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Helping minorities advance in Big Tech

South Philly native Leon Noel has helped bring Boston-based Resilient Coders to his hometown. The free course helps minorities learn computer coding through a 20-week boot camp. Contributed photos.

Leon Noel admits his path wasn’t perfect. But he’s paving the way for others to succeed.

The South Philly native, who grew up at 12th and Wolf streets, made a brave decision to drop out of Yale University to pursue his dreams. After adjusting his compass, Noel is now helping young minorities find their way in the tech world as software developers.

Providing a gateway to nearly six-figure salaries in what seems like a snap of the fingers, Noel has helped young men and women start their careers in a highly competitive and demanding field though a free, nonprofit coding bootcamp called Resilient Coders, where Noel is the Managing Director of Engineering.

After showing positive results in Boston, Noel is now bringing the course back home to Philadelphia, where it will also be offered for free.

“When we looked in Boston, we found something that was really unsettling,” Noel, 32, said. “We saw double-digit unemployment numbers in communities of color, yet we had the fastest-growing tech economy outside of Silicon Valley. We realized there needs to be a way to get individuals from those communities and give them the skills they need to access that economy.”

The Black and Latinx-led program offers a 20-week course that trains people of color from low-income communities for high-growth careers as software engineers, and connects them with full-time jobs. Last year, 85 percent of graduates found jobs as software engineers within six weeks of graduating, at an average salary over $90,000.

The bootcamp, which is funded by tech firms and nonprofit organizations, targets people ages 18-30 and the vast majority have no college degrees. There is no standardized assessment. Instead, applicants complete a recruiting event called a “hackathon”.

“We brainstorm community issues,” Noel said. “And we brainstorm technical solutions to those problems. We get a chance to see your creative side, your analytical side and your activist side … We’re looking for people who have the grit and resilience to make it through a very intense 20-week program. And we’re looking for folks that, once they make it through the program, and get that wonderful job, are they going to reach back and bring three more people with them? The jobs are great, but it’s about building a movement that can help enrich our communities.”

Leon Noel. Contributed Photo

Once selected for the bootcamp, students learn HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, React, Node and Mongo DB from professionals. According to its website, students, upon graduating, will have demonstrated proficiency in semantically structured markup, inheritance and specificity, accessibility, progressive enhancement, responsive design and effective use of functions, methods and variables.

Noel said the last class, which graduated in November, has already hit the workforce, as he said 14 of 16 students have full-time roles as software engineers, averaging a starting salary of $99,000.

“This is without a degree and without any prior experience,” Noel said. “In 20 weeks, we can take individuals from zero technical skill all the way to employable by a lot of the top tech companies in the area.”

Noel says he sees the same demographics in Philadelphia that he’s been changing in Boston when it comes to unemployment in the tech world. He believes Philadelphia could be a city on the rise in computer coding.

“Having grown up in South Philly and as a proud graduate of Carver Engineering and Science, I am excited to lead our team’s first expansion outside of Boston,” said Noel. “Like Boston, Philadelphia is the ideal city for our model: a growing tech ecosystem and a workforce of Black and Latinx people who are ready to raise their hands for those jobs, and who understand that skills training alone is not enough — we need to build, support and bring together equity-led workforce trainers and employers to create long-term economic empowerment.”

The program is launching its first class in Philadelphia in 2021 and the pilot 20-week class of 10 students has filled and is set to take off virtually in January. Future students can begin the process of seeking out a spot in the next class by visiting www.resilientcoders.org.

“I know things are tough right now but Philly has that perfect mix,” Noel said. “There’s projected jobs that are coming in, and we want folks to have the skills and resources to unlock a career that can provide for themselves and their family and have a career that’s going to be more resilient. I’m excited for folks from South Philly from my neighborhood to unlock this opportunity.”

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