind of my stint with tech startups around town. Love it. Feel in love with technology for a couple of reasons. First and foremost because I personally believed that technology goes hand in hand with social progress. I really believe that. I think that if you go all the way back to aqueducts, like the wheel, irrigation systems, technology is just a name that we give to the tools that we build to advance the standard of living for everybody. There’s no reason why that shouldn’t still be the case. You can kind of carry that over into more recent advances in technology and social progress where you can’t really talk about, we can’t even talk about the civil rights movement of the ’60s without TV. The Kennedy brothers would never have learned of Martin Luther King, if it were not for TV. Again, I’m sure I’m going to get lots of blow back,

Heath: Maybe it was Kennedy wouldn’t been elected if it were not for TV.

David: That’s a good point.

Heath: Because that famous debate between-

David: With Nixon.

Heath: Nixon.

David: Yeah. Absolutely. You’re 100% right.

Heath: Yeah.

David: Now, here we find ourselves in kind of an interesting situation. It’s 2018, right, and what is a lot of the technology that’s being built out there? I had this experience of seeing some of the best and brightest minds out there pitching these beautiful and elegant technical solutions to nonsense problems, to inconveniences, that’s where they were focusing their attention, and I’m thinking, have we just reached this pinnacle of society where that’s what we’re worried about. I don’t want to have to open four browser tabs to get all my data, or I need a better way to stalk people before meeting them. Is that really where we need to put our best and brightest, or could it just be that those folks are just not experiencing the actual problems that we face today? Could it be that the folks steering this car, right, or not the folks who are the ones really feeling the pinch, the ones who are experiencing the problems that we should be solving?

It also just so happens that I grew up in a Spanish language home, I am Latino. You look around you in the tech community, especially when I was first starting to make these observations in 2012, 2013, and they’re just too few people from either Latino origin, or black and brown people generally working in tech. I figured that’s an actual problem. That’s a real thing that we need to solve somehow, and I came up with a whole bunch of horrible ideas for how to solve it, first, that didn’t work out. While I was trying to code my way out of the problem, because of course the first thing I thought of was I’ll build a solution in software, so I’m trying to code my way out of this problem, meanwhile, I start taking some vacation days from PayPal, I took a whole punch of days from PayPal to go to a youth correctional facility to teach young men how to code.

I figured this is at least some small thing that I can do while I figure this out. That ended up kind of turning into Resilient Coders, that ended up sort of being the first cohort that we ever ran, where I discovered that a lot of these young men, not only did they have a real interest in technology, but damn some of them are really good at it. Some of them were really smart, really intelligent. Look when I say really smart, and really intelligent I don’t mean that it’s like a patronizing head pat, like, oh, you’re so smart in a nonprofit-y kind of way. No. I mean, I would have identified them as the smart kid at my high school, like they were figuring their way around problems. They were incredibly resourceful. They were creative. They were aggressive. They were tough.

These were all the things that I was also trying to hire for at PayPal. It’s also the stuff that doesn’t show up on their resume. Right? I figured man, we would all be better off, both, like a whole bunch of different communities, if you want to call them that, would all be better off if the folks who don’t have access to those jobs would be better off, because of you access those jobs. The folks who are out here looking to hire technologists would be better off because they have a much broader talent pool to pull from, and at that point we’re not just trying to find the best and the brightest among the luckiest, we’re trying to find the best and the brightest full stop.

Heath: Yeah.

David: Right? We started running Resilient Coders, we started as a high school program, and we worked with a handful of young people who were just a little bit beyond high school, as well, but we kind of turned a blind eye, and let them join, and those individuals ended up becoming very successful. We discovered that really our sweet spot is this group of folks who are just a little bit older, 18 to 26, 27-ish. Early in their careers, but again beyond high school, but would come to our cohorts with no books, and open, and ready to learn, because to them this was a real opportunity for economic empowerment.

We ended up building a program around them. We created a bootcamp that is now an intensive all day, every day, 14 week bootcamp that focuses on JavaScript, full-stack JavaScript, React and Node. We do some Mongo. We tend to spend a lot of time and attention in object oriented programming, broadly speaking. We do this because that’s what our employers are looking for. We are all about, or actually to us coding is like irrelevant, coding is, we like to say that coding is not the message, it’s the megaphone. If the day after tomorrow, what’s employable in this city is something else, we’ll do that, but for now it’s coding, so we are Resilient Coders, because that’s the way that we are economically empowering the communities in the city.

