Author Archives: Robert

Farewell from Managing Director Robert Bonner

Dear All Star Code Friends, Family and Alumni,

Happy September!

As the new school year begins, many new experiences await our alumni. Some are finally off to college! We wish these students much success, and deserved confidence, as they make this major life transition. The new crop of 2015 Summer Intensive alumni are returning to their high schools genuinely transformed from a one-of-a-kind summer experience. Judging from updates on their Facebook group, they are looking forward to building their tech skills through ASC’s Accelerator Program. I wish each of these young men continued success as they embark on this new leg of their exciting journey!

I also want to give you, members of our tech-education ecosystem, an update on something that’s been developing for me at All Star Code. Now that our 2nd Summer Intensive has ended so successfully, All Star Code is in a better position than ever to grow in New York City – and to scale beyond.

Having helped build the foundations of All Star Code, I am transitioning out of my role as Managing Director. I share this news with an obvious mix of sadness and excitement. There is never an opportune time to leave a train moving as fast as All Star Code. But change becomes more difficult once the organization begins accelerating again in the new school year.

I have helped establish the organization’s very foundations and presence in the tech education space. Indeed, these years of hard work have been nothing short of phenomenal! All Star Code now has many key elements in place — a solid core team, a unique program and curriculum, a financial structure, a budget, 501(c)(3) status, a strategic plan, nearly 60 alumni and a one-of-a-kind reputation. Students, parents, and schools love All Star Code. And rightly so! Moreover, ASC also enjoys an ecosystem of professional mentors, tech partnerships and sponsorships that are truly enviable. I came on board to help set up all of this. I succeeded, and am proud of these accomplishments.

Now that these things are in place, I am moving on to other opportunities and challenges. Christina and the (growing) team will nimbly handle the impending expansion phase! Much love to this growing work on behalf of our boys of color. Their lives truly matter.

I will be moving on to consulting opportunities within the non-profit and tech education spaces. I want to find ways to leverage all that I have achieved and learned up to this point to continue my service to our young people of color. I will also revive my work as an executive and leadership coach. This is my primary passion: helping others to find their professional pathways and to excel. As you can see, All Star Code’s mission has been an obvious example of this work.

Please let’s keep in touch. I’d love to keep each of you as a valued member of my professional network, with obvious overlaps to All Star Code’s. But I would most want to keep you as allies and friends.

And to the students: I am always here as a supportive mentor. If you’ve learned nothing over the past two years, know this. So don’t hesitate to reach out at bonnersuter@gmail.com!

Best wishes for everyone’s continued success!

Sincerely,
Robert

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All Star Code’s 10 Reasons To Be Thankful

This Thanksgiving season, the All Star Code Team feels truly thankful for what we’ve been able to accomplish – for ourselves as an organization, and for our high school boys of color – since the program began in March 2013. So much has happened – to us, to our students, to our ecosystem and the tech space in general – over the last year. Below, I give my top ten reasons that we at All Star Code are giving thanks this year.

1. For All Star Code’s Organizational Growth. Despite a federal backlog in 501(c)(3) approvals, All Star Code acquired its “nonprofit” status in less than a year. A truly record achievement. Moreover, the organization has grown from a lone visionary founder, Christina Lewis Halpern, to a core team of 8 people – 5 full-time and 3 part-time members. Christina. Michael. Robert. David. Amanda. Linda. Vilasinee. And, finally, our second Christina: Licata. We’re more like family than fellow staff. And we’re thankful for that.

2.For Our Innovative Workshops and Summer Intensive. As a mission-driven family, our team will have conducted five introductory workshops for 110 students (Design a Startup in a Day and The World of Coding) by the end of 2014. Whereas 50 students applied to attend last year’s Design a Startup in a Day workshops, over 140 have applied this year. The demand is growing.

Our inaugural Summer Intensive Program was a phenomenal success – based on voluminous feedback received from students, parents, speakers, mentors, partnering tech companies, and foundation supporters. Every member of our ecosystem who witnessed our initial cohort of 20 All Stars as they learned to code, white board, and pitch business ideas at our AlleyNYC location issued the same refrains:

“Where did you find such bright, talented and driven young men?”

”Why can’t they be college graduates already?”

