North County Apprentice Program Strives To Make Tech Equitable
In the basement of a former bank building in downtown Escondido that was turned into a co-working place sits Creating Coding Careers campus. It's a year-long apprentice coding program started by Mike Roberts.
Roberts, who is Black and has been a software engineer for more than 32 years, started the program because he said he wasn't seeing anyone who looks like him in the tech industry.
“If we’re not seeing these people represented in the software organization, that must mean there’s some super talented people that just need an opportunity, a chance to gain those skills,” he said.
What's important for Roberts is that the program is a paid apprenticeship. Often, that's the barrier for people of color and women to make a career switch or train new skills. They may not be able to afford to stop working to get the training they need, he said.
"There's a lot of barriers for women, for Blacks, LGTBQ, Latinx to be able to not only afford to re-skill and to train but also to be able to, when they don't fit in, to be seen as a successful vocational path beyond just a traditional four-year [computer science] degree," Roberts said.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is a diversity gap in tech. Women represent 50.8% of the population but only about 25.6% of tech jobs. Blacks 13.4% of the population, 8.4% of tech jobs. And Latinx 18.3% of the population but only 7.5% in tech.
Hannah Clack, one of the apprentices in the program, like many of her generation, has had a variety of careers before diving into software development. She was a certified nurse's assistant, graphic designer, and special education teaching assistant. Without this apprenticeship program, she said she would not be able to continue to learn to code.
She was laid off last year when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and found it hard to find another job.
"It was getting to the point where I had to find a different job rather than looking for a development job if I didn’t find something," Clack said. "So the apprentice thing lets me keep working in development while I’m getting to a level that’s more better for businesses."
Clack is not alone. Josiah Swab, one of Clack's fellow apprentices, said that he would not have been able to switch careers without this program. He was working at Wayfair's warehouse in Moreno Valley.
“This is a pretty unique opportunity and I’m grateful for that," Swab said. "A lot of people are paying to learn how to code. And for me, it’s the opposite. I’m being paid to learn how to code.”
To attract people from underserved backgrounds, Roberts purposefully operates his program in underrepresented communities. In addition to the Escondido campus, he also operates another location in Encanto. He is looking to expand to other parts of the country.
The apprenticeship program accepts applicants on a rolling basis. Applications are available on Creating Coding Careers' website.