Meet Our Team: Danny Rojas

On January 1, 2020, Danny Rojas assumed the role of Executive Director of All Star Code. The move comes as part of a new leadership strategy that sees founder Christina Lewis assume the role of President, where she will lead fundraising efforts, as well as continue to provide strategic advice and weigh in on long-term vision.

Since joining All Star Code in May 2018 as VP of Program, Danny has served an invaluable member of All Star Code’s leadership. In Fall 2018, he became Executive Vice President and was able to further stabilize and strengthen the organization’s operations and infrastructure, as well as lead the growth of our 2019 Summer Intensive class by 25%.

Here Danny discusses the fascinating path that led him to All Star Code.

How did you first hear about All Star Code?

At the time I was with General Assembly, which provides training tech and coding training for adults, working as an account director. One afternoon I heard a lot of laughter in the main events space. It was intriguing, so I went to check it out and found about 20 high school kids – all young men of color – in this great discussion about coding, and careers, and celebrating failure. I thought, “This is amazing! Where did these kids come from?”

Turns out the students were there as part of an All Star Code Summer Intensive site visit. And that’s how I met Christina, just standing in the hallway outside of that event space. And in those few minutes I found someone who shared my passion for building diversity in tech. And I was hooked!

What drives your passion around diversifying the tech talent pipeline?

I’ve personally lived it. As a Latino professional, consultant, engineer, and STEM student, I was always aware that there were fewer of “me” in the spaces that I operated in. I have always felt a responsibility to represent my community and serve as a voice for inclusion and equity.

Representation in tech is an incredibly complex problem, it has a lot of different facets. Why do you think it has persisted in the tech industry?

Access and exposure.

Even understanding that I could have a career in tech was a big barrier. Once you do recognize that, can you gain access to quality education? When I think about full-time immersive courses, it’s a $15,000–17,000 investment.

These are both significant barriers for communities of color.

What made you make the jump from General Assembly, which provides adult education, to All Star Code and its focus on youth?

A few big things. One was the singular focus on boys and young men of color. I’m very much aware of the inspiring work of Girls Who Code and Black Girls Code — tackling and elevating the conversation around gender equity in tech continues to be so important for all. What hasn’t been as visible has been the work for boys and young men of color. Picking that lane was something that really attracted me to All Star Code.

Danny Rojas exploring Scholar projects at All Star Code Demo Day.

I also sit on the board of trustees of my national fraternity, Phi Iota Alpha, which is a Latino fraternity. My work with All Star Code, building much needed community and networks for our students and Scholars, is very much analogous to my responsibility in educating younger generations of my own Latino fraternity brothers. ASC’s use of the word “brotherhood” is very impactful, and explicit.

The third thing I would say attracted me is the programmatic model of actually having our Summer Intensives take place on site at major companies like Google, Facebook, and Goldman Sachs, giving our young men exposure not only to those settings, but to role models who are integral to those companies. That, to me, is incredibly powerful: to put you out of your element, and to see the skyline and think, “I really belong here!”

All Star Code recently implemented its new five-year strategic plan. What does that include and where will it take All Star Code?

Our strategic plan is called the 5/5/5 Plan and it will allow us to grow our proven model of tech skills and leadership training for young men of color to a national scale, drive a 400% increase in young black and brown high-school boys in tech programs, and help significantly improve diversity in the tech industry within the next decade.

It’s an ambitious plan, but one that we believe is absolutely attainable by 2024. ​Our plan is to form five partnerships with national youth and education organizations, focusing on five of America’s tech hubs, to teach and train 5,000 young men of color annually.

Our 5,000 young men will be ready and prepared to become leaders in America’s most important industry and provide a much needed corrective to the thinking of today’s typical coder, and an inspiration to black and brown boys dreaming of a future in tech.

What advice to you find you most often share with All Star Code Scholars?

