As we close out the year and our Community Giving Challenge, we reflect on our goals for 2019, our impact on the community, and the challenges we face. We sat down with our Executive Director, Michel Gelobter, to talk about Hack the Hood and the Challenge. Here's what he had to say..
1. Why is the campaign important to Hack the Hood?
In 2019, more than ever, Hack the Hood is stretching to do more with our youth. We are lengthening the Bootcamp by 50% and, particularly for the first cohort, we want to be sure we have the resources to make it a great experience and to build scalable ways to do it over and over again.
Equally important, Hack the Hood is of the community, by the community, for the community, and that community extends far beyond the youth, our staff, and Oakland. HtH is about the Bay Area and the tech industry more broadly. It’s about whether we can build a tech industry that works for all. This campaign is a concrete way our community shows up for each other...a measure of coming together that also provides vital support for our new initiatives.
2. What Challenges does the organization face that more financial support could help with?
3. This campaign is called the Hack the Hood Community Giving Challenge. What does the term “Challenge” mean to you?
A challenge to me at Hack the Hood is the thing we’re trying to get done - to make a tech industry that works for all. It’s a community challenge because we can’t meet it without everyone at the table.
4. What would it mean for Hack the Hood if we met our goal?
It would specifically mean we could fund an EXCELLENT extra 3 weeks of our spring Bootcamp. More generally it would mean that all the great people we interact with had shown up for us, which means we can find even more of us to make even bigger change.
5. If you had a room full of people in front of you, what challenge would you put to them?
Are you lucky enough to be able to join one of the great challenges of our time? Is there anyone today who can afford to not be in the debate about the future of work, about how to make jobs that are modern, technology-based, life-affirming AND about how get people to their fullest potential?
Hack the Hood is turning five this year, and to celebrate this milestone we are highlighting the young people who have brought their skills and passions to our program. We'll be profiling a different young leader each month, with Tay being our December feature.
1. What made you decide to join Hack the Hood (HtH)? When did you start with HtH?
So I joined the Spring 2018 Bootcamp. It’s kind of a funny story, because I really had no plans. I lost my last job, and as somebody who gets really antsy if I'm not doing anything, I started volunteering at the LGBTQ Center in Oakland. I was sitting at the front desk, and then RC walks in the front door with all these flyers. He asked if he could put the them, and explained to me and Joe, the founder, that it was for a tech bootcamp where people ages 16-25 could attend and would receive $600 and a laptop. I heard “$600 and a free laptop”, and also didn't have anything better to do with my time, so I decided to join. I was applying for jobs and wasn't hearing back from anyone. I almost didn't come [to the bootcamp] because I thought that I might miss an opportunity, but I feel like it was a really good choice. My friend told me, “you need to do this. Whatever you're doing right now isn't working. You need to do something different. I trust Hack the Hood. I know people in nonprofits in Oakland, and those guys are great.” So I decided to sign up, mostly with the encouragement of other people and motivated by nothing other than the fact that I need money and I need to find something to do.
2. What did you learn that was unexpected? Was there anything that surprised you about the program?
I was really anti-tech before I got into Hack the Hood. Partially, because I was seeing it from the outside, as somebody who was watching the impact it had on the community. And when I went to Stanford, I was really engrossed in the “tech bro” culture. So I thought that programming was just a way for rich boys to get richer. I really didn't see anything other than people who wanted to make the next big social media app or sell out and not really think about anything other than making money. So what Hack the Hood showed me was that there's a whole other side to tech where people really think thoughtfully about what's being built, who actually share values with me, and that there is room for people like me in tech.
3. What has your journey post- Hack the Hood looked like?
So after the bootcamp, I joined Hack the Hood’s Code Prep class. They helped me apply to different bootcamps, and I even received a scholarship to General Assembly. The scholarship was for half of the tuition, which was $7,500. Thanks to the suggestion of a friend, I crowdfunded to raise the remaining balance.
I decided to enroll in General Assembly’s fall semester, so I had time to work and save up. I ended up joining the Hack the Hood team as a technical fellow for the summer bootcamp. I just finished General Assembly’s 11-week Web Development Immersive, and I’m excited to announce that I have just accepted a position at the CCA as their web developer! There's been so many people who have rooted for me, like Hack the Hood, and I couldn’t have done it without their support.
