Next To Silicon Valley, Nonprofits Draw Youth Of Color Into Tech : All Tech Considered Programs like Hack the Hood try to help young people in Oakland, Calif., find a gateway into the high-tech industry — and out of "dead-end" jobs.

Next To Silicon Valley, Nonprofits Draw Youth Of Color Into Tech

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Well, here's one way a few nonprofits are trying to eliminate the high unemployment rate among young blacks and Latinos - create a gateway to highly sought after tech jobs. In Oakland, California, just outside of Silicon Valley, a lot of young people are wondering how they can move from fast food counters, say, to high-tech desk jobs. NPR's Aarti Shahani tagged along with one young woman who's trying to make the leap.

AARTI SHAHANI, BYLINE: This high-tech story starts at Taco Bell.

TANEKA ARMSTRONG: Order 209. Come on up. French fries? You have a nice day, OK?

SHAHANI: Taneka Armstrong makes Burrito Supremes and sells Coke. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Taco Bell restaurants sell PepsiCo products, not Coke.]


SHAHANI: She counts pennies and quarters, and she gets orders from her bosses who can be pretty condescending.

ARMSTRONG: They just be like oh, did you know that already? Can you do this? I was like yes, I've been doing it for almost a year now.

SHAHANI: Armstrong lives two lives. This first one, which starts as early as 5:00 a.m., doesn't challenge her or pay well. That's why the 20-year-old set off in search of life number two.

ARMSTRONG: I'm trying to do an outline of a website.

SHAHANI: Armstrong is staring at a laptop in the offices of a small nonprofit called Hack the Hood. Hood because here in Oakland, California, things can get pretty rough, and hack because that's slang for making money in tech. Armstrong is spending her afternoons here this summer. Her job is to fix websites for clients.

ARMSTRONG: It's a lot of other links, like, you click on to take you everywhere in the world. I like short and simple.

SHAHANI: This summer, the teens will meet top talent from the companies that make all those apps they download. Armstrong says there is some chance she'll get deep into coding, or she might prefer a non-technical job in the tech sector like sales and marketing. And that's OK.

ZAKIYA HARRIS: Nobody ever asks young people that come from affluent neighborhoods why they're doing programs.

SHAHANI: Zakiya Harris is a program instructor.

HARRIS: The more you expose young people to opportunities, the better that they're going to become as adults.

SHAHANI: Harris's work with the teens is based on this question...

HARRIS: How can we empower them with some low-hanging fruit - skills in the tech industry so they can start earning some money in their pocket that's going to actually lead to a career and not just a dead-end opportunity in a service job?

SHAHANI: It's a really big question with a really small budget line. Freada Kapor Klein is an investor in Silicon Valley and a leading philanthropist for coding nonprofits. She gives a few million dollars a year, and that's rare.

FREADA KAPOR KLEIN: Foundations are giving tens of thousands of dollars for new programs. And in the aggregate you might be getting hundreds of thousands of dollars.

SHAHANI: Google recently gave Hack the Hood half a million dollars after it won a competition. The tech company has pledged to give 50 million overall to programs in the U.S. and abroad that try to get women into computer science. Kapor Klein is talking to Twitter and others asking them to step up too.

KAPOR KLEIN: What's going to distinguish tech companies going forward is who takes this seriously and who doesn't.

ARMSTRONG: We was going to small local businesses and asking them if they wanted a website for their business.

SHAHANI: Taneka Armstrong was at Hack the Hood last summer, too. And she liked the challenge of pitching their services to business owners.

ARMSTRONG: What's the catch? What's the catch? I was like no, it's free.

SHAHANI: Armstrong says that process can feel weird but it's better than making burritos. Aarti Shahani, NPR News, Oakland.

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