First and foremost, that you are enough. A lot of our All Stars are entering environments that they’ve never been in, whether that’s college, first internships, or even local hackathons, and sometimes we get this imposter syndrome where we feel like we’re not adequate. Take advantage of your growth mindset don’t get discouraged!  Remember that your All Star Code Scholar network – your Brotherhood – is here for you. We care about you and we know you will be successful however you define it.

 

January 2020

Meet Our All Stars: Jerome McCree

All Star Code Scholar Jerome McCree is a Senior at Central Catholic High School in Pittsburgh and is preparing to enter college next fall and one day run several of his own businesses. In November 2019, he fellow All Star Code Scholar Donald  Poindexter won the Best of Show prize at the SRDN Code Day for high school and college students in Pittsburgh. 

[During the All Star Code Summer Intensive] I was able to meet some of the most fantastic people, including an African American venture capitalist.  Hearing these stories from other people that look like you really inspires you to do something great.

How did you learn about All Star Code?
Two years ago, my mom saw a Facebook ad for All Star Code. I applied and got in. She and I had already
been talking about an idea for a website for local businesses and I was able to learn the technical skills
for me to able to build our vision.


What is your favorite thing about coding?

The idea of working on something like a sandbox project and then being able to turn that into a billion
dollar company. This happens so many times with like companies like Stripe, Facebook, Airbnb, so many
different companies. That’s the most exciting thing. Also being able to help people and influence people
through whatever projects you’re working on.

Is there anything you learned in the Summer Intensive that really surprised you?
What true innovation is. True innovation is vertical innovation, not horizontal innovation.

What that means is horizontal innovation is basically taking what a company is already doing and just trying to make a small change. No company, no big company or big billion dollar companies are built like that.

The main thing is vertical innovation, which is doing something that’s totally brand new. And then being ten times better than anything else is in the market. This is the same thing that happened with Amazon back in the early nineties. They came up with a new type of technology using the internet and were able to sell books literally five to 10 times better than any other retailers. It’s the same thing with Airbnb.

Jerome won best in show at SRDN Code Day in Pittsburgh, November 2019.

What other lessons from the Summer Intensive have really stuck with you?
To dare greatly. If you’re trying to become an entrepreneur or anything else, that is something you really
need to understand. Being able to come up with new ideas and take risks. And celebrate failure! Maybe
what you’re trying to build may fail but at you even tried to do something. That’s really important!

How has All Star Code changed you?
I was able to meet some of the most fantastic people, including an African American venture capitalist.
He came to see us at Carnegie Mellon, where we met each day, to talk about his experiences. He built
two companies, went to Amazon and then went to Google. Hearing these stories from other people that
look like you really inspires you to do something great.

What advice would you give to someone your age who is interested in entrepreneurship?
My advice would be just go and look and learn about different types of founders and different types of
companies and how they get started. When you start to learn about their stories, you realize they may
not be so different. I think that’s really powerful. Really inspirational. And the Summer Intensive is a
great place to start doing that.

 

December 2019

Meet Our All Stars: Kwaku Amofah-Boafo

All Star Code Scholar Kwaku Amofah-Boafo is a senior at Frederick Douglass Academy 1 High School in Harlem. He participated in All Star Code’s 2018 Summer Intensive and went on to serve as a Teaching Fellow for the 2019 program. He is currently preparing to major in Computer Science in college next year.

Through All Star Code I have really become more assertive in letting my voice be heard, whether it’s in a networking, interviewing, or regular social situations.

How did you learn about and become involved with All Star Code?

I learned about All Star Code through a S.T.E.M counselor in my school.

 

What is your favorite thing about coding?

Turning my ideas into reality and how that can impact people. I think the fact that I can think up an idea, create a wire frame, and bring it to life is amazing! Most of the apps that I use every day started as an idea and with coding I am able to do the same thing.

 

Kwaku assisting new students during All Star Code’s 2019 Summer Intensive.

What are some of the main take-aways from your All Star Code Summer Intensive experience?  

