David Delmar is an activist, artist, designer and interface developer. He is the Founder and Executive Director of Resilient Coders. He leads an award-winning agency that sources and trains talent from Boston’s underserved communities.
Where does the resilient come from in Resilient Coders?
About 3 years ago now, I took vacation from my job at Paypal to teach at a youth detention facility. The education director asked me to share the name of my class and I said, I don’t know… “coding”? She told me that was super lame so I replied with “Resilient Coders”? So, she threw it in and it grew on me and became the name of our organization, Resilient Coders.
You once said “give me more time and you’ll get better—maybe people will pay you to do their websites. If you get even better you might turn it into a career.” Are you finding that people are turning your program into a career?
It’s not binary like that. Some folks need more demonstration on the career model and that there is return on investment for time and energy. I grew up and I thought school was pointless. But, based on what I saw around me (parents and friends’ parents), I learned that college was one way to get from point A to point B. If I had not seen the people I did in my community, I probably would not have made the decision to go to college. There are a lot of young people in Boston who are seeing that the traditional education path doesn’t work out for folks in their circumstance that they know personally. They’re asking themselves why would they invest in something that may not pan out. We talk with youth about the potential return on investment for your intellectual and creative energy. That speaks to young people who have an interest in tech.
Code school or college, if you’re into technology?
It’s about what fits your life for your priorities. I’m not a college cheerleader but it’s an individual decision. There is room for coding to be regarded as a trade rather than the fruits of an academic venture and I think that’s a good thing. We’re currently in a reality where you have to work harder to achieve what you want if you don’t make it to college, but that is changing. College is a great means of learning but it’s not the only way.
Do you think people with successful technology careers in urban areas like Silicon Valley, New York or Boston are a product of college or code school?
The early millennials are part of a generation of individuals who grew up in the 90s and we taught ourselves somewhat. That said, it's not in the traditional “bootstrap” way that you may think. There are many circumstances that prepared me to teach myself skills that I wasn’t explicitly taught through traditional education. I had access to college and the privilege of time and space to explore coding skills.
We hosted your classes this past Martin Luther King Day and we see that Pariss is now featured on your website. What’s next for the students like her who participated in the Resilient Coders’ bootcamp?
The group of students you hosted graduated from the bootcamp and are now apprentices with us. We pay them for client work and to continue their technical exploration as much as billable work. We pay apprentices to set aside time to learn. They dig into things like Angular or virtual reality basics depending on their interests. Leon and I nudge them somewhat on what is marketable and we also support them in their professional development. One of our students has already left us for a job and we're pleased to see that. It is incumbent on us to ensure that everyone has access to those opportunities as they graduate.
Are you hopeful that your job is obsolete in a few years?
Absolutely. I hope that at some point we will become more enlightened in tech and include people from all diverse backgrounds. The fact that we need a service like ours and that we need to make a case that diversity in tech is important is absurd. The numbers in the tech community should reflect the city at large. What is precluding us from that vision of unicorns and rainbows is not that people are bad (though unconscious bias exists). To me, the obstacle is the privilege of access to time. Access to college is the current battleground but people in tech are hired on the basis of what they have the time to teach themselves. People whose life circumstances afford them the time to explore and grow their technical skills are getting hired. We carve paid time out for individuals of varying circumstance to continue learning.
Do you see net neutrality impacting your students in any way?
Net neutrality is critical to the growth of our digital ecosystem and for folks to have access to disrupt it. As long as we have obstruction to disruption, we will not continue to advance as quickly as we have in the past. Having net neutrality and making sure that everyone has access to the production, distribution and consumption to independent content, tools and software is critical to the continued success of our society. I don’t think this is controversial among citizens or students who seek to grow with Resilient Coders.
Cantina has the ambitious goal of improving financial literacy and mobility through digital means. Do you have any advice for us as we attempt to improve the lives of low-income youth living in Boston?
No (laughs). I am very excited that you’re doing this. I wish there were more resources for the youth that we work with who are out of high school . It’s super important for people to know what a credit score is and how to affect it. What is a 401k? What is an IRA? It’s ridiculous that kids learn differential equations before they learn how to live. Until Life 101 is a class taught at every high school, financial literacy is important to teach. Like Resilient Coders, it’s investing in your future self.
Resilient coders opened up access to volunteer in different ways through Volunteer Corps. Volunteering focuses on mentorship, content production, and talent placement. Check out details on volunteering with David and this results-driven program!