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Mission to make more diverse tech talent keeps on rolling

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Mission to make more diverse tech talent keeps on rolling

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A local Latino tech talent agency has transitioned to a nonprofit and rebranded as Code on Wheels.

Code on Wheels (CoW) is the next iteration Loop Coding Center, a company Luis Perez helped found in 2017 to address the diversity gap in West Michigan’s tech industry. As a nonprofit, the organization still is committed to improving the diversity gap in the tech industry by delivering tech education programs to underrepresented students.

Luis Perez, Angel Barreto, Joe Royston and Geraldo Gonzalez

“We started Loop Coding Center, LLC without a vision, resources or connections, but we knew change was needed,” Perez said.

According to Perez, the West Michigan tech industry in 2018 was dominated by 86% Caucasians, with 27% being Hispanic and 23% being African American. Additionally, 79% of tech professionals in the area were male, and 21% were female.

Perez said he, himself, found it difficult to learn how to code in high school and discovered it was part of a bigger diversity problem that not many West Michigan organizations were focused on.

Since its founding, Loop Coding Center began to better understand where it fit in the tech ecosystem and even gained a few followers along the way. But the founders realized being a for-profit business did not align with their mission of equitable access to tech skills, so in June 2021 the organization switched its legal status to nonprofit and rebranded as Code on Wheels.

The transition to nonprofit took about a year to acquire the title and obtain legal and financial files.
“When we first started, we were very eager and naïve about what it would take to accomplish what we set out to do,” Perez said. “Fast forward a few years, and now we understand we alone will never close the diversity gap in the tech field. It will take a village, time and money to get it done.

“We understand our programs will not get the youth jobs in tech on their own, but it will open doors and expose them to new topics that they otherwise wouldn’t get the opportunity to learn otherwise.”

CoW has four programs:
Exploration workshops are for organizations that want to implement a coding class but are unsure about committing to a series of classes. CoW runs a free, three-hour coding session with the students, collects data, and brings the organization into the session, so it can get familiar with CoW’s teaching style to see if it would be a good fit before committing to classes.

Coding classes are more complicated but can be curated to suit an organization’s needs. Perez said CoW already has built different curriculums and used the technological, pedagogical, and content knowledge (TPACK) framework to modify curriculums without losing key elements.

The Tech Literacy program was created during the pandemic when CoW was getting requests to teach adults how to use basic computer tasks and has expanded to include youth programs.

The CoW Club was born out of the idea of keeping prior students engaged without needing to fully commit to another class. Anyone who completes a CoW coding class is eligible to join the club and continue learning about technology.

CoW primarily is focused on West Michigan, but Perez said the organization is piloting a new service to share its curriculums and expertise with other organizations and schools and obtain a broader audience.

“While we have not officially promoted this new service, we are in conversation with an organization in Mexico, so we feel confident this will be very beneficial to multiple future partners,” Perez said.

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Code on Wheels is a small organization with big aspirations, and everyone involved has a full-time job outside of their responsiblities. The organization relies heavily on contract and volunteer work and currently has 11 members working in different areas of the organization.

Out of those 11, four are board members: Perez, who also works at Steelcase as an applications engineer, is the board chair and presiden;, Geraldo Gonzalez, co-founder of Aztech.us, is secretary and programs co-lead; Joe Royston, senior developer at DIG Solutions, is programs co-lead; and Angel Barreto, co-founder of Aztech.us, is advancement lead.

One of the key elements to CoW’s success is strategic partnerships, such as financial partners, community partners and programs partners, that align with CoW’s mission.

Financial partners help pay for programs, so parents and students don’t have to pay anything, and educational partners help find students and host programs at their locations.

“It begins with a conversation to understand better the type of relationship we envision for both organizations,” Perez said.

Some of CoW’s partnerships include Michigan State University, Grand Rapids Public Schools, Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, Start Garden and Roosevelt Park Ministries.
More information is at codeonwheels.org.

SPONSORED CONTENT by START GARDEN

Haz clic para leer en Español: La misión de hacer que el talento tecnológico sea más diverso sigue en marcha

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