Coded by Kids works to close the race gap in the tech world

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Coded by Kids founder Sylvester Mobley

Coded by Kids founder Sylvester Mobley. (Coded by Kids)

Coded by Kids is an organization working to close the race gap in the tech world. A year ago, they launched 1Philadelphia as an intentional effort to build a connected tech education system that will prepare kids of color from kindergarten through to a career and then into entrepreneurship.

Germantown native Sylvester Mobley is founder of the organization, and the mastermind behind the effort. He sat down with WHYY afternoon drive host, Cherri Gregg, to discuss the progress of his vision.

Congratulations on the first anniversary of  1Philadelphia. For those who have never heard about the 1Philadelphia vision, explain what it is and why you felt Coded By Kids was the right organization. Why you guys should have launched this?

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Sylvester Mobley: Unfortunately, if you look at the city of Philadelphia, there isn’t one Philadelphia. The city of Philadelphia looks different based on what you look like, the neighborhood you come from, who your parents are, your socioeconomic status, your race,  your gender. To have the city that we all believe in, that city has to be one where everyone has the same access, opportunity, and equity when it comes to what’s available and what’s in front of them.

And why Coded by Kids?

If you look at all of the data in terms of what jobs are being automated, where careers are going right now, Black people are concentrated in jobs that have the highest likelihood of being replaced by automation, which means if we don’t start shifting the careers that we’re going into, at some point, we’re going to create a chronically either unemployed or underemployed class. The jobs in tech are the jobs that are going to survive that automation.

Let’s give the status of this. Where were people of color, Black folks specifically, in tech, and how is 1Philadelphia seeking to change that?

If you take the City of Philadelphia as an example… there was a report with a data point published in Technically Philly that showed that if you look at tech in Philly, only 2.5% of people in tech in Philly are Black. So if you take a city where more than 40% of the population is Black, but only 2.5% of the people in tech are Black… that’s a huge disparity, especially when you look at where the jobs are.

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Yeah. And so how does 1Philadelphia sort of seek to shift that narrative and change the stats?

Well, a large part of it is how do we collectively as a city, 1.) recognize we need to move as many underrepresented people into tech as possible and 2.) how do we start connecting the dots? Often when we attack large systemic problems, we do it in silos. And equity isn’t a siloed thing. You have to be able to bring together partners from across the spectrum to all work together collectively to attack the issue. A large part of what 1Philadelphia is, “How do we look at all of the different partners, all the different organizations that need to work together to address the issues we see with inequity as a result of not having enough underrepresented people in the second innovation space?” So, you can think of us almost as like the connective tissue.

And I remember when you guys launched, one of the big things was, you got corporate folks to give you like a million bucks.

The money was to kick it off. And you know, a lot of what we’re doing right now is just raising awareness. A lot of people who I talk to don’t actually understand they’re in careers that are currently being replaced by automation. A lot of people that we work with don’t understand what the opportunities are in tech or how to get into tech. So a large part of the initial work was “how do we start raising awareness and start changing the conversation and the culture as we start to transition out of awareness to more programmatic things?” It’s “how do we build programs that are educating, that are engaging, that are getting people connected to help at every stage?” So ranging from youth education to technical education all the way up to adult technical and startup-focused commercial education this year.

It’s been a year, so tell me some of the highlights.

We’ve been able to start building a $50 million venture capital fund to invest in underrepresented founders in the tech space. That’s a pretty big thing. We’re able to solve a huge gap that you see, where a lot of underrepresented founders, especially Black founders, don’t have access to networks and connections to raise that early money, to get your company off the ground. And if you can’t raise that early money to get your company off the ground, it doesn’t matter how good your idea is, doesn’t matter how experienced you are, you just can’t get things going.

Are there any other highlights? 

We launched an Innovation Week. Part of the thought process was “how do we start to look at tech and innovation the same way you look at sports?” And “how do we get our young people and our parents in to see tech and innovation the way they see sports? And how do we make it a competitive thing?” We’re hoping that as we move into next year, we’ll be able to expand upon that. One of the things you’ve seen with 1Philadelphia is some of our partners have nothing to do with tech. So some of our partners are helping with college access. Why? Because if we can’t get our young people into college, then we’re still not going to be successful.

This is just the beginning, it seems like. 

It seems like the point that I try to make to people is it’s taken hundreds of years to create the systemic inequity that we see. So we’re not going to address it or unwind it in six months. And it’s not sexy work, but it’s necessary long-term work that needs to happen.

How can people support what you’re doing now to help push the vision forward? 

People can always go to 1PHL.org to get more information to see how they can get involved. People can always go to codedbykids.com as well. One of the biggest things people can do is tell more people, “you have all this opportunity, you have all of these great careers and great things happening with tech and startup space.” A lot of us just don’t know about it. So the more we can talk about it with our friends and our family and our colleagues, the more we can spread the word beyond where we’re able to take advantage of the opportunities.

For more information on 1Philadelphia, you can check them out at 1Phl.org.

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