Heath: I was looking up as you were talking, a couple of things that came to mind, first of all, so I guess you’re saying Pokemon is not going to solve real problems. Right? I got that part. You mentioned going to prison, so that’s interesting because one of the few podcasts I listen to, and talk about picking a fight, I do listen to Lance Armstrong’s podcast, I know in cycling circles that’s frowned upon, but he has some really amazing guests, almost none of whom have anything to do with cycling. He had a show, one of his recent shows, was with the Last Mile. Have you heard of them?

David: Yes.

Heath: It’s down in San Quentin.

David: Yes, I have heard of them.

Heath: Yeah. That was fascinating, so we had the founder, who reminds me, his story, I’m sure in some ways reminds me of you as much as he was a Silicon Valley, well, he’s a Silicon Valley VC, but the point is he was in tech having no interest, or nothing to do with ultimately what he was doing, but one thing led to another, and he founded The Last Mile Project. Lance had him on the show. He had two alumni, prisoners, one of whom was a murderer, who were on the show. It was fascinating, so that’s interesting that you had that experience. The other thing you mentioned, solving real problems that exist in areas that you may not know. We had a guest of The Dirt, we had Tim Buntel who’s a board member of Smarter in the City, and he said the same thing. A lot of their cohort, they have ideas for solving problems that people wouldn’t even now exist.

David: Yep.

Heath: Because they’re solving problems that exist in areas where people either in tech don’t live, or have never been, or could interview a 100 users, and never really understand what the problem is, what the real problem is that you’re trying to solve.

David: Yeah.

Heath: For someone in product and design that makes total sense to me that if you truly want to know whether or not you’re solving the problems for users, you either you yourself needs to have that background where you can have access to that background, I think to truly understand it.

David: Yeah. You might actually, like folks who have a design or product background, but enjoy the way that we tackle this, so the way that we recruit is we don’t believe in testing, so we don’t test people to get into the program. We have these full day hack-a-thons, people don’t have to have any technical experience whatsoever to join a hack-a-thon. They don’t even need a computer, we have laptops here that they can use. What we do is we actually crowdsource the prompt, what are some real issues that we should be solving, here In the city. That’s really fascinating, because then you get to the real meat and potatoes of what people want to solve. Stuff that comes up, consistently, is like substance abuse support, affordable child care, financial literacy programs, incarceration epidemic. These are the things that people really want to be talking about, and solving.

The first few hours of the hack-a-thon all we’re doing is constructing user personas, and coming up with user journeys, like who is this individual that we’re talking about? How can we build a piece of software that could help elevate some of this problem.

Heath: It’s really cool. Another thing, I’m going to read you this headline, it’s a bit dated, it’s from 2016, but it might make you twitch a little bit given some of what you said. The headline was, “How Fierce is the Competition for Technical Talent in Massachusetts?” This one passage is, “The shortage of skill, technology workers has become the number one issue for many Massachusetts companies and a growing concern for the state’s innovation economy. Tech executives describe the hiring environment as brutal, worse even than the dot com boom of the late ’90s, and a threat to their ability to expand, develop new technologies and keep growing.” What’s your reaction to that type of headline, and article?

David: Yeah. Here’s the thing that people are going to realize in one to three years, we’re not quite there yet, except for listeners of The Dirt.

Heath: Yeah.

David: When talking about accountability, like in a systemic frame, here, systemic lens, we’re talking about accountability for access to jobs, and development of talent, and all that kind of thing. There are essentially sort of like four parties. Right? There’s the workforce. There are the employers. There is the education space, and then there’s government. I have to call out the four of them, because all of them are pointing at each other as the problem. Right? There are those who would say that education like colleges are just not preparing students for the needs of the workforce. Employers are saying, or people are saying that employers just aren’t really ready to take accountability for a continued training, reskilling, or upskilling workers to do the jobs that they need them to do. Government, we’ll save that for another podcast.

Heath: Yeah. I’m going to run out space on my drive, here.

David: I know. Right.

Heath: Yeah.

David: The workforce, they’re just not, a lot of folks are just not plugged into where the jobs are.

Heath: No.

David: What happens here is that you have a classic case of everyone thinking that’s its someone else’s responsibility, and it ends up slipping through the cracks. The solution is going to be a consorted collaboration between all four of those groups. This is not the first time that America has suffered a dearth in talent. This comes up all the time. What happen every single time is that eventually those four groups organize, and they pull together some sort of collaborative effort to make sure that no one is slipping through the cracks and that jobs are being filled by qualified people.

