Cloudflare TV

We Are Conquerors

Presented by Nikole Phillips, Matt Stephenson
Originally aired on 

In this segment of We Are Conquerors, tune in to learn more about the impactful work Matt Stephenson, Co-founder and CEO of Code2College, is doing to change the face of the tech industry and to topple the “it’s a pipeline issue” excuse.


Transcript (Beta)

Hello, everyone, and welcome to Cloudflare TV. Welcome to the We Are Conquerors series.

Today I have Matt Stephenson of Code2College. So with no further ado, hey Matt, how are you?

Thanks for joining. Hey Nikole, great to see you. So, Matt, please provide a high level overview of who you are and what is Code2College.

So my name is Matt Stephenson.

I am the chief executive officer and co-founder of Code2College.

We are an Austin-based nonprofit whose mission is to dramatically increase the number of minority and low -income high school students who enter and excel in STEM undergraduate majors and careers.

In our program model, we source volunteers from over 60 companies to deliver after-school coding and web development education, STEM industry exposure, professional skills development, and paid technical opportunities ranging from corporate internships to technical projects for high school students who are primarily black, brown, and female.

A little bit about me.

I'm originally from New York. I'm first generation. The rest of my family is from Jamaica.

And I miss the food in New York. Okay. The pizza. So much more.

Yes. So what companies is Code2College working with right now?

So several of our lead companies include ServiceLogic, Silicon Labs, Google, Indeed, Atlassian, VMware, a number of these partners we've been working with for years since our inception.

We had an influx of partners who started to work with us this year, given I think all of the racial strife and injustice that has been more publicized in 2020, as well as the fact that we have been, many of us have been working from home and do more things in a remote status.

And we have been meeting that challenge with a number of virtual volunteer opportunities.

A number of companies have taken an interest in us because we've excelled in that field.

Now, where is Code2College right now?

I know you started in Austin, but do you have chapters anywhere else in the country?

So we actually, this is the first year that we've launched operations in other regions.

So we do have students now in San Antonio as well.

Okay. And we also have students in Philadelphia, which is exciting for me.

Yay, yes. I went to business school in Philly, and so a piece of my heart's back out there as well.

So really excited to be partnering with some companies and schools out there as well.

Yes, the city of brotherly love will do that to you.

I totally understand. My heart will always be there. So your drive, like what was your drive behind starting Code2College?

So my background, my parents always instilled in me a love for learning and a passion for education and also just a commitment to investment in the community.

Pretty much every Saturday, I was at our church's soup kitchen, serving the destitute and those who were down on their luck.

And I've always done some other form of community service, whether it be tutoring or cleanup and have always had a passion for giving back.

But as I grew older, I really wanted to focus on skills-based volunteerism.

You know, I created a financial literacy program for my church.

I was getting more interested in education, and so I was doing a lot more of that tutoring.

And ultimately, I recognized that there were so many programs that I myself had taken part of that really made an impact on my own trajectory.

And I wanted to create a program that did the same for students, particularly those who may not have considered college as an option and may not have considered an in-demand STEM or technical field as a career option as well.

Is there any reason why you focused on STEM?

Yeah, so just a quick data point, a few data points. About 50% of female, 50 % of low-income, two-thirds of Hispanic, and almost 30, excuse me, three-quarters of Black undergraduate students who initially select a STEM undergraduate major ultimately switch to a liberal arts degree completely from college.

These are the most in-demand and high-wage, high -salary roles in our economy.

And if we're talking about economic advancement, if we're talking about closing the wealth gap, I mean, these are some critical measures that need to be changed.

You know, there are obviously different policy shifts that need to be made.

On the micro level, households need, Black and Brown households need to be occupied by folks who are able to work in STEM fields.

And STEM, you know, for those who are not familiar, STEM, the acronym stands for science, technology, engineering, and math.

But it can range from a physician to an architect to a biologist to a scientist.

And, I mean, these are specialized fields where there are not many people who can do them.

And therefore, the wages are particularly high relative to non-STEM fields.

That's why that's been the focus. And that's really good to hear that you're doing this because, like, I've always told you, I really commend the work that you're doing with the Black and Brown community and focusing on STEM because I 100% relate to that.

Because I know for myself in high school, other than the, of course, the support of my mother, teachers and administrators don't really support people that look like me and you going into those fields.

So I was wondering, how do you encourage and keep them motivated in the Code to College program because it doesn't look like much has changed today?

Yeah. Yeah.

And that was, you know, your experience is similar to mine. I didn't have counselors, per se, who were pushing me or encouraging me with these types of roles.

But some of what we do is we really focus on what are the levers of success. So, for example, exposure.

So our three pillars are education, exposure and experience.

You know, insufficient technical education. So that's why we have after school sessions where students are learning how to code.

They're learning fundamentals, they're developing projects, and they're learning from professional software engineers.

Right, so these are people who could actually be their project or hiring managers.