That “core skills” are just as important as technical skills. You can be the best coder in the world but if you can’t give a firm handshake, interview well, or make deep connections with people you won’t get as far as you think. Technical skills are just one part of the equation to success.

Also, that people fail many times before they actually succeed. I previously thought that successful people were dealt a lucky hand in one shot and while sometimes that is the case, most times it is not. Most successful people have failed multiple times yet have been resilient resulting in their success.

 

How has All Star Code changed your life?

I am usually of a more introverted, quiet kid, but through All Star Code I have really become someone is more aggressive in letting my voice be heard whether it’s in a networking, interviewing, or regular social situations.

 

What advice would you give to someone your age who is interested in learning more about tech and entrepreneurship?

The advice I would give to someone my age is to see every problem as an opportunity. The most successful apps and businesses were created by someone who saw a problem and instead of just pushing it aside, found a solution and monetized that solution. Lastly, “Just Do It!” The wealthiest people in business and best people in the tech industry didn’t get there by sitting around, but by jumping straight into what they wanted to accomplish. So start with applying to the Summer Intensive

 

December 2019

Meet Our All Stars: De Andre King

All Star Code Scholar De Andre King of Queens, New York, participated in the 2015 Summer Intensive in New York City. Today, as a Senior at Lawrence College in Appleton, Wisconsin, majoring in Computer Engineering. 

“If it wasn’t for All Star Code, I wouldn’t have discovered the passion I have for Software Engineering and I probably wouldn’t be the young man I am today.”


What brought you to All Star Code? 

I learned about All Star Code when it first launched in 2014 through the career center at my high school. I fell in love with the mission statement: “Closing the opportunity gap between young men of color and the tech industry by giving them the skills, networks, and system know-how they need to become the next generation of tech leaders.” I truly felt that it was a program that would invest in my future and my passion for tech.

I applied for the program that first year, but was not selected. But I applied the following year and was accepted into the program. I’m glad I didn’t give up!


Have you stayed involved or benefited since that initial summer training? 

Absolutely! I’ve been fortunate to become an AT&T Scholar within the program, which provided the opportunity to opportunity for me to network with industry professionals, and even got to appear in a PBS NewsHour segment about All Star Code.  I’ve also worked with new students, serving both as a Teaching Fellow and then a Teaching Assistant with the Summer Intensive Program. I’ve also volunteered at fundraisers. I love All Star Code! 

 

Christina Lewis and former U.S. Representative Charles Rangel with All Star Code Scholar De Andre King.

What have been the main take-aways from your All Star Code Summer Intensive experience?  

Honestly, the ability to celebrate failure. As a Junior in high school preparing for college and beyond, having those really thoughtful and passionate conversations around failure that spread into other topics like academics, masculinity, personal and professional wellness, etc. really meant everything to me. 

I was also surprised to learn about the significant pushes some major companies, especially within their technology divisions, were making to diversify their teams. I felt that there was an awakening, to a certain degree, about how diversifying the workplace can benefit the overall success of the company and inherently have a greater impact on the world.  Some of those benefits consisted of increased creativity and ingenuity, having a variety of perspectives, and overall improved performance. 


What difference has All Star Code made in your life? 

All Star Code has exposed me to so much and enlightened me from such a young age. It has helped shape and mold my confidence around everything I put my mind to. If it wasn’t for All Star Code, I wouldn’t have received my Posse Foundation Scholarship [which provides full tuition to partner colleges for individuals with extraordinary leadership potential]. I truly believe it was me showing my interviewers the projects that I built during my 2015 Summer Intensive Program that demonstrated the love I have for programming and helped differentiate me from other candidates. 

 

What advice would you give to someone your age who is interested in learning more about tech and entrepreneurship? 

I would say that even if you are unsure of what exactly you want to do related to tech or entrepreneurship, there is a huge benefit to being around others like you that are equally curious and eager to just learn more. I would say apply to All Star Code – go for it!

December 2019