Software engineer creates nonprofit to increase opportunities for those typically shut out of industry
BY JAN GOLDSMITH
JAN. 26, 2023 12:31 PM PT
Mike Roberts is doing something to help diversify the software engineering profession. It does not entail government orders, quotas or preferences. It simply entails opening the door of opportunity.
When Roberts was a senior software engineer for a San Diego technology company he would sit in meetings with software engineers from various companies and look around the room. Roberts, who is Black, says he “rarely saw someone who looked like me.”
He wondered why that was. After all, software engineering (otherwise known as computer programming or coding) is something that can be learned without regard to race or other identities and can result in a lucrative salary.
Roberts kept his observations in mind when he left his six-figure job to become a “boot camp” instructor where students learned coding. He saw that the cost to attend boot camps, which could reach $15,000, and the intense 60-hour a week program limited accessibility, particularly for those who worked.
After his boot camp closed, Roberts was out of a job. He decided this was his chance to do something to help open the door of opportunity for those who he believed were being shut out.
So, in 2019 he formed Creating Coding Careers (CCC), a nonprofit that teaches coding skills without the barriers of a traditional boot camp.
CCC is free. It allows for progress at the participant’s pace. And, those in the apprenticeship program get paid.
About two-thirds of the program costs are paid by prospective employers, normally technology companies that rely upon CCC to help them hire software engineers.
CCC participants begin with a pre-apprentice program that teaches basics of coding. The program is online and free. After participants pass pre-apprentice training, those with a high school diploma, who are legally able to work in the United States and are without a serious violent crime record are eligible for an apprenticeship invitation.
Apprenticeship opportunities depend upon employer availability. Candidates are selected based upon employer criteria and are interviewed by prospective employers. Those candidates hired are employed and paid by CCC until their apprenticeship is complete, and they are either hired by the employer or enter the market.
Regardless of whether participants are hired through CCC’s apprentice program, Roberts points out the programs offer an opportunity for those willing to work hard and stick with it to better their skills and increase their chances of employment.
Referrals to CCC come from various sources, many of which are community-based organizations.
In 2022, CCC had some 1,200 participants in its programs.
Deonte Hall-Collins, 23, was one of them.
He was born and raised in poverty, living in South Central Los Angeles and separated from his siblings.
“I worked at warehouses, department stores and outdoor events usually very long hours just to put food on the table,” Hall-Collins said. “To me that was going to be ‘life’ because I simply wouldn’t be able to do any better with the socioeconomic environment I was born and raised in.”
He entered the CCC program in 2021. Hall-Collins is now a paid CCC apprentice and hopes to be hired by a private company in three months. The program, he said, “opened for me the opportunity to break the poverty cycle.”
Hall-Collens has a five-year plan that entails promotions and a family.
Success stories like Hall-Collens’ are exciting, Roberts said. “They make me feel this is all worthwhile.”
Roberts, 47, began computer coding as a hobby while a teenager attending Mount Carmel High School in Rancho Penasquitos. He says he was a weak academic student. He worked hard, however, graduating high school in 1994, college online in 2006 and then earned a master’s at National University in business management. He held many part-time jobs such as bus driver and soccer referee until he discovered coding as a profession in 2010.
Today, Roberts lives in Poway with his wife, Marissa, and their son.
His goal is to attract more business sponsors and further expand CCC’s reach to achieve more opportunities and success stories.
The website for CCC is www.cccareers.org.