Exposure, if you can't see it, you can't be it. Yes. So how would you ever know that you'd want to become a data scientist if you had never met one or even knew of the field existing?

And same thing with building a resume. We're really about that early, I said exposure, but early exposure.

There's no reason why any of us fumbled through making our first resume.

I think I missed my first one when I was a senior in high school because I was applying to one of those programs.

Now we've got 14 and 15 year olds building their first resume.

They may not have a lot to put on it.

Yes. They can start to work towards that. Exactly, I love that. We give them opportunities to work on projects, all of the many jobs that they have.

I mean, babysitting is a job. Yes, exactly. They've been babysitting since they were 10, 12 years old, consistently for some of the same families.

That's great.

That shows responsibility, that shows consistency. That's probably somebody who could write a recommendation for you on your resume.

Yes. And then finally, the technical education.

If you have not had the technical experience where you've combined the education and the professional skill sets, it's going to be very difficult for you to break into these roles.

And it's going to be difficult for you to stand out from the competition.

And so we combine that education, exposure, and experience to really amplify and improve the trajectory of these students.

And then, you know, everything is very intentional in our program model.

Everything from the fact that they're interacting with professional software engineers and developers.

And so when they get excited about your answer, you're hearing from somebody who works at Google or Indeed or Atlassian get excited about your work right now.

When you are developing your resume with somebody who works at NXP or Silicon Labs as a talent recruiter or technical talent recruiter, I mean, you are hearing from the person who actually makes the hiring decisions, who's involved in the hiring process.

So that exposure to people who are in the industry is huge.

Also, we normalize failure. You know, we talk about there is no such thing as perfection.

It's about having this iterative mindset. You know, you didn't get that right.

Try again. You didn't get that right. Try again. Like, do not spend several minutes or even longer than that, you know, God forbid, thinking about, man, I failed.

It's like, yep, get back at it. Like, let's get back at it. It's a learning experience.

It's a learning experience. Failure is critical to learning.

So those are some of the ways that we encourage our students. And if we didn't, those are some of the typical ways that students may fall by the wayside or leave our program.

So one of the things I love also is how you stay in touch with your students and you continue to encourage them even after they've graduated from college and move on to different to the new face of their life of being a college graduate and now having real responsibility.

Do you see your students like navigating more towards like software engineering or data science or anything like that?

Do you see any differences in that? So, you know, I was taking a look at what our college going alumni are doing, because now we've got around 100 of our alumni who started with us in high school who are now going to college.

And, you know, there are a lot who are pursuing computer science. Some are pursuing other STEM majors, about 90% pursue STEM majors.

And I will say this, you know, it could be the chicken or the egg.

Are they choosing computer science because they participated in the program or did they participate in the program already knowing that they wanted to do computer science?

And I think we can probably do a better job of data collection to find that out.

But what I will say is that, you know, I'll go back to that.

You know, if you if you can't see it, you can't be it.

Oftentimes, what will happen is students will gravitate towards what they see.

It's the same reason why little kids when you ask a kindergarten, what do you want to be when they grow up?

A lot of times they'll say a firefighter or they'll say.

So, yeah, these are professions that they hear about. So, yes, doctor, you get to work on people and where I want to do that.

I'm sure if you said data scientists get to wear that same coat, they may say data scientists.

Yep. And if you see people that look like you, too.

So if you see people who look like you a lot.

I mean, I always tell the story of I was a teacher for a couple of years in Connecticut.

I used to ask my students first day of class. They'd each get an index card.

Me. What profession they were working towards. And I would when I would go through the cards, I'd say 90 percent of the professions I could predict.

Name three.

It was a basketball player or some other sports or some athlete. It was a so it was an athlete.

It was a few said rapper and the rest of teacher. OK. And so I.

That's what they see. You know, they see the teachers. They were all just professionally.

Yes. Relative. I mean, more than 90 percent, I believe, or maybe 80 percent of our students were on free or reduced price lunch.

So speaking, the only professional they were seeing their teachers.

Yeah. Oh, you got it. You got to expose students to a lot.

When our program we've got these workshops where they get to learn about different companies.

I was just talking to Oracle today about our upcoming workshop in November.

We've got one with Logic Monitor tomorrow. We've got one with Amazon.

But they should see a ton of companies, a ton of roles. Yes. And make a really informed decision about their futures.

So when they go through these workshops, I want to elaborate on that a little bit.

What should a student expect when they're in those workshops?

Sure. So in just to give a little bit of background, we have been doing these for the last four years.

They used to occur on Saturdays.

You actually helped me with one two years ago. It was a the one you and I worked on when I was data visualization, which was awesome.

But yes, place over about they used to be about five to six hours long on Saturday from early Saturday morning until early afternoon.

Given Covid, we have shifted everything virtual in our programming.

So that includes our workshops longer on Saturdays, but they're now Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday from eight.

So nice for a time frame because we assume nobody wants to be on Zoom on a weekend.

Yes, because you're on it all week.

So what they should expect is they will be working alongside industry professionals on some case