In May I met with my Principal to tell her that I would be resigning from my position as a teacher at Deerfield Beach Middle School. She was pretty disappointed but also very supportive once I told her that I was moving to Northern California to pursue Software Engineering. When I told her that quitting was a tough decision she looked at me and said “Well, there’s money in software engineering,” as if to say my decision was probably not a bad one. She’s completely right, there is a lot of money in this field. Income potential is more than triple what I make as a teacher, but that is not the primary reason that I am pursuing software engineering. There’s a pretty interesting story behind my decision and I’m going to share it because I want people to know that 1) it’s never too late to pursue a new career 2) following your passion can brighten your world 3) the tech industry is the industry of the future and social justice organizations need to begin paying attention to it.
Black Lives Matter Alliance Broward’s Development Initiative
In June of 2015 I co-founded a social justice organization called Black Lives Matter Alliance Broward. The founders and I envisioned an organization that would challenge systemic racism in Broward County Florida via popular mobilizations. We propelled ourselves into the political scene by taking on local cases of police brutality, but there were many issues we were interested in such as food justice, rights for the homeless, education reform, criminal justice reform, environmental issues, and more. We were a passionate and ambitious group but we lacked internal organization, focus, or long-term planning and as a result, most of the work always fell on the shoulders of a handful of committed people.
Around the time of our 1 year anniversary (June 2016) Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were murdered which resulted in a massive local outcry in Broward County. Members of the Alliance quickly organized a protest and a healing circle, both of which brought out more people than we had ever seen.
As this was happening I was reflecting on an interesting pattern. Hundreds of people would come out to release their frustration and anger which gave us a sense of accomplishment. Subsequent meeting attendance would soar for a few weeks. Then, attendance would slowly dwindle back down to where it was before the protest ever happened. Essentially, we were taking advantage of national tragedies without having a long-term plan of action.
Once I made this realization, I decided I was going to do something to change this pattern. I pondered all the problems we had inside the Alliance and brainstormed solutions. I came up with a proposal, presented it to the Alliance via Powerpoint, and then the Alliance held 4 more meetings to revise and edit my proposal. We could not all agree on every single component of the proposal so we decided to implement it in phases and make changes along the way. This initiative was called the Development Initiative (DI) — it proposed implementing a formal system that would govern our members and boost productivity. The DI consisted of 6 key components.
- New Member Intake Process: people interested in joining our organization would complete a one on one with an Alliance member to learn more about the Alliance. They would then be assigned a team leader or “mentor” who supports and guides them through learning how to be an organizer.
- Mentorship Program: Every member, new and old, would be assigned a team leader/mentor who provides support.
- Membership expectations: all members would be held to specific expectations. These expectations were based on a sweat equity philosophy in which everyone must make a minimum time contribution in order to be considered a member rather than a supporter.
- Grunt Work Sessions (GWS): This is a weekly 4 hour volunteer session where members and supporters come together to do often neglected work such as making phone calls, designing flyers, conducting research, updating the contact list, scheduling one on ones with prospective members, and much more.
- Trainings: A member focused training & workshop program that covers everything from constructive engagement of conflict and crisis intervention, to economic theory, local politics, and time management.
- 4 New Committees:
**Administrative Committee: maintains the organizational structure, runs the general body meetings, runs GWS, and runs the new member intake process.
**Education Committee: designs and implements trainings for both Alliance members and community members.
**Financial Committee: manages Alliance finances.
**Health, Sustainability, & Accountability Committee: holds members accountable to membership expectations, mediates internal conflicts, manages mentorship program, puts on social and recreational events for Alliance members, and creates accountability processes for those who violate rules or guidelines.
The goals of the DI were to
- Steadily grow Alliance membership by prioritizing retention, relationship building, and mental health.
- Increase the capacity of the Alliance to take on long-term campaigns and projects
- Provide supporters with clear ways to support the Alliance without becoming a member
- Provide members with the education and skills to be more effective organizers and better critical thinkers
- Use pre-designed processes to deal with internal conflict and minimize disruptions
Issues With the DI
As one of the primary leaders of the DI, I was super excited to be working on something I believed could radically evolve our organization and hopefully influence others. Even better, the DI began showing results immediately. Within 6 months we had doubled our membership, hosted 6 educational workshops, and grown our email list from 100 to over 700 subscribers.
