CodeNow teaching tech skills to underrepresented youth

A Washington, D.C.-based non-profit is working towards narrowing the digital divide for low-income, minority, and female students.
Written by Rachel King, Contributor

Aiming to offer a new and valuable skill set to inner-city students, CodeNow is a non-profit that provides free computer science education to youth.

Targeting high school students between the ages of 15 and 18, CodeNow counts low-income students, as well as girls and minorities, among the "underrepresented" when it comes to education about and access to technology.

Founder Ryan Seashore explained that while most kids enter the classroom and know if they like math and science or not right away, computer science is more of a grey area. Thus, there is an opportunity here to grasp the interest of students.

Furthermore, he argues that youth within these demographics are about to enter the workforce without many tangible skills.

"Teaching other kids to code isn't a complex idea," says Seashore. "As I did more and more research, I didn't find others doing this in a scalable way."

Seashore adds that, ultimately out of pure frustration, he founded CodeNow because "it’s just one of those programs that needed to exist."

When students first sign up with CodeNow, they learn how to built animation and video games within a day. From there, they are given coursework and projects for them to learn on their own. After completing a weekend training, they are eligible to attend a four-day "tech boot camp," where in the course of 40 hours, they learn the building blocks they need to know to really start programming.

There are also plans to set up an "alumni" network, which will involve mentoring, hackathon events throughout the year, as well as internship possibilities.

Seashore says that the biggest validation after the first weekend training was that he received several emails from students' friends asking how to sign up for the program.

"From high school students, you can't get a better validator than peers," Seashore remarked.

Positing that his skill set is "starting things from the ground up," Seashore started off after college as a film producer in Los Angeles. After getting involved with a couple of startups and realizing that he loves technology, he moved up the coast to the Bay Area in 2007, where he worked on product development with a focus on user interface.

In 2008, Seashore became involved with the youth outreach wing of President Obama's first presidential campaign in San Francisco, which grew to more than 1,000 members. After the election, he moved to D.C., where he worked on an interim basis at the White House for six months, at the end of which he joined the non-profit sector.

CodeNow was founded this past February, but the organization really started rolling in August.

With one weekend training already completed, CodeNow is in the process for recruiting students for two more weekend events in November and December. Additionally, all students participating in the weekend trainings will be invited to CodeNow's 4-day tech boot camp in Washington between December 27th and 30th.

All students who complete both a weekend training and the boot camp will be given a free netbook.

By the end of 2011, Seashore estimates that 50 students will have participated in the program. The current instructor base is made up of five volunteers. As Seashore describes CodeNow with as a non-profit with "more of a startup approach," the organization hasn't received donations from foundations, but from individuals that "really get what we're doing."

Looking beyond to 2012, CodeNow plans to expand to four more U.S. cities as well as to create a toolkit of best practices in the hopes to go national.

For a closer look at CodeNow, check out the promo video below:


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