Bay Area program closes gap between tech world, disadvantaged youth

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- They happen all the time around here -- hack-a-thons, product pitches and networking events. Thursday was no different, except for one thing. The people doing it may be the farthest thing from your average techies.

Every techie should be able to present in front of a panel of judges at the end of a frenzied hack-a-thon. But Tashae Hawkins is not a techie.

"I work at Marshall's in Emeryville, still at $9 an hour," Hawkins said.

It's a common story in West Oakland.

"The young people we work with are from communities where they don't know anybody who gets on the Google bus. They don't know what the opportunities are and if they did know, they wouldn't know how to get the training. We're trying to fix that," Hack the Hood CEO Susan Mernit said.

Hack the Hood is a program to bring the high-paying tech industry one step closer to the young people who need it the most.

"I was looking for a job but I was having trouble finding a job," 24-year-old Leo Martin said.

Martin was saddled with student loans but Hack the Hood doesn't charge tuition.

In fact, the young people they accept can actually make money learning to design websites for local businesses.

"It's the best thing in the world coming from UC Davis, where I owe them right now $20,000 for going to class. Right here, I actually get money to go to class," Martin said.

The program doesn't teach high-level coding skills. It's more about building a foundation for young people who like technology but might never have thought they could have a career in it.

"It is inspiring these economically disadvantaged kids of color to be more, to do more," Infosys Foundation chairwoman Vandana Sikka said.

"If you're running a company and you see the graduating classes that are overwhelmingly white and Asian males, how do you balance your workforce? It's not easy," CEO Hadi Partovi said.

That's why Infosys invited Hack the Hood to its annual conference, holdings its Hack Day event right under the noses of Microsoft, IBM and Oracle.

"Hopefully, I'll meet some people here today. Woot, woot!" Hawkins said.

Hawkins said she's already applied for an internship. More than anything, Hack the Hood has given her direction.

"I have always wanted to make a change and make a difference and what better way to make a difference than to bridge the gap in tech with diversity," Hawkins said.
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