tl;dr Triplebyte is incubating the nonprofit ColorStack. ColorStack increases Black and Latinx enrollment in CS programs through community building, academic support, and professional development. We’re experimenting with a novel funding structure, where we provide funding to ColorStack so that they can focus on executing and not raising money.

The percentage of Black and Latinx programmers in Silicon Valley is increasing at a glacial pace. In 2014, 3.5% of technical employees at top tech companies identified as Black or Latinx. Today, that number is 5.5%. Over 6 years, representation has increased by only 2 percentage points. This while 31% of Americans (over 100 million people) identify as members of these two groups. Talent is uniformly distributed across people, but the opportunity to apply that talent—access to top school and jobs—is not. Fixing this is our mission at Triplebyte. And 100 million Americans with access to only 5.5% of programming jobs is one hell of an example of the problem.

In the past, we’ve not focused directly on racial equality. Instead, we’ve focused on bias in assessments and the way credentials are used to exclude people. How do we remove unconscious bias from interviews? How do we keep the industry from closing the door in the face of people with non-traditional education? This is important work, and I’m proud of what we’ve done. But focusing on assessments alone is not enough. Fighting unconscious bias in interviews is necessary, but not sufficient. To live up to our mission and help the 100 million Black or Latinx Americans gain access to top tech jobs, we need to zoom out and look at all the forces at every level that keep people of color out of tech.

I‘ve been talking a lot with my board and mentors about how to do this. We experimented with conference sponsorships and meetups. We put together an employee diversity group. We started the process of hiring a head of diversity. These were all important things to do. But, frankly, they are not enough. After all, these are the actions that almost every major tech company takes, and that has only led to 2% improvement in representation over the past 6 years. We need to do more.

Michael Seibel at YC provided the breakthrough. He introduced me to a graduating senior at Cornell, Jehron Petty. Jehron built a student organization at Cornell called ColorStack. And ColorStack did something incredible. In three years, ColorStack tripled Black and Latinx enrollment in the computer science major at Cornell. Jehron did this by advocating to address retention issues within the department, connecting with freshmen before their first CS course, and creating a culture of peer-to-peer support.

Jehron and I have spent dozens of hours talking over the past 3 months. And I could not be more thrilled to announce that (with a little help from Michael Seibel) Triplebyte will incubate ColorStack! What does this mean? First, we will pay Jehron’s salary and provide funding for ColorStack for the next 2 years, so that Jehron can focus on launching at universities across the country, and not fundraising. Second, we will provide access to our network of companies and engineers to help ColorStack scale more quickly. And third, ColorStack remains a fully independent organization with Jehron as founder.

There’s a multiplicative effect between ColorStack and Triplebyte. ColorStack builds community and gets more racially underrepresented students into CS. But without Triplebyte, students from non-elite schools often struggle to get interviews at top companies. Triplebyte overcomes credential bias and gets skilled engineers from any background in front of companies. But without ColorStack, we are not able to get more diverse students into programming in the first place. Together, I think, we can have a big impact. And of course, getting more diverse engineers into tech companies is ultimately vital for the companies.

I’m not 100% sure how this will turn out. We’re trying something new here. But the status quo is not working, so I think that more companies should experiment with alternative structures like this. What I love about how we’ve set this up is that Jehron retains full ownership and motivation, while we relieve him of the need to expend energy raising money (which is a major timesink for many nonprofits). I believe in Jehron. He approaches ColorStack with the same energy I see in the best startup founders.

You can learn more about ColorStack here. Right now, Jehron is looking for introductions to CS departments interested in supporting Black and Latinx CS students, and students interested in starting chapters at their schools. You can get in touch with Jehron at jehron@colorstack.org, and apply as a student here. I’d also love to hear your thoughts on this. Send me an email at ammon@triplebyte.com.

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