In the past five years, the technology sector in Los Angeles has been steadily growing. Since the beginning of 2009, when the country was in the midst of the worst recession in generations, investment in the L.A. area tech scene has risen 163%. During that same period, tech deals have increased by 180%. Additionally, the unemployment rate for the technology sector tends to be lower than the overall unemployment rate, and salaries tend to be higher. In the first quarter of this year, less than one percent of Web developers were unemployed.
While there's a growth trend in the tech sector, women and minorities remain underrepresented. This year the Internet search giant Google released its diversity numbers -- 83% of its tech workers are male. One percent of its tech staff is black, two percent are Latino, and 34% are Asian. Other technology companies post similar diversity data.
Frustration over the lack of diversity in tech workers prompted Gregorio Rojas to start Sabio, a developer training program that seeks to increase the number of women and minorities in the technology field. On September 6, Sabio, along with a new crowdfunding platform, Crowdismo, held an event in downtown Los Angeles to launch a campaign to fund the $10,000 tuition and $5,000 living expenses for aspiring developers Ashley Lopez and Luis Rivera to attend Sabio's upcoming Full Stack Developer program.
"There are so few Latinos and African Americans in technology. Everyone thinks that becoming a software developer is akin to becoming a rocket scientist, but that isn't the case," Rojas said in explaining why after working in the tech for 15 years at companies such as TMZ and MySpace, he decided to switch gears and share his knowledge with those who might not otherwise have an opportunity to learn how to code.
Luis Rivera is a 29 year old from Moreno Valley. Rivera was exposed to the programming language C++ in high school, but at his school the course was crowded, making it difficult to stick with learning computer programming. As an undocumented young adult who is a beneficiary of the Obama administration's deferred action program, which granted him a work permit, Rivera wants to make the most of the opportunity that he has to advance his career and get away from the unstable manufacturing work that he was doing previously.
"I would like to do something creative with technology, maybe something with music or sports. I had taught myself guitar and have a little bit of experience with C++ from high school," Rivera said. "I have been working on the code tutorials that Gregorio wants us to complete before starting the program every day."
For people with little formal knowledge about computer programming, Sabio requires its potential students to work through a series of online tutorials to build a basic foundation in programming languages.
Ashley Lopez, a 21 year old community college student who has been working to fund her education and to help support her family, gained exposure to web development through a workshop sponsored by Sabio and DIY Girls, another organization dedicated to increasing the presence of women in technology. In that workshop, she created her own resume website.
With a commitment to social justice and experience in activism, Lopez hopes to create a web presence for Queer and Trans Latinos. But in the immediate term, she sees learning to code as being the first step in helping her find a better paying job that will allow her to continue her higher education.
"I want to finish my degree, but I also want to gain real experience. The skills that I will be learning with Sabio will help me find a more stable and better paying job that will enable me to pursue other passions, such as helping other Latinas and people in Queer community," Lopez said.
Helping young Latinos like Lopez and Rivera advance their technical education provides Crowdismo with the opportunity to increase awareness within the Latino community about projects and social causes that might not come to fruition without crowdfunding. Crowdismo, whose motto is "Powering Latino Genius Everywhere," aims to eliminate barriers that many Latinos experience in launching new projects.
Crowdfunding allows people to fund a project or venture by tapping into a wide network of people for donations; according to Forbes, last year the crowdfunding economy grew to over $5.1 billion. Crowdismo co-founders Jose Huitron and Jose Guevarra viewed the opportunity to help fund the technical education of Lopez and Rivera as the perfect fit for their new platform.
Huitron told attendees of the September 6 event, "We need to create our own opportunity," in reference to Latinos who want to empower themselves by participating in the technology boom.
According to CB Insights, which compiles venture capital data, less than one percent of startups with venture capital funding have a Latino co-founder.
Sabio and Crowdismo's shared goal is to increase the presence of Latinos interested in pursuing technology related projects and careers. For now, Lopez and Rivera are not only publicizing their crowdfunding campaigns and working through online tutorials, they are also preparing to dedicate 70 hours of work per week to learning code over the course of Sabio's fall 10 week program. Before their formal training with Rojas begins, Sabio will be graduating its second and third cohort of coders this month. Some of those graduates have already found better paying jobs as full-time technology workers.
To learn more about Lopez and Rivera, check out their Crowdismo fundraising campaigns here.