What this actually looks like in practice is government investing in workforce development programs that can upskill and reskill the workforce. The workforce participating in those programs. Employers understanding that there’s a shared accountability for upskilling and reskilling people to do the jobs that they need them to do. Those are all things that are written now in seedling stage. There are a couple of opportunities, and efforts that are being done to this, Resilient Coders is of course one of them.

Hack Diversity is also sort of very popular well known one here in Boston. All that is, is just a collaboration, where employers come to the table and say, “I get it. I understand. I can either keep hiring the same kids that are coming in from the same suburbs, going to the same colleges, and graduating with the same degree, but that’s going to be a constricted talent pool, or I can find a way to throw this talent pool wide open, buy just maybe running an internal bootcamp, like Fresh Tilled Soil,” the sort of UX thing that Brian went through.

Heath: Yeah.

David: There are a couple of other companies that are starting to do that, and there’s real commercial wisdom in this, and everyone benefits. Right? The employer gets access to much more talent. Of course the employee gets access to a job. Government wins because it spurs the economy. It’s really just win-win-win-win. It’s just a question of building this infrastructure, and buying into this idea.

Heath: Yeah. I saw that headline and article and thought immediately they’re not even looking. Right? There claiming a supply demand when in fact it’s, I mean, even if you could snap your fingers and drop all of these underserved areas into jobs, there might very well still be a spot, but you would cut into it drastically if you just bother to look around a little more. I have a former colleague of my wife’s who I bring this up all the time, because to me it was just like a duh, idea, and it was, her idea was there is this massive pool of extremely, and this isn’t even upskilling, or training, this is they exist, they’re in the wild, you just didn’t care to look for them.

It’s stay at home parents, most of them moms, who didn’t want to go back full-time, they wanted to start going back, but not full-time. If you were a business, and knew that you could tap into that, and were willing to break the cycle of, “Oh, I have one FT is what the rack is for, and I have to fill one FT, and they have to be here verses, well, I could do two half FT’s that work from home, who are having a tremendous experience.” It’s all about being aware of the talent pool that’s already there. In your case, not just awareness, it’s also being willing to say, okay, they don’t have all five of the things I’m looking for, they have three or four of them, and I can upskill them, or train them to the other two, and they’re there.

David: Yep. I’m a 100% with you. It also takes a certain amount of vision on the part of the employers. I always talk about, what’s this guys name? Dan, Dan Gilbert, he’s the founder of Quicken Loans, well, he’s the founder of what ultimately became Quicken Loans.

Heath: Yeah.

David: Out in Detroit. He took it upon himself to lead the recovery and turnaround of Detroit. One of the things that he did was, of course, move the headquarters back into the city, out of the suburbs. The other thing is that what did they do as a company? They provide mortgages. Right? One of the things they did is as an employee incentive, they told that employees who bought homes within the city limits of Detroit, would get some sort of a discounted mortgage product. He took it upon himself to reimagine what Detroit could be, and become. I’m not saying that we need to do that here in Boston, that’s actually like the reverse of what we should be doing here in Boston because we have an opposite problem. Our housing stock.

I really admire this notion of a civically minded entrepreneur. Someone who is really going to see the city, and see it for the society that it could become and understand his or her place, and the vision of getting us to that point, and say, “You know what? I’m going to do my small part, and I’m going do X, Y, and Z. I’m hire Resilient Coders, or I’m going to hire out of Hack,” or whatever the case may be.

Heath: Quicken was actually our first mortgage provider.

David: Awesome.

Heath: And I was in Cleveland in the Quicken Loans arena this past weekend.

David: Yeah.

Heath: He’s also the owner of the Cavaliers, I think.

David: Is he really?

Heath: Yeah. I’m pretty sure. I guess Cleveland, because he probably couldn’t, the Pistons weren’t for sale, and wanted an organization so he got the Cavaliers, I don’t know. Interesting. The other thing that you said that strikes me as important is that when as people, as more and more organizations, and leaders start to recognize that hiring for diversity is not just a good thing to do, it’s good business.

David: Oh, my God. Yes.

Heath: As soon as you recognize that, look, we’re not doing this to be charitable, or that maybe part of your mission, but you can also say, to heck with that, we’re doing it because it’s good business, for a whole host of reasons, some of which we talked about, about understanding different experiences-

David: Yep.

Heath: And users, and personas, but also I think the data more and more is showing that it’s actually good business.

