On October 11, 2018, community and tech leaders gathered at the Kapor Center in Oakland, CA to hear about Bridge Foundry’s impact and vision for the future, including the announcement of the new industry outreach program.
Bridge Foundry’s CEO, Sarah Allen, shared the organization’s 2017 diversity impact results and successes teaching code skills to people underserved in the tech industry. Starting with the organization’s history and growth, she was joined by sponsor representatives who shared their insights on this work and then moving on to describe the next steps in making diversity the norm in the tech industry.
In 2009-2013, the RailsBridge workshops went viral, with the number of workshops doubling year-over-year and sparked the creation of many other initiatives.
Sarah highlighted how the grassroots organization grew organically and with intention, across many programming languages and frameworks. Each technology and each community is led by volunteers who believe this work is important enough to take time away from their busy lives to do the work.
Bridge Foundry sponsors do more than financial support – each company participates the work of creating culture change in the tech industry. A panel from 2018 sustaining sponsors and long-time supporters shared stories of how their work and company culture reflects our shared values and how working with Bridge Foundry programs and volunteers has created impact.
Valerie Liberty from Balsamiq cited the company’s 10+ year friendship with Bridge Foundry, recalling early support. Enlightened communication and respectful work practices foster accessibility and diversity, not just in hiring practices but also in customer success.
Anna Neyzberg from Carbon Five, who has also served on the RailsBridge board and founded ElixirBridge, shared how hosting workshops and events has helped Carbon Five stay connected to the larger tech community. Helping underrepresented folks level up so that they can find work in tech aligns strongly with Carbon Five’s belief that diverse teams work more effectively and can more effectively collaborate with a wide range of clients.
Kelley Robinson from Twillio talked about their support of ScalaBridge, which grew out of a need to connect with the growing community of Scala developers. As a Developer Advocate, Kelley hosts workshops at the company, continuing a long tradition of Twillio employees who have volunteered to teach new languages to old and new coders.
We have learned that a good first step to creating diverse teams is to change expectations. At first, the workshops were an “existence proof” – most male volunteers met more technical women at a single workshops than they had in their whole lifetime. We believe this problem won’t be solved with skill development for people underrepresented in tech. We need to eliminate disrespectful work environments.
An interactive session modeled on Bridge Foundry’s new curriculum, which trains volunteers how to speak up and have “difficult conversations” as needed. It is risky to speak up when you don’t know what today, yet silence conveys approval and saying something is usually better than saying nothing. Practicing how to respond to racist, sexist or plain old disrespectful comments makes it easier to respond appropriately when we hear something innappropriate in real life.
Audience members participated in small group discussions grappling with a less challenging version of the curriculum on how to respond to “awkward situtations,” which in retrospect is perhaps even more important. If we can learn to speak up when witnessing disrespectful behavior that is in that space of plausible deniability or where someone honestly had no idea of how innapropriate their statement was, then we can create spaces where really bad behavior is inconceivable.