CodePath is expanding in Miami-Dade, thanks to a $2.25M Knight grant. Here’s its plan for increasing diversity in tech

New programming at FIU, MDC and Florida Memorial will connect students to careers in technology

Michael Ellison, now a new Miami resident, leads a national nonprofit on a mission to create a tech talent pool that reflects the nation’s diversity. To get there, CodePath seeks to increase diversity in computer science and engineering by offering software engineering courses and career services, free to students, that complement their computer science curricula and better prepare students for competitive internships and software engineering roles at leading tech companies.

“We’re trying to change the default experience inside of computer science programs. Instead of the default being dropping out, the default should be confidence, a sense of belonging and acceptance in the CS community for people from low income, underrepresented backgrounds,” said Ellison, CEO and co-founder of CodePath (pictured above).

It’s a big goal, but the organization since 2017 has served more than 10,000 students, 70% of whom come from Black, Hispanic or low-income backgrounds. The nonprofit has already started to bring the programming to South Florida, home of some of the nation’s most diverse colleges and universities, at a time when new or expanding tech companies in Miami have committed to creating more than 1,000 tech jobs in the next couple of years as the ecosystem has experienced explosive growth.

To help ensure that Miamians of all backgrounds can land those jobs, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is announcing today a $2.25 million investment in the nonprofit. CodePath courses have begun at Florida International University, and the program will be expanded. What’s more, the goal is to launch CodePath at Miami Dade College and Florida Memorial University in the summer of 2022.

Raul Moas, Knight’s Miami program director, noted that the computer science program at FIU has grown from 2,000 students in 2018, to 3,000 students today and is projected to be 5,000 students within five years – 150% growth. “More than 80% of the FIU students are from Greater Miami. They are saying ‘I want to be part of Miami Tech, I want a career in tech’ and so that kind of growth is incredible, in general, but in academia that’s a breakneck pace. That speaks volumes about what’s happening and how authentic Miami Tech is to the city. It really  is coming from Miamians themselves.”

Case in point: In 2020, FIU CS student Henry Rivas heard about CodePath and the member of UPE, FIU’s huge tech-focused organization, worked to bring its programming to students. Rivas took the training himself and taught a CodePath Android development class. Since then, the nonprofit has taught nearly 100 students, and has expanded to four courses integrated with the curriculum: web and mobile development, cybersecurity and technical interview preparation.

FIU computer science student and UPE member Henry Rivas (FIU News photo)

One of those students was Anthony Peña.

“The support that CodePath is able to give students is invaluable. Through their guidance, I found the career path I want to pursue in computer science,” Peña said in Knight’s announcement. “During the program, I built an award-winning mobile application, secured technical internships at Meta (formerly known as Facebook), Amazon and other high growth tech companies. SXSW EDU 2022 selected me to speak. Also, in March, I will start working full-time as a software engineer, while I continue to pursue my bachelor’s degree.”

FIU computer science student Anthony Peña (photo provided by Peña)

The CodePath curriculum was initially developed to improve diversity outcomes for Facebook, and after Facebook saw improvements in outcomes, it invested to expand the concept, Ellison said. The courses are rigorous.  Each 12-week course requires two to four hours of class time and another 10+ hours each week for homework and project work. CodePath engineers are always available to assist and answer questions.

CodePath’s courses are based on practical skills needed in today’s jobs. Its Android and iOS development classes, for instance, end with a national demo day involving 20 to 30 schools where students pitch what they have built – Peña’s team created a receipt management app, said Ellison, who has founded both high-growth startups and nonprofits in his tech career. Ellison’s message to students: “We’re going to try to make sure that we give you that unfair advantage where you can stand out – you deserve to stand out.”

Another key ingredient in CodePath’s secret sauce is that training for the technical tests that tech firms require for their full-time roles to ensure more successful outcomes like Peña’s. “Not everybody has a friend who’s an engineer who can help them get ready for that technical interview. Codepath literally made a course,” Moas said, creating a pathway to high-paying, leadership track entry level jobs.

For Knight Foundation, the CodePath grant is part of a layering of entrepreneurship investments aimed at helping to widen the tech talent pipeline, Moas said.

In February, the foundation committed $15.3 million to Florida International University, the University of Miami and Baptist Health South Florida. As part of the announcement, FIU established the Knight Foundation School of Computing and Information Sciences, UM expanded its Institute of Data Science and Computing, and Baptist Health launched a health care innovation fellowship. In September, Knight announced $510,000 in investments to four local organizations, including the Shrimp Society that helps boost a sense of community among early-stage tech founders, and Haitians in Tech, which is creating a mentorship channel. Expect more investments to come.

Moas said it is Knight’s hope that in the coming years CodePath enters more South Florida colleges and universities.“By investing in CodePath, we are investing in the aspirations of Miamians and key educational institutions which enable our community to succeed.”

Raul Moas, Miami Program Director for Knight Foundation

For Ellison, working with universities to improve the default curriculum is his dream, and in FIU four CodePath courses are now part of the curriculum and students receive degree credit for them.

“CodePath wants to diversify the nation’s most competitive entry-level technical roles within the next 10 years. We want the representation of the tech industry, in the entry level roles, to reflect the representation of the country,” Ellison said.

 And the way to get there is through Miami. “We have to plant the seeds, and accelerate, and Miami is a fantastic area to be focusing on.”

Ellison’s vision for Miami is “to demonstrate what’s possible” in a tech ecosystem in upskilling and in influencing the pipeline from high school to college to competitive technology positions, and then that becomes the standard to emulate, he said. “I would love for other geographic regions across the country to say ‘wow. I want to do what Miami did’ – that then is a best practice.”

This new Miami resident – Ellison moved here just a week ago – is “loving the energy, I’m loving the commitment to community, I’m trying to make sure that we know the right people locally to partner with so we can authentically and fully invest in this ecosystem and do it in the way that people really need. It’s the outcomes – that’s what matters.”

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Nancy Dahlberg