David: We put together, I’m so glad you brought that up, because we’ve actually put together a whole bunch of research that we’ve seen out there, and we collated it to a single document called the diversity playbook, so you could go to resilientcoders.org/diversityplaybook. It’s totally free. It’s not that long of a document, and it goes through studies done by Harvard Business Review, by Mackenzie, by the Kapor Institute Institute that I’ll give you reasons as why hiring for diversity are just commercially just viably, just commercially viable decisions. A smart business decision. We put that document together in order to give ammunition to the champions that we have at companies, who say, “Hey, we should be hiring Resilient Coders and then they’re boss, or whatever says, well, that’s a nice idea, but we need to ship product.”

But diversity helps you ship product.

Heath: Right.

David: What if I told you that companies that had ethnic diversity are 35% more likely than the average mean to show stronger financial returns. We just have a whole bucket of those studies. I see this as, I compare this to almost like the effect that like, Uber, and Airbnb had to the sharing economy. Right? No one uses Airbnb because it’s a good thing ecologically speaking to share, they use it because it’s just financially sound.

Heath: Yeah.

David: Right? We’re going to also hit a point, in which people realize that there is commercial business value in hiring for diversity, and do it for that reason, not necessarily because of the, if you can put the moral imperative aside-

Heath: Right.

David: For a second.

Heath: Yeah. If your CEO says, “We’ve already chosen our corporate charities,” say, “Okay. Fine, but I’m not coming into because we want to change our charity, we’re coming to you because it’s a good business decision.

David: Exactly.

Heath: Yeah. You mentioned, I think you were getting at this point, when you mentioned that coding is just the megaphone, but you said that Resilient Coders is based on, in one of the videos that I saw, it was a Ted Talk you did in Sommerville that Resilient Coders is based on two principles, and coding is not one of them. What are those two principles? How do they impact your success in Resilient Coders?

David: Yeah. I mean, I think the biggest one is mutual accountability. That’s the one that kind of overshadows everything else. The idea is that we hold our students accountable, and they hold us accountable. We understand that we treat each other as adults, because we’re all adults. We’re not out here to kind of do the stick and the carrot game. We just say, “Look, here’s what we expect of you.” Everyone who goes through the program has to be exceptional, especially early on with the program, because we need, just as a business we need our employers to come back and hire for a second, third, fourth, fifth time.

Heath: Yep.

David: The way we do that is just by producing exceptional talent. To produce exceptional talent you have to have mutual accountability within the staff, and between staff and student.

Heath: Makes sense. You mentioned a couple of the criteria. You said that there’s an age range, so like 18 to 26-ish.

David: Yeah.

Heath: Generally. Is it a geographic catchment as well?

David: Sort of.

Heath: Or it just naturally ends up being that way?

David: It naturally ends up being that way. What we look for is, actually we are now working exclusively with communities of color, and we’re working with folks with low income backgrounds. Everyone who goes through the program is what the city of Boston would call low income, or extreme low income. Now, there are also people of color. Now, we live in Boston, which if you don’t know, is a deeply segregated city. Unfortunately, those things are too often easily interchangeable. People with color are much more likely to live in low income communities than white people. They’re also much more likely to be constraint to a particular geographic area within the city of Boston that I mean people talk about the spine. Right? Which is Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan the spine in the city. But we also have some folks joining us from gateway cities, as well. We have some folks from Lynn, Lawrence, Riviera, Quincy, and Chelsea. The geographic area is very much like secondary to us.

Heath: Okay. The program is, you said, 14 weeks?

David: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Heath: Students, alumni, they can come back and rejoin the program in other capacities?

David: Yeah. That’s my favorite part.

Heath: Yeah.

David: We now have students who come back and function as champions, first of all, champions within their companies. Right? When there’s an open rec, they’re the first to go to their boss and say, “Hey, should I hire Resilient Coders,” and then I’ll tell you they’re a double agent, so they come back to us and they’re like, “Hey, there’s this opportunity. You guys need to apply to it. Here’s how you apply. Here’s how you crush the interview.” Blah, blah, blah, blah. The other thing is that we have is we split the cohort up into houses. Right? Like Harry Potter.

Heath: Right.

David: We’re you’ve got Gryffindor, and your Slytherin, whatever. We have kind of a similar thing, so we have alumni coming back, and they relate especially within their houses, and they-

Heath: How big are your cohorts?

David: They’re pretty small. I mean, they’re typically around 20 people.

Heath: Okay.

David: But I mean when you’re a cohort of 20 people of course you’re going to be tight within the 20, but given that you’re solving a lot of the problems, and you’re getting through a lot of the work within teams of four or five it’s all the tighter.

