Coding Dojo Shows How to #DoBigGood in Tech

A New Kind of Tech Culture

When you think of the tech industry you probably think of dynamism and innovation.

Unfortunately, you might also think of tax avoidance, monopoly, discrimination, “brogrammer” culture, and IPO’s that makes a few super-rich while displacing many others.

But tech doesn’t have to be that way.  Tech companies can do good while also doing well. Coding Dojo is a prime example.

Started in 2012, Coding Dojo is a company that runs programming bootcamp that help people new to the industry get jobs in the tech and currently operates out of fives cities around the US, which a sixth coming online in August.  The company’s mission is to transform lives through programming literacy.

People Make a Social Mission Work

Having a social impact mission statement is all well and good, but how do you operationalize it?  Realizing a social mission comes down to people and coding staff care deeply about making a difference.

download (1)Founder Michael Choi, who is Mormon, was a missionary in lower-income areas of New York City – Flushing in Queens, Flatbush in Brooklyn – as a young man.  This experience affected his business outlook.  He set the mission of providing economic opportunity through programming education  and hired people who would see that mission implemented.  Almost half (49%) of all Coding Dojo applicants make less than $30,000 a year and the average starting salary for a Coding Dojo alumni is $72,486.

downloadRichard Wang, the current CEO, experienced hardship firsthand.  Born in China, he was shuttled around between relatives as a child and came to the US at the age of 13 without speaking a word of English.  He wants to help people gain a foothold.  “I believe we have an obligation,” he says, “to connect individuals – specifically the underserved – with learning opportunities….” The effect of this education will have an impact not only “on their own lives,” but also “in the greater community.”

download (3)Director of Communications Katie Bouwkamp nearly broke into tears when speaking about the hardship experienced by some incoming students, for whom a new tech job is a desperately-needed lifeline.  Unprompted, she talked passionately about the needs of students not only for the job training that the Dojo provides, but also for child care and affordable housing. XXXX

Oh, and that concern about student expenses?

That’s now part on Coding Dojo’s work.  Later this summer they’ll be launching Code for Change, a 501(c)3 organization that will give underprivileged individuals scholarships.  These scholarships will not only provide tuition assistance, but also support the costs of attending the bootcamp, including childcare, rent, transportation, and a laptop.

Fixing the Pipeline Problem

It’s well-known that women and non-Asian people of color are underrepresented in tech:


diversity_race

Tech companies often ascribe this inequality to “pipeline problems,” the idea that qualified women and people of color are not “in the training pipeline.”

As a training company for those new to the industry, Coding Dojo is right at the beginning of the pipeline, moving women and people of color into tech jobs.  Though the numbers vary from cohort to cohort, 61% of Coding Dojo students and alumni are people of color and 27% are women.  To boost that latter number, Coding Dojo’s largest fixed-amount scholarship goes to women.

And they are pro-active in bringing people into the program.  When Mila Wilkinson (video below) started a Go Fund Me page to raise money to attend one of their bootcamps, Coding Dojo reached out to her and offered her a scholarship.

Beyond CSR

Coding Dojo’s social impact goes way beyond conventional corporate social responsibility (CSR).

It’s not a one-off program or a box to check.  It’s how they operate on a daily basis and who they hire.  It’s pro-actively helping people, even if there isn’t a formal program set up yet.  It’s formalizing those programs to increase fairness and commit to helping others in the same way.

That commitment to social change also pays off for the company.  Notes Katie Bouwkamp:

“Every job that I’ve ever been in, I’ve felt like something was off, that something was missing, and I think a lot of people feel like that. They’re stuck in a job and they’re, like, what more could that be?…. And then I came here… I was fulfilled and I looked forward to coming to work and I think everybody here can attest that it’s the same for them. There’s very low turnover. I don’t know anyone that’s left, because it’s fulfilling work…. I’m able to do good.”

Happy employees, fully engaged in making the company thrive because they see their work as connected to a greater good?

You can take that to the bank.

images: owler.com, Startup Seattle, the author