4. What do you do for fun?
All the things I do for fun are really nerdy. I play video games, and I read a lot - mostly science-fiction or nonfiction. This year my goal is to read 50 books. I’ve read about 30 something right now, so I’m a bit behind. I used to play cello in high school and I put it down for 10 years after I graduated. So I'm trying to pick it up again. I've been practicing every day, and I sound better than I ever had. I'm also an artist. I make a lot of art, working on paintings, applying for grants for my art. One of the HTH volunteers once told us at a LinkedIn workshop, “there's work and then there's your work; your career is how you pay the bills, but your work is your legacy.” I’ve kept that with me ever since.
5. What are your favorite foods?
Ice Cream is a perfect food. Like honestly, if I could subsist on ice cream, I would eat nothing else.
6. What are three places you enjoy visiting in the Bay Area and beyond?
When I think about places I like being in, my first response is home and my second response is usually just wherever my friends are. If I'm going to hang out with people I'm going hang out with them in their house. When it comes to the Bay, I can't think of a specific location. There's Redwood Regional, but I don't actually hike that much. So I feel kind of weird saying “going to redwood regional park in the spring” because I don't actually go that much. But I like it and I try to make it out there.
Outside of the Bay, I go up to Portland to visit my best friend. They live in Seattle, so that’s how we meet halfway. I really enjoy visiting Portland with them, getting to walk around, get ice cream again, and go thrifting.
I'm from San Diego. When I go home I always go to Balboa Park. It's this really big historic park and they have so many old buildings and museums and gardens. It's gorgeous.
7. Who are your top music artists?
The easy answer is Janelle Monae; I follow her to the ends of the earth. So good. I also really like Amine. Oh, I really love Noname. She’s my favorite rapper. Her new album is incredible. And, oh my god, I didn't even mention Beyonce yet. So to date, my top artists are Janelle Monae, Beyonce, Amine, and Noname.
8. Who do you follow on insta?
I follow a lot of artists. My insta feed is 90 percent illustrators, a lot of people who do comic books, and a lot of painters. If you go through my feed it’s all art and every now and then there's a friend’s post and the occasional Ariana Grande or Beyonce.
9. Where’d you grow up? What do you like about the Bay Area?
This is a trick question for me. My Dad immigrated from the Philippines by joining the navy, so I was a navy kid that I grew up a little bit of everywhere. I was born in Yokosuka, Japan, right next to Tokyo. So we stayed there while I was a baby. Then when I was a toddler, we lived in Sicily, Italy - on the navy base of course. I lived in Jacksonville, Florida when I was in elementary school. Then we moved to San Diego during high school. I came up to the Bay for college and stayed here. Where I'm from is like a long list of places that are all different stages of my life.
I actually didn't like the Bay when I first moved. I came here expecting, San Francisco in the seventies, and got tech. But when I moved to the East Bay, something clicked. I fell in love with Oakland when I moved here. The community here is like nothing else; it’s so strong, so radical, and so thoughtful. There are people who are working towards justice and building each other up. The hustle in Oakland is unparalleled. Everybody has a hustle, but it's a type of hustle where the people need wealth because they want to give back to the community. I don't know if anyone is like that elsewhere. It's part of what makes Oakland so beautiful.
10. What’s something you’d like to see change in Oakland? What do you want your contribution to that change to be?
More than anything, I feel like what folks in Oakland need is resources. Resources to make it so people don’t get kicked out, resources so all that ambition has funding and an audience. Resources so those ambitions can be met with opportunities. There is so much wealth and opportunity in the Bay, but what’s crazy is that none of it is going to people who are actually from here. It’s the underside of the “this tech company is moving and creating thousands of jobs!” Who are those jobs for exactly?
I’m coming in as an outsider. In a lot of ways, I’m directly benefiting from those opportunities, but my focus has to be changing that cycle. I’m where I’m at because people have shared with and supported me – I feel a responsibility to pay it forward and bring those resources to Oakland, to Bay Area folks.
