A free training program is coming to Philadelphia to help people of color find careers in tech with hefty salaries — without a college degree.
Led by founder David Delmar Sentíes and Leon Noel, the organization’s managing director of engineering, the group plans to launch a 10-person pilot boot camp in Philadelphia, starting next month. The hope is to expand the program later.
Resilient Coders also helps students find full-time employment following completion of the program. It says almost nine out of 10 earned an average starting salary of $90,000 last year.
The boot camps provide students with a weekly stipend. The funding comes from tech firms and nonprofit organizations, with donors helping Resilient Coders build an employment pipeline for students upon completion.
“We believe economic inclusivity means recognizing that people can’t go without a paycheck for five months,” said Delmar, who formerly helped shape user experience at PayPal.
Delmar started Resilient Coders in 2014 as a program for high school students, before launching the first boot camp for young adults in 2016. Noel is a South Philadelphia native and graduate of George Washington Carver High School of Engineering and Science. He joined Delmar for the second of these boot camps, using his background in software engineering as the cofounder of SocialSci, a scientific survey startup for academic research.
In leading the pilot program for Philadelphia, Noel hopes to continue promoting equity in tech.
“When we look at Philadelphia, we see a vibrant tech economy,” he said. “But for decades there’s been an unemployment gap that’s still rising now with the pandemic.”
Across the nation, joblessness has soared due to the pandemic. Last fall, white unemployment was running at a 3.4%. This year, it hit 7%. The Black unemployment rate was 5.6%. This fall, it climbed to 13.2%.
For Noel, his local roots were a big motivation to join. “In my heart of hearts for the past four years,” he said, “I’ve wanted this program in Philly.”
While the courses and training sessions for the boot camps have gone online during the COVID-19 pandemic, the application process has remained the same. Those interested need only attend one of the full-day hackathons hosted before the launch of a new boot camp, which give prospective students a chance to chat with Resilient Coder alumni and instructors.
“We don’t select individuals based on anything other than their grit and their resilience to make it through a 20-week program,” said Delmar. “The most important thing we look for is once they get a job, if they’re going to turn around and bring three more folks with them.”
Resilient Coders has also partnered with JEVS Human Services, a Philadelphia career-development organization, to help get the word out. Edison Freire, the director of gateway initiatives at JEVS, says this has become even more crucial due to the economic havoc wreaked by the pandemic.
Keighan Gunther, JEVS’s director of post-secondary opportunities and supportive services, said it would help Resilient Coders enroll students, as well as provide guidance and mental-health services to students.
Heloise Jettison, the senior director of workforce development for the city of Philadelphia, agrees with this holistic approach to training and employment.
The city recently awarded $500,000 to local groups with similar missions in tech equity, including Coded by Kids. But Jettison emphasized the importance of groups like Resilient Coders, too, that target young adults — the “low-hanging fruit” for career training programs.
Both Jettison and Nefertiri Sickout, the city’s acting chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer, agree that Resilient Coders’ emphasis on post-training employment offers is an important step.
“The other side is making sure that companies are then able to retain those individuals,” said Jettison. “Because we’ve heard many stories where we’re able to upskill our residents, but once they get to the company, they face a culture shift.”
Taye Hubbert, a 2019 graduate of Resilient Coders, hopes to give back to the program and help with career development for future alumni. Hubbert is now a software engineer at Constant Contact, an online marketer in the Boston area.
“Boot camps are really helpful in getting people into these spaces,” said Hubbert. “But then it’s up to the individuals to realize that it’s not over after the boot camp, and we still have a lot of work to do.”
Delmar sees Resilient Coders as more of an intervention than an institution, emphasizing that his mission is to become obsolete. “I want our students’ grandkids to ask them, why the hell would someone have come to a coding boot camp for people of color,” he said. “That’s the dream, to become something that shuts down.”