After months of hard work and dedication, Telegraph Academy has graduated its first class. On Sept. 26, 17 participants in the program proudly made their transition from student to graduate.
The Berkeley-based tech coding school aims to teach software engineering to under-represented minorities and create a network of tech workers of color.
“If you would have asked me two years ago if I would be here giving this speech I would have looked at you like you were crazy,” Albrey Brown, co-founder of Telegraph Academy, told graduates.
It wasn’t long ago that Brown and his co-founder, Bianca Gandolfo, were pitching their idea to possible investors in the hopes that someone would give them a chance to see their vision come to life. They launched their program in February, and kicked off their first bootcamp in late June.
“Our goal was to provide an inclusive opportunity for minorities in the tech industry,” said Brown, a native of South Berkeley and a 2009 Berkeley High graduate. “Tech is completely dominated by white and Asian males. We just wanted to give others an opportunity to get involved and contribute their unique perspective.”
The graduation was held at Telegraph Academy’s headquarters on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley.
The day before graduation, the school held a “demo day” at Green Space in San Francisco where students got a chance to showcase projects they had worked on while attending the program.
Among the crowd were investors, engineers, reporters and others who all got an exclusive look at apps and games developed by the students.
One of those students was Jamil Lawrence, a graduate of Cornell University, who developed the app Habitude while in the bootcamp. Habitude, which helps fight online inauthenticity. Although Lawrence had already graduated from a prestigious university, he felt Telegraph Academy still had a lot to offer him.
“I didn’t know much about it,” Lawrence said of the program. “It was still very new. I was intrigued by their mission to include minorities. They made it a mission to implement minority perspectives into the tech field.”
According to Hack Reactor data, black and Latino workers comprised 28% of the American workforce in 2014, yet among tech workers the numbers are in single digits.”They are the fastest-growing populations in the country, yet in the tech industry there is a huge race disparity,” the report stated.
Lawrence isn’t the only student who feels that Telegraph Academy’s mission for inclusion is what puts it at the forefront of tech development.
Kim Merino, a member of the first graduating class who helped create Habitude, said Telegraph Academy is the first tech program she has seen that embraces women.
“When I would do job searches in the tech field, the first thing I would do is search the development team,” said Merino. “I understand that tech is a male-dominated field, a white and Asian male-dominated field, but what is being done to change that?”
Merino said, throughout her search, she didn’t come across a single program that seemed as diverse as Telegraph Academy.
“It’s important for all to be included in every facet of life,” she said. “As long as you have people being excluded from a certain field, you’re putting limitations and boundaries on that field. Inclusion makes the possibilities endless.”
Telegraph Academy’s emphasis on diversity encompasses everyone involved, from founders to students. Mo Akade, who is head of business development for the coding school, believes Telegraph Academy’s focus on community is a key reason participants are drawn to the program.
“We offer a unique experience,” said Akade. “At Telegraph Academy we are all about community. We are welcoming to everyone and, with us being backed by Hack Reactor, the education and training we provide will develop students that are prepped for excellence in software engineering.”
Another student in attendance on demo day was Kent Ou. Ou was a member of a group that helped develop an app called Katfish, helps filter out fake social media profiles, and lets users up- or down-vote characteristics of their friends to promote more truthful interactions online. Ou said he benefited from the program in ways he didn’t quite expect.
“I knew that I was in for a surprise. I knew that it would be a lot of work and that I was a part of a program that was one of a kind,” he said. “I didn’t know that I would leave with so many skills. They prepped us for interviews, helped with resumes, and the learning environment was so rigorous that we as students developed the skill to think our way out of any problem.”
The program’s creators hope the world of tech will be exposed to a different perspective, and that minorities will have an opportunity to enter a field from which they have been excluded for decades.
As the first class graduates, the future’s looking bright for the program. Katrina Uychaco, a “hacker in residence” at Telegraph Academy, said she feels the path the school is on is a victory for the entire tech field.
“The community and strong learning environment that has been developed here keeps everyone motivated,” she said. “That is something that eventually we plan to spread through the world of tech. Everybody talks about diversity, but we’re at the starting point of making a more diverse workforce. Our first graduating class will prove that making tech diverse is not impossible.”
Last week, Telegraph Academy welcomed its second cohort, and things look to be picking up right where they left off. Co-founder Brown said he is excited about the future.
“This first class proves that Telegraph Academy is not just a coding bootcamp,” he said. “It’s a long-term investment strategy to develop the technical and leadership capacity of people grossly underrepresented in our industry.”
There are still a limited number of tickets left for Uncharted: The Berkeley Festival of Ideas on Friday and Saturday this week at the Berkeley Rep and the Freight & Salvage in downtown Berkeley. Check out the program, and secure your tickets at BerkeleyIdeas.com.
Delency Parham, a reporting intern for Berkeleyside, is a graduate of Berkeley High School and the University of Idaho, where he majored in journalism. (Correction: This story inadvertently transposed the descriptions for apps Habitude and Katfish. The error has been fixed.)