And my favorite:

“ I wish this program had existed for me when I was a teenager in high school.”

Truth be told, I have often remarked this to myself. So, for the opportunity to create a genuine pathway to career success for a new generation of techies of color, we are grateful. This represents progress.

3. For Our Trailblazing Students. And what of those initial 20 students, our first group of alumni, who Team All Star Code selected with so much care, hope and faith? What have they been up to since completing the Summer Intensive? To be honest, a few have already surpassed our expectations. For example:

  • Several alumni, led by Mamodou Diallo and Austin Carvey, have created a coding club called “Young Hackers.” This entrepreneurial group has organized 2 successful Hackathons (a 3rd is scheduled for Dec 6th) for nearly 200 high school participants. The Young Hackers acquired their own event sponsorships from tech companies like Google, Twilio, AlleyNYC, Mainstreet, Major League Hacking, Whisk, and DigitalOcean. They show no signs of slowing down. And they are mostly high school juniors.
  • ASC alumnus Anthony Box immediately for a yearlong education exchange program in China. He took his cello and an All Star Code laptop – to continue coding. Anthony has since been featured by CNN as an American teen who is helping bridge the cultural gap between US-China relations.
  • ASC alumnus Devon Howell, and his team, won 1st prize at DigitalUndivided’s prestigious Focus100 Hackathon this past October.
  • Several alumni have obtained internship at tech startups in NYC. But all of our boys have served as “All Star Code Champions” at their home schools.

To say that we are proud, that we choose wisely, is an understatement. Boys in the recent Summer Intensive cohort felt they, as well, had chosen wisely in attending the program. They all expressed sentiments similar to those captured by Luis Dominguez, now a senior at Philips Exeter Academy.

Thank you so much for this summer. I know that there was some debate on my coming here, due to my experience. But I feel like I got a lot out of the program. Even though I’ve done things like AP Comp Sci, I feel like I had never done as much with technology. In an analogous way, it was like I was seeing the world in black and white before. I needed All Star Code to provide the color that I was missing

ASC really does expand your world-view. I often stayed after the program to talk with the co-facilitators and it just fueled my passion to learn more. It just gave me that much more motivation. I feel like I would have been much more reluctant to do something in tech in the future if I hadn’t done All Star Code.

ASC really brightens your opportunities…just overall. The entire way it’s structured. I’m really grateful for this program.

In short, we are thankful for choosing students who acknowledge the support we’ve given them, even as they forge ahead.

4. For Living the Mission. Student gratitude, expressed by both our alumni’s words and their post-program actions, tells All Star Code that we are on to something. It tells us, very clearly, that we are inspiring young men of color to become active creators, innovators and leaders within the tech ecosystem. We are showing them how to build communities and supportive peer groups, how to network, and how to participate in the tech space. We have given them license, and a roadmap, to be creative. And we are teaching them, conversely, to forego remaining passive consumers of tech products and services. Our extensive program evaluation, conducted by WestEd’s STEM Group (San Francisco) bears out this reality. WestEd’s high-level findings revealed that, by program’s end:

  • 100% of our boys self-identified as “hackers.”
  • 95% of them were strongly considering a career in computer science.
  • 85% of our boys ranked computer science as their likely major in college.
  • The skill our All Star Coders ranked as most desirable: algorithmic thinking.
  • 100% of our alumni were confident that they could solve problems – economic, social, political, or technical – using a computer.

These data points, among other findings in the report, are very heartening. It shows that “living the mission” for just one summer produced significant changes in student mindset toward coding, computer science and career options. We are thankful for WestEd’s meticulous and discerning evaluation of our program and its outcomes. It shows us that we’re on the right path.

5. For Silicon Valley’s Courageous Admission. This past summer, Silicon Valley’s most prominent tech firms released figures on the racial and ethnic makeup of their companies. Google was the first, revealing that out of its 46,000 employees, just 2 percent – and 1 percent of its technology workforce – are black. Next was Yahoo’s admission: of 12,300 employees, 1 percent of its tech workforce is black. Of Facebook’s workforce: 1 percent. Apple’s workforce is 7 percent black, given the number of black “geniuses” working at their 425 retail locations. Finally, only 1 percent of Twitter’s tech workforce, and 2 percent of its overall workforce, is African-American. These were courageous admissions by the leaders of the tech industry. We applaud them for their bravery, and for their subsequent commitment to bring issues of workforce diversity and inclusion front-and-center.