Heath: What is the biggest challenge for Resilient Coders? Among many I’m sure, but if you could pick one, maybe two I’ll give you.

David: Yeah. I’ll give you two challenges. One of course is the many challenges that come about when dealing with systemic poverty. This is a lot of stuff that you might immediately think about, and stuff that you don’t necessarily think about. For example, one of the reasons to why we’re so small is because we pay all of our students to do the program. We’re constrained by the funds that we have to pay students to participate, but then there’s a whole host of other circumstances that we have to account for and build the program for, but I have to say that the biggest challenge I think is a challenge of image.

David: I think that to a lot of people when they look at us, sometimes they think that we are less than, they see us because of the fact that we’re technically, literally, and legally a charity they see us as a charity. Right? They see hiring out of Resilient Coders as something that you do because of all the warm and fuzzy’s. The fact of the matter is that down the hall over here, I’ve got 15 fantastic engineers waiting to ship product in full stack JavaScript. These are better developers than I am, for real.

One of the things that we’re doing is we’re spending a lot of time talking to employers, and just being very, very transparent. Here’s the GitHub account. Here’s a work product this individual has done. See it for yourself. We had a student in our last cohort that for his Capstone Project he built a music streaming service that mines your computer for Bitcoin while you use the service, and then hypothetically pays the musicians out of that mine Bitcoin. Right? That’s what I’m talking about. Right?

Heath: Yeah.

David: It’s the kind of engineering I’m talking about. When I tell that story, or other similar stories like it, at demo day there will be like a speech recognition app, it will be like a bunch of really incredible projects. When I tell our employers that, they go, “Okay.”

Heath: Yeah.

David: “It sounds like someone can join the team and ship product.”

Heath: Yeah.

David: That’s what we’re here for. The whole thing would fall apart if you weren’t producing talent that had a very real role to play within the teams that they joined.

Heath: I don’t even understand Bitcoin. I’m going to edit that out, by the way, that I don’t understand Bitcoin. You mentioned, because financial constraints, one of the reasons is because you pay your students, but I think that’s not an insignificant proponent, I mean, we have had people who have reached out to us in our apprentice program, and one of the questions, it’s not that common, but it’s been asked before, they ask, “Do you pay your apprentices?” The answer is, “Yes, of course we do.” I think that’s an important component of it. I mean it speaks to some usual accountability, it speaks to some investment both in real dollars, but also in time. It makes it like this is real, this is a job, you’re here to learn, you’re here to produce code, you’re here to find jobs after this. I think that’s an interesting part of it, that I don’t want to say it lends some legitimacy to it, but it’s not just a camp where you come to learn something. This is a job.

David: Yeah. It’s not summer camp.

Heath: Yeah.

David: My friends.

Heath: Yeah.

David: I recently wrote this, like a week ago I just put this piece out there on media, when I was angry and over caffeinated. It’s called, The Only Two and a Half Questions That Matter When Talking About Amazon and it’s 2,000 jobs. There’s a Globe article that came out recently that Amazon’s coming in 2,000 tech jobs, blah, blah, blah. This is-

Heath: How are we going to fill it?

David: Yeah. Right? This is Boston, which means that half the people are super excited about it, the other half the people think it’s horrible.

Heath: Like to see Olympics or something.

David: Exactly. I wrote this, I of course had to join the fray.

Heath: Yeah.

David: I could not be on the sidelines while people are fighting.

Heath: Yeah.

David: I jumped in and said, “Look, we’re not asking the questions that matter. Who are these jobs going to?” That’s really far and away the most important question, here, because we can sit here and generate 2,000 jobs, and bring in more suburban white kids who are very well qualified, with a computer science degrees who will take those jobs, and they will live here further exacerbating the strain that we have in our housing stock. Sending our gentrification crisis into just straight up free fall, we can do that, and that’s actually probably most likely what we’re going to do. Now, there are those of us who have a different vision for what Boston can be, in which we actually find a way to source talent from the local communities, such that the communities themselves can rise along with their property values, and can afford to stay here. If only we placed value in upskilling, and reskilling those individuals who are local to Boston, we can fill those jobs right here, and then job creation is meaningful for Boston.