11. What do you appreciate about today’s technology?
I appreciate the direct line of communication with people from all over. You’re not just reading books about different kinds of people, or hearing about them through the lens of an observer – people actually get to tell their stories directly. That’s what’s powerful about social media and why movements can start there. It’s beautiful.
12. What type of technology do you wish you had, but hasn’t been invented yet?
I’m a space colonist with big dreams about how the future can be built better than how it is now. I want us to seriously consider colonizing space not for the sake of the achievement but because it offers us a place where we can intentionally build a whole society! If we do it right, it has potential to be a blank slate where we can actually build a just society… Don’t let me go on about this.
13. What would be your dream job? What do you want to be when you grow up?
I don’t think of this question as “I want this specific role” or “I want to work at this specific company.” I’m not here because my dream is to work at a big name tech company – I’m here because I want to be in the room when decisions about the future are being made, and I want to be there when we’re considering technology that will impact everyone, not just rich folks who can afford an Apple Watch or Alexa or whatever. I’m talking what data is getting used for, who are we taking to space, who is AI going to benefit. We’re faced with a lot of big questions right now, and I believe we need people like me contributing to those answers.
Photography by Christine Cueto.
Help Hack the Hood support youth like Tay.
Right now, we're in the middle of the Hack the Hood Community Giving Challenge, and this week, we're reflecting on what "Community" really means. We sat down with Monikka de la Zerda, one of our amazing volunteers to hear her thoughts about why she got involved and what community means to her.
Monikka has supported every program we've put on over the past two years! Monikka jumps in for any role, from our mentorship pilot and job readiness tutoring during Bootcamp, to coding tutoring with Tech Prep Coding. She is a software engineer who grew up in the Bay Area and lives in East Oakland. We are incredibly grateful to have her as a part of the Hack the Hood Community. Here's what she had to say:
Would you mind sharing a little about yourself?
I am a software engineer from the Bay Area and am currently living in East Oakland. I’ve been working in the clean tech energy space for several years and I’m currently VP of Software Development for UniGen Resources as well as the co-founder of a software consultancy called Shypwright. I have spent the past few years volunteering with various non-profit organizations aimed at diversifying the tech industry.
You've had a bit of an inside perspective on Hack the Hood. What is it about the organization, the work we do, or the youth/small business community we serve that is most compelling to you?
I love the work that Hack the Hood does because it is empowering our local youth with the skills they need to uplift their own communities as well as themselves. The opportunity to work in tech or build the next great company should not be isolated to only those who can afford fancy bootcamps or schools. As someone who had an alternative path into the industry and is mostly self-taught, I know how hard it can be to break into this field and how intimidating learning to code can be. I love seeing how Hack the Hood breaks down these barriers and how inspired and driven the students are.
Why do you think it's important to volunteer your time at Hack the Hood?
It's important for me to volunteer with Hack the Hood because as a Bay Area native, I have seen first hand how the influx of technology has displaced and uprooted our communities. I believe that tech companies should be actively working towards repairing some of the damage that has been done here and that we all have a responsibility to give back and do what we can to steer this industry in the right direction. Displacement and the lack of diversity in tech are huge problems that need to be tackled from all angles by everyone involved; we need to empower ourselves and our local communities as well as encourage companies to think differently about who they hire.
What does "Community" mean to you?
Community for me is about people coming together for the good of one another. Our neighbors, our friends, these are all micro-communities of people who care in some way about and for each other. Working with Hack the Hood makes me not only feel more tied to my own neighborhood community, but is a community in itself of people coming together to try empower our local youth with opportunity and drive this industry towards positive change. I’m thankful to be a part of both.
Join the wonderful community of supporters that makes Hack the Hood's work possible.
Kamal (second from the right) with friends and family at the celebration party after our first Giving Challenge in 2016.
The Hack the Hood Community Giving Challenge is underway with a number of people answering the call to champion the work we do. Members of our community are creating fundraising pages and asking their friends, family and broader network to support youth learning tech at Hack the Hood!
We sat down with Kamal Shah, CEO of FotoNotes and a long-time supporter and board member of Hack the Hood about how he thinks about Hack the Hood and the Challenge. Here's what he had to say...
Feel inspired to get involved?
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