Christina Lewis Halpern recognized this as a central economic issue of our time. She founded All Star Code because of it. Our team built All Star Code to address this at the high school level. So, we are thankful for Silicon Valley’s recognition of the very real need for programs like All Star Code.

6. For The Current Champions of Tech Education & Inclusion. Team All Star Code gains strength and mission clarity from its partners in the tech inclusion ecosystem. We appreciate the work they do in creating energy and space for our movement. There are “champions of inclusion: at pioneering organizations: Code2040’s Laura Weidman Powers, Digital Undivided’s Kathryn Finney, Black Girls Code’s Kimberly Bryant, and Van Jones’ YesWeCode. And the movement has grown into a flourishing ecosystem here in New York City. To name just a few of our allies: GirlsWhoCode, ScriptEd, MOUSE, CampInteractive, The Flatiron School, Code Now, Blacks in Tech, ELiTE Education, Platform.org, Silicon Harlem, Bronx Startup Box, Open Society’s Black Male Achievement Project, and Teals. We are thankful for this thriving ecosystem of social impact organizations.

7. For the Tech Industry’s Recent Trend Towards Inclusion. Recognizing the need for more concrete action, Marc Andreesen donated $500,000 to three non-profits working on the front lines to bring more diversity to the high-tech industry. In October 2014, Andreesen and his wife apportioned half a million dollars to Code2040, GirlsWhoCode, and Hack the Hood. The grants send a strong signal about the growing momentum in Silicon Valley to close the gender and racial gap in the high-tech industry. And as Andreesen noted in a recent spate of articles, “Tech is not yet inclusive enough. There is no question that there is a huge opportunity to make it more inclusive and open it up to traditionally underrepresented groups, such as women and underrepresented minorities.”

In a recent article in New York magazine, Andreesen further defines the obstacles as “education”, “access” and “networking.” Around the same time, Google donated $190,000 to Black Girls Code to address the issues of underrepresentation. These gifts represent a growing trend among the heavyweights of the tech industry to invest in diversifying their future talent pools by embracing nonprofits like ours that focus on tech education, workforce development and inclusion. All Star Code is thankful for this trend.

8. For Fast Company’s Spotlight on Diversity Pioneers. Fast Company has shone a spotlight on the pioneering leaders of organizations like All Star Code, Black Girls Code, Code2040 and GirlsWhoCode. But the magazine’s recent piece on Tristan Walker raised the profile of diversity issues in the technology space. The piece detailed the “Silicon Valley success story” that is Tristan Walker. It serves him up as a genuine role model for other aspiring tech entrepreneurs of color, while exploring the many challenges still faced by successful black techies, like Tristan, in an industry currently dominated by White and Asian males. Tristan’s rather complex story confirms the importance of All Star Code’s work in building student’s education in computer science, professional networks and system know-how.

A companion article in the same edition of Fast Company, on a “roundtable discussion of other African-American tech leaders,” revealed the importance of a strong and supportive professional peer group. This network of friends and colleagues provide our All Star Coders with examples of how to work and play together professionally – while keeping your focus on increasing our representation among leaders in the tech world. We are thankful for this group’s roadmaps to pioneering entrepreneurship and peer network building. We see what needs to be done, and how all Star Code can help these opportunities grow.

9. For the Sobering Lessons of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown and (Many, Many) Others. These tragedies remind us that the killings of our young black males – by other black males, and by police officers with greater frequency – is a social epidemic that calls for collective, concerted and sustained intervention. President Obama’s major initiative, My Brother’s Keeper, attempts to address the overall plight of young black males in this country. And within this initiative, organizations like All Star Code have been able to gain greater exposure and traction. We find ourselves in a greater position to work with organizations and institutions, at every political level, to shape the public policy surrounding education and workforce development for our young men of color. It takes a community to raise a black male child. And All Star Code has quickly become a recognized member of that community. And second, the wrongful deaths of these young boys has increased the desire of each team member to build and expand All Star Code’s programs nationally. We want to expose as many boys of color as possible to All Star Code’s programming and continued support throughout the high school years. We want to build the kind of “ecosystem of education and access” that will produce young men of color who become household names being tech pioneer and leaders instead.