Heath: That’s how a lot of these projects, if you want to call it that, get sold by local governments anyway, they talk about job creation, think about what this is going to do to our economy. Right? Talk about hosting the Olympics, which I was not really for, but it always gets sold, look at all the facilities they’re going to create jobs, they’re going to build, and after it’s gone we’re going to have these facilities that we will repurpose for some other community good, which never happens anymore. Furthermore, you mentioned we can fill those jobs, and you talked about bringing in people, or you’re going to get people that are taken away from their current jobs, and creating, it’s the squishy balloon. Right? You’re going to take them away, you’re going to create vacancies in the jobs their sitting in right now, so you’re not really solving this talent pool challenge by simply reshuffling the deck.

David: Yeah. I think that a lot of policy makers tend to take this sort of one size fits all approach, where they think, hey, jobs, that’s good. Right? Jobs. That’s great. People can now have jobs. Look, that’s going to be great if you’re in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and there’s a big company that moves, and then the people there are employed, and that’s wonderful, you know, happily ever after. But here we have a very different problem in Boston than you might have in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, which is that we have people who already cannot afford to stay in their homes. Right?

David: Because the cost of living is so insanely high, and because there is a thick wall that separates those people who are not able to stay in their homes, and the jobs that they need to be able to stay in their homes. Right? That’s really the problem that we have to be focusing on, and it has unique contours that apply in Boston. That’s, I think, the lens through which we should be looking at the Amazon jobs, and by Amazon I mean really kind of all tech companies. What is the responsibility of an entrepreneur, of the tech community? To implement this particular vision of Boston. Do they share it? Do they care? Should it matter?

Heath: We talked about how students get involved, how would someone get involved either as a volunteer, or as an organization?

David: Yeah. The best thing that people can do is be an advocate at their companies. I like to say, “You going to make somebody uncomfortable today?” Ask someone at your company, “What is our diversity policy, here at this company?” And then people say, “Well, we have just chosen to not be biased.”

Heath: Yeah.

David: Wonderful.

Heath: Yeah.

David: Done. Check. I think that if you present that question like are we actually rowing in the direction of this particular vision of Boston. Do we share this vision of Boston? Do we care about the communities that live here, who can’t afford to stay in their homes? If not, cool, that’s not your fight, I guess. But if it is, let’s do something about it. The one thing that is inexcusable, really just indefensible is when companies go out there blogging, and tweeting about how much they care about diversity and inclusion, and then they’re not actually doing anything about it. They’re not actually hiring for diversity, they’re not looking at diverse talent pipelines, they’re just tweeting about it, and blogging about it.

David: The first thing people can do is just be advocates at their companies. The second thing people can do is volunteer, so we’re here Tuesdays and Thursdays, 3:30 to 6:00. We throw open our doors to the community, I would love for people to send me an email, david@resilientcoders.org, if they’re interested in volunteering. Of course, they can hire, so they should feel free to hire out of the program. We also run an agency that people can hire. We actually recently built a pretty impressive application that sort of speaks to the skills that our students and alumni have.

David: If you were to go to treasuryofwearysouls.com on a desktop computer you will see a heat map displaying the life insurance policies that were taken out on slaves in the Antebellum of the South, it’s a partnership with a professor at NYU, who is like, “Here I have this pretty amazing spreadsheet of names of highly skilled slaves, and the life insurance policies that were taken out on them.” We here at our internal agency, which we call Resilient Lab, we built out a heat map, that allows you to actually navigate that data.

Heath: Is it to connect their descendants with these policies, or is it just we needed a data visualization to blow people’s mind and say, “Wow. There are all these policies out there for former slaves.”

David: That’s it. It’s kind of the mind blowing effect of it being like, someone’s job was to calculate how much somebody’s life was worth.

Heath: Right.

David: Then make money from that.

Heath: Yeah.

David: Without paying that individual. Right? Speaking of make somebody uncomfortable today.

Heath: Yeah.

David: But that’s the kind of stuff that our lab is taking on. Another way to hire out of Resilient Codes, if you can’t really just hire a person flat out, is to hire the lab.

Heath: Use the lab.

David: Yeah.

Heath: What else I was going to ask you, you also do consulting contract work? That’s an example of that, right?

David: Exactly.

Heath: We don’t have a position or the need for a position, but we have a need for talent, how do we tap into that? That’s through the labs.

David: Exactly.

Heath: Yeah. Okay. Cool. Awesome. I appreciate the time, and can’t wait to hear what you have to say at UX Fest.

David: Thank you Heath. I’m all about it.

Heath: All right.

David: I’m pumped.

Author Heath Umbach

Heath is an avid cyclist and runner who brings athletic rigor to everything he touches. With over 15 years of experience building and marketing digital products, he has a deep passion for solving our clients’ greatest challenges.

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