Supporting the Dream

The Student

A few weeks ago, I opened my home to S, a current student at the non-profit coding bootcamp, Resilient Coders, focused on training students of color. I met S through their longtime mentor, Mike Skirpan, Exec Director of Community Forge. Like any 19 year-old, S loves video games, social media, and talking. They struggle, at times as I did, putting school work before their interests. S is bright and really funny.

Unlike my three sons, S has been homeless. S’ parents struggle or are unable to support them in becoming a professional—part of the great economic abundance I have enjoyed in Tech. S loves their mother, but they learned budgeting and other lessons from Mike and other supporters. I started teaching many of these modern, essential skills to my sons before they were even tweens.

There’s a gap here. We know it. It’s the birth lottery. It leads to the education gap, which then gives way to the experience gap, all of these are monumental to overcome.

This is common sense, but a little abstract… so I’ll channel my inner Quant, because… Math [1] helps us understand things.

Maths and hope

Talking about $14/hr, a common low-skill wage available vs $60/hr, a very achievable tech salary is not particularly meaningful to me. So, let’s talk about what this means in a lifetime.

$14/hr → $1.1 Million in a lifetime.
$60/hr → $4.8 Million in a lifetime

💰 That’s a $3.68 Million Dollar Difference for an individual

This can lead down 100 lines of thought, but focusing on S, a young adult whose future is yet to be written, this is transformational. Across their cohort of 10 students, this is the potential for $36M in 2020s dollars.

It was a little jarring at first, having S in my home. It’s usually quiet during the day, and they brought energy and passion, which I could hear, to their remote team collaborations. In a two story house, with ample local coffee shops, I could always find a quiet place. However, I loved hearing their youthful enthusiasm.

Experience and Jargon

I’ve had final decision hiring two dozen engineers in my professional career, not a ton, but enough. I’ve puzzled over the lack of female names. It wasn’t until recently that I really knew about unconscious bias related to race — how many black or brown candidates have I overlooked? S happens to be black. Resilient Coders focuses on teaching people of color.

Over the last few years, I’ve increasingly become cynical about jargon like “at scale,” “monetization,” and “alpha,” which describe what the private sector values, keeping us from ever truly engaging beyond arguing over acronyms DEI, DEB, JEDI, JEDIB. Are we satisfied with the rate we are seeing African Americans, descendants of slaves, making inroads into tech? No, yet we approach the problem the way we have been approaching it, assuming the Ivy-League will start delivering candidates soon.

Maintaining Standards

I had a chat with a friend who works at Google and he said, “We need to solve the problem without lowering standards.” As long as we are talking about “not lowering standards,” we are always going to be looking for kids from CMU, MIT, and Princeton.  The language, “lowering,” without “challenging our standards” implies we got it right already–and we know from experience that our experience is biased.  If you are having trouble hiring people of color, I’m convinced this must be a horizontal OKR, across the leadership team, not just in a single officer, and that it will make Duo an even better company than it currently is—serving and growing into its mission of enabling people in new jobs.  I’d love to have a real chat about how we can get people like, S interviews at Duo, and what it will take to help them succeed.

S and their classmates won’t get a look if they come in through HR or a front-line employee. If they do, they might get past the data structures and algorithms question by studying Leetcode, but they won’t have the 4 years of elite schooling and the summer internships that will get them through the systems design and SDLC process questions. What isn’t seen, is that the standardization of questions is walling off the garden to people who don’t have the same background I did (BS and Masters from Carnegie Mellon). We think that data structures and algorithms (DSA) are what a young person needs, when actually, we built resilience through our early career and mentorships. S has uncommon resilience and passion and needs a mentor, or just time, for the data structures, algorithms, and skills building.


Resilient Coders has built a thriving training ecosystem in Boston, helping mature, driven, deserving candidates into Tech, without loading them with debt or disproportionate risk. I’m volunteering, with significant opportunity cost, to help open doors for Resilient Coders and S at tech companies in Pittsburgh. This matters, because I’m not selling anything (for now) — I’m acting out of a deep need to realize the best traditions of a shared American dream [2]. I’m doing this, because if we work toward this dream for S, it will realize that dream for my kids. It’s going to be uphill. S doesn’t have a degree from Carnegie-Mellon, MIT, or Princeton. They are not Ex-Google or Ex-Facebook. They don’t always feel safe in their community. They don’t have a reliable car. They do want a better future and they’re willing to learn and work for it.



[1] I love dualities:

  • I have lived in fear of math since high school and at the same time
  • I have understood I have math superpowers, and I use them, to viciously solve problems when other tools fail me.

    I should not have ever feared math—no one should fear math. Einstein got some of his most transformational math from Lorentz (who turned out to be a total douche) and others. I’ll write about math and fear of math in the future. The best math teachers put math in context and take fear “out of the equation.”

[2] I want to double down on the idea that there are things in this world that are worth doing because they are good, they make you feel good, and they are not only about personal profit. I believe doing this makes the world better for my kids.

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