10. For You (Yes, You!). Last, but not least, we are thankful for your unwavering support. Be you an individual, organization or tech company. You have been an important part of our ecosystem thus far. Some of you have given advice, guidance, and resources to get All Star Code off the ground two years ago. Others have since become board members, formal advisors, mentors, and general program ambassadors. Still others have donated funds to support our continued work and growth. And many of you have given us access to your network of colleagues who are equally committed to social impact work like ours. As importantly, many organizations have given All Star Code financial resources, event space, tech staff support, pro bono services and other types of support. We chose to name none of you specifically in order, ironically, to thank all of you equally.

Because of your unwavering support, we have completed a successful “proof of concept” year and move forward to greater success. We leave behind a year that leaves us thankful for many things. Most especially…our organizational growth…our innovative workshops and summer intensive…our trailblazing students…our living the mission…Silicon Valley’s courageous admissions…the current champions of tech education & inclusion…the tech industry’s recent trend towards inclusion…Fast Company’s spotlight on diversity pioneers…the galvanizing lessons of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown and many others…and You.

Happy Thanksgiving, All Star Code Tribe!

Robert Bonner

Robert

A Letter From Our Managing Director, Robert Bonner

Robert Bonner

From the moment I heard about All Star Code’s mission, and about Christina’s commitment to ensuring that more young men have the opportunity to achieve success and greatness in today’s economy, I knew I had found the organization doing some of the most important work today.

Long before joining All Star Code, I made my life’s vocation about supporting others, being a link in the “chain of a million hands” that helps people along their professional and personal journeys. I played many roles, from teaching 30+ 6th grade Latino and Black students in South Central LA as a pioneer Teach for America corps member, to building the nascent systems and operations at a celebrated charter High School in Newark, New Jersey, to managing the team at Computers for Youth-NYC, a non-profit that provides access to computers and educational software to public school students, parents and teachers throughout the five boroughs.

Students of color. Education. Youth Development. Opportunity. Success. Systems-Building. Technology. These have been my passions, and the materials I’ve used to forge links in supporting the lives of others. So, imagine my sense of surprise I when stumbled upon All Star Code’s work – and, more importantly, Christina’s vision.

All Star Code places talented and driven young high school boys of color on the path to becoming successful engineers and entrepreneurs. It is the most relevant prep program of our time, just as prep programs for law, medicine and engineering were for earlier generations. Indeed, technology now creates opportunities for those with vision to create unparalleled economic success and social transformation. For our young boys, I view All Star Code as the proverbial “missing link” to minority success in today’s tech sector.

Anyone who has seen our students in action during workshops knows that we are onto something. They are so inspired, so eager to learn, so intent on taking advantage of the knowledge imparted and the mentor guidance. It has been worth all of the hard work to organize these special events. And now, we look forward to the Summer Intensive. As student applications continue to pour in, we have the difficult task of choosing our inaugural class of 20 All Stars. Christina and I wish that we could provide program space for all applicants. We are the only program in existence for boys of color in the NYC area. But that time will come in subsequent years. For now, we are excited to be the link to success for those who attend the Summer Intensive.

Since joining All Star Code, I have worked with some amazing people, the true “All Stars” that are building an ecosystem of education and support for our students. Christina, Nicole, Michael, and David have all been committed, first-rate and fun to work with. The mentors from tech companies like Spotify, General Assembly, Tumblr, and AOL have been incredible allies as well.

So many others have demonstrated their commitment to serve as additional links in the chain of programmatic success that we are building for our kids. Whether you’ve helped us recruit outstanding talent, made a tax deductible donation to help support our programming, or shared a digital postcard of ours on social media, we thank you for being a part of our growing community.

As Managing Director, I have seen many of you supporting our work – whether through funding, partnerships, or mentoring. And I can say that what we’ve accomplished together has been nothing short of amazing, inspiring, and heartening. I cannot wait to see what the future holds for our organization, and more importantly, for our All Stars.

Robert