But around month 2 I noticed another problem: the processes we were using (for things like storing data, scheduling one on ones, and tracking new members) were really inefficient and required a lot of manual labor. I did my best to improve these processes but the most efficient solution was to have these processes automated.
Up until this point, I’d never really understood what computer programming was. I was never exposed to it and there are no developers in my family or group of close friends. For the first time in my life, I realized that being able to build software was like having a super power, and I wanted that super power. So I began learning how to code through online tutorials.
Researching Software Engineering
It was around October of 2016 that I developed my interest in coding. I contacted Blake, a friend from college, with some questions and she told me about a school called Hackbright that she attended shortly after our graduation. She answered some questions I had about software engineering, was very excited about my new interest, and suggested that my personality was perfect for this field. I have a problem solving mentality, I am creative, I’ve had a range of diverse experiences, I enjoy thinking about complex problems, and I am a great communicator.
I researched Hackbright and other “Software Engineering Fellowships” also known as “coding boot-camps”. Coding boot-camps are extremely rigorous 12–18 week programs where students spend 60–80 hours a week learning how to code. Graduates of these boot-camps then go on to find entry level positions as software engineers. There’s only so much you can learn in 12–18 weeks so once graduates find a job they continue to develop their coding abilities through on-the-job experience.
Months before deciding to learn how to code, I had booked a 10 day trip to San Francisco to visit a college. This trip ended up being the perfect opportunity to explore my interest in the tech industry.
During my visit to San Francisco (in late December 2016/early January2017) I connected with Darrell Jones III, a college friend who worked at a tech startup and was able to provide a lot of insight. Like Blake, he too was very encouraging. It was during this trip that I decided being a teacher and coding on the side was not going to give me the time to thoroughly pursue this interest. I needed to leave teaching all-together and pursue software development 100% with everything I’ve got. I made a one-year plan that looked something like this: 1)Jan-March: self-study 2)April-May: self-study & applications 3)June/July: Attend Coding Bootcamp 4)Graduate by October 5)Get a job by January 1st 2018.
Breaking Into Startups
After meeting with Darrel Jones III he added me to a Facebook group called Breaking Into Startups which was a game changer. Breaking Into Startups is a Facebook group created by 3 awesome humans(Artur Meyster, Timur Meyster, and Ruben A. Harris) who broke into tech from non-traditional backgrounds. They created the Facebook page as a support system for people who are trying to break into the tech industry without computer science degrees or prior experience. They also have a podcast with interviews of amazing people from diverse backgrounds who broke into tech. Guests on the podcast have the most interesting stories and come from a variety of fields such as art, theater, education, and banking. By February 2017 I was listening to the podcast every day. I took all the advice that guests gave, used their suggested resources and researched suggested schools.
Learning How to Code
By April I was so dedicated to learning how to code that I used my 10 days of spring break to study 8+ hours a day. I didn’t go out, I didn’t have fun, and I took few breaks. I literally just studied my ass off and I loved it.
In June I received a partial scholarship from Yes We Code to attend the July 17th Dev Bootcamp cohort. I found a place to live, got a plane ticket, packed a few suitcases of clothes, and said goodbye to my friends and family.
What Comes After Boot-camp
My program with Dev Bootcamp started on July 17th and is 18 weeks long, twice as long as most bootcamps. Right now I am 10 weeks into the program and having an incredible time, which I will write about in another post.
I want to end this post where I started, which is why I left teaching to pursue software engineering.
Finding a high-income job in an industry that offers more benefits and perks than any other industry is going to be great and I really look forward to that. But my personal and long-term interest is to use technology to enhance social justice movements.
Technology is capable of solving many problems, but only those with technical skills or knowledge will have the power to innovate new technologies or enhance user access to current technology. I already have an application for social justice organizations in the works and hope to produce more in the future.
In the meantime, I write and share in the hopes that I will inspire at least 1 other activist to seriously pursue a career in tech. We need tech. Our movements will not be successful without it.