Nonprofit working to expand tech diversity through bootcamp

Reskill Americans is working to advance diversity in tech, one cohort at a time.
Written by Nate Delesline III, Staff Writer
Diverse group of people gathered around a table looking at a laptop.
FatCamera/Getty Images

Tech industry professionals are working to expand diversity, equity and inclusion through a recently established non-profit organization focused on software development training, coding, and developing a professional community.

The goal is to provide a pathway for underrepresented minorities to start a career in tech, regardless if a person is a career switcher, underemployed, or unemployed.

Reskill Americans' first 130-person bootcamp cohort graduated in October 2021. They received mentorship from tech industry professionals, learned from 40 instructors, technical advisors and project managers, and built 16 full-stack projects. 

A first-person perspective

Jalen Harris, a black man wearing a navy-blue business suit, poses with his hand on his chin

Jalen Harris

Jalen Harris was part of the program's initial cohort.  

Technology, Harris said, "wasn't always a particular interest of mine … but, after learning how much value it has as far as opportunities and potential growth, I became a lot more interested."

He had enrolled at Bowling Green State University to study information technology but decided to take a break from school to focus on work. When things shut down due to the pandemic, Harris wanted to learn something new and got into coding. 

Around the same time, he saw Reskill Americans' inaugural cohort invitation. He decided to apply and got accepted. Harris described the overall experience as a good one. 

"You learn how to work as a team, collaboration, you learn to work through difficult times. … Sometimes things may not make sense, so it takes self-discipline to do the research and get the answer you need," Harris said. 

"But Reskill was also there as far as a helpful community," he continued. "We had a lot of tutors, one-on-one sessions, live sessions. They did everything in their power to help the people in the program succeed. It was basically like no person left behind."

A sense of community and camaraderie developed within the cohort too.

"Some people were already learning coding, some people were brand new to coding, but the ones that had a little more experience helped the ones that didn't. So it was basically getting people on the same page, which I honestly love," Harris said.

Harris is now a software engineer in the global technology department for McDonald's. Harris applies new technologies to existing systems — things like kiosks and drive-thru technology. 

His experience with Reskill Americans and the opportunity with McDonald's have inspired Harris to continue his career growth and education. He's currently working to earn his AWS Cloud Practitioner Certification.

How do you participate and what do you learn?

Reskill Americans is a 100% virtual program. Through the generosity and support of donors and partner organizations, it's a tuition-free initiative. 

Content is offered asynchronously and synchronously during a seven-month-long program.

To apply for Reskill Americans, you must meet four eligibility requirements. You must:

  • Be at least 18 years old and self-identify as a historically underrepresented minority. The program focuses on people who identify as Black, Hispanic, Native American, Alaskan Native or Pacific Islander.
  • Be eligible to work in the United States
  • Have a computer with internet access
  • Have a LinkedIn profile with a photo of yourself

Participants can focus on one of two learning tracks: full-stack web development or UI/UX product designer

In the full-stack web track, you'll learn HTML, CSS, and JavaScript

"By the end of the program, you will be able to develop websites and applications on your own," Reskill Americans says on its website. Applications are submitted online.

People who take the UI/UX product designer track will learn how to gather user requirements, conduct customer research, and design product solutions. 

You'll also learn to use Figma, an industry-standard tool, to share your designs with other tech professionals and project stakeholders.

In addition to technical upskilling and education, the program also offers a full slate of support in the form of community and professional connections. 

This includes opportunities to meet with industry professionals and guidance on creating an effective resume and LinkedIn profile. The job-prep portion of the training also includes mock job interviews with experienced tech professionals.

Femi Akinde, a Black man wearing glasses and a blue sweater, poses for a professional headshot.

Femi Akinde

In the tech world, timing is often everything, said program founder Femi Akinde. In 2020, the time felt right. Throughout his career, he "just saw the tech industry struggle with hiring diverse talent," said Akinde. 

He says he initially took a passive role in advancing tech diversity. But when the social justice upheavals of 2020 happened, "I decided I wanted to be active," Akinde said. So he launched Reskill Americans.

A nine-person advisory board, made up of tech professionals, helps guide the organization.

During the pandemic, Akinde said, nearly everyone became more comfortable and familiar with virtual learning and working. Akinde felt the timing was right as virtual learning became normalized.

Reskill Americans, Akinde said, might be a great opportunity for people interested in entering tech who lack entry-level tech skills and are not in a position to leave their job.

Achieving more diversity, equity and inclusion in the professional tech world remains a challenge. According to one report, 68% of business leaders note a lack of diversity in their tech workforce. And 51% said they struggle to recruit diverse entry-level tech talent. 

Those difficulties might be unintentionally self-imposed due to the tech industry's sometimes insular culture, Akinde said.

"Typically, the tech industry has target companies and target schools it recruits from," Akinde said. 

If you have a degree from a prestigious university or one the hiring manager knows or worked at a prominent company, you'll likely have an advantage in getting employers' attention.

Harris said his experience in Reskill Americans inspired him to make ongoing learning part of his professional development going forward. 

"I highly recommend to people out there that … even when you get the job, or even if you finish a cohort, continue learning. [Employers] pay you for what you know."

Akinde said the next priority "is getting our second cohort off the ground." For the initial cohort, "we got participants from 42 states in the union. We would like to have a reach to every state in the union." 

Reskill Americans said its next cohort starts Oct. 3.

Editorial standards