Cheryl Contee, co-founder of inclusive tech initiative #WhyWeCode, sums up why diversity matters

Cheryl Contee, CEO and co-founder of Do Big Things, is also a co-founder of the tech inclusion initiative #YesWeCode, a national program that helps low-income youth of color gain education and experience for a future in the tech world. As Contee told Daily Kos during an interview at Netroots Nation 2019, “there are so many low-income youth of many talents who really want and need the tech jobs of the future.” Tech has a notorious problem with diversity, with particularly little progress for Black and Latino workers. We also know that students of color face disproportionate discipline rates, including even suspensions and expulsions, which can have a long-term negative impact on a student’s future. 

#YesWeCode is one organization that’s doing a whole lot of good in getting young people real access to skills that may translate into the tech industry later in life; Contee tells Daily Kos that “Yes We Code is all about helping over 100,000 low-income youth of many colors to become high-quality coders.” Sound amazing? That’s because it is. Check out the Making Progress interview below to hear more from Contee about the initiative, how Netroots Nation has changed in her eyes over the years, and her book on being a startup founder.

Question 1: You’re the co-founder of #YesWeCode. What does this organization do, and why is it so important?

CC: Van Jones, Amy Henderson, and I co-founded Yes We Code several years ago, understanding that there are so many low-income youth of many talents who really want and need the tech jobs of the future. And so Yes We Code is all about helping over 100,000 low-income youth of many colors to become high quality coders.

Question 2: You’ve been a part of the Netroots Nation conference from the beginning. How has it changed over the years?

CC: Netroots Nation has changed a lot since that first Yearly Kos. We love that Daily Kos is a sponsor; the community is so important to the rich texture of Netroots Nation. The conference has changed in terms of getting much bigger. It has become more professionalized. But we also still have that great mix of grassroots energy. I would say that it's become much more diverse. Whether you talk about the LGBTQ community, the disabled community, Black and brown communities, immigrant communities, all of that is represented not just on stage and among the speakers, but also among the attendees and media.

Question 3: You have a new book out. Can you tell us about it?

CC: My new book is called Mechanical Bull: How You Can Achieve Startup Success. I'm really delighted that it's become an Amazon bestseller because I wrote this book to share my experience as a startup founder with more people.

My startup, attentively, is the first tech startup with a black female founder to be acquired by a NASDAQ company. That was just in 2016 and I know that there are so many people with incredible ideas that can improve other people's lives that are game-changing. But they don't really know where to start to take that idea, find a team, get it funded and launch that game-changing startup.

So my book has everything you need plus a lot of personal narrative about how to get over those speed bumps, if you happen to be a woman, or a minority, or both, and find yourself challenged in navigating the startup world.

Bonus Question: If you could give advice to your teenage self, what would it be?

CC: If I could give advice to my teenage self, I would tell her to go for it. You know, and also, I would tell her that the job that you're going to have in the future doesn't even exist yet. So follow your passions, figure out what's happening in the world, and at some point those passions, especially when you layer on innovation and technology, you're going to be able to create with a cohort the jobs of the future, not only for yourself, but for others.

If you want to check out more Making Progress videos, don’t miss our coverage of how to elevate women of color in politics, who inspires Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and how Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown won without giving up his progressive values. 

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