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Facebook’s TechPrep seeks to diversify tech with outreach to minority families

On a beautiful summer evening, the gym at the Emily K Center in Durham was packed — not for a basketball game, but instead to learn about computer science or programming as a career path. Parents, guardians, and students from underrepresented communities explored programming, the jobs available to programmers, and the skills required to become one at the bilingual event Thursday night.

The TechPrep initiative seeks to diversify the technology sector by encouraging people from all backgrounds to pursue programming. Facebook is spreading the word about the initiative with workshops across the country, which include dinner, presentations from Facebook employees, information sessions for parents in English and Spanish, and fun hands-on lessons for students.

In a couple of overflowing classrooms, Facebook employees introduced students to programming using fun tools like Scratch and Using simple drag-and-drop interfaces, the students explored how they could create sets of instructions for the computers to follow, just by lining up blocks of code. They made cats spin across their computer screens and helped Angry Birds catch pigs in a maze.

Facebook created TechPrep to help bridge the gap between communities who are underrepresented in technology — women, blacks, and Hispanics — and the burgeoning tech industry. The Bureau of Labor Science estimates that by 2020, there will be 1.4 million new computer science jobs and only 400,000 computer science graduates.

Researchers at Facebook found that 77 percent of parents/guardians don’t know how to help their child pursue studying computer science. For lower income and non-college graduate parents/guardians, the percentage is even higher at approximately 83 percent. When it comes to the students themselves, “Black and Hispanic learners had great self-confidence about their own potential despite their underrepresentation in the industry,” says Facebook. Parents and guardians had the opportunity to talk to Facebook employees and other workers in computer science industries about how to support and guide their students to learn about programming.

Resources are available on TechPrep’s website for all backgrounds, ages, and experience levels. Explore the website to discover toys, games, books, classes, schools, and events for anyone who wants to learn about computer science and programming.

Rep. G. K. Butterfield, the U.S. Congressman who represents North Carolina’s 1st Congressional District, helped bring TechPrep to Durham. “We used to say technology are the jobs of the future. Wrong!” he announced to the audience. “Technology jobs are here. [When you graduate] these companies are going to be ready to give you a contract and put you to work so you can be making — not minimum wage, you will not be making minimum wage — you will be making a wonderful salary, with great benefits that will take you through the rest of your life.”

Alisa Herr

Alisa Herr is the former chief technical officer of EducationNC.