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Hackathon looks to diversify opportunities to work in technology

Mar 26, 2015

The focus will be on how to increase diversity in tech jobs as a hundred Detroit middle schoolers gather this weekend for a two-day hackathon. It's put on by Ford STEAM Lab, which is part of the Ford Motor Company Fund in conjunction with partners like California-based #YesWeCode and the Level Playing Field Institute.

The hackathon will allow young people to work with technology professionals to pitch ideas for their own mobile app and build a prototype in 48 hours.

Participants were selected from Detroit Public Schools. Shawn Wilson, organizer of the Ford Motor Company Fund, says students were chosen based not only on their high potential, but low opportunity.

Kwame Anku from partnering organization  YesWeCode says they're focused on a three-step process. First, exposure to technology to show kids what they're capable of. Then, expand education through the inclusion of computer science curriculum in public education, along with more boot camp programs that teach people with no programming experience in 12-18 week classes. Finally, Anku says YesWeCode is focused on working with tech companies to further their internship and apprenticeship programs.

"We go into these events thinking that somehow this is just about transforming the children. The reality is it transforms the hearts and the minds of the adults that participate, witness, and make it happen," Anku says.

Anku says they're already seeing results, including venture capitalists inquiring about their ideas for apps. And Anku says it's rewarding to see kids creating something extraordinary without knowing the true talent they possess.

Wilson says companies need to start looking for innovators beyond just the top graduates from four-year schools, and to start younger.

"Ultimately, I think the largest message is we have to go to where the future workforce is, which is in the minority communities who will become the majority, so we have to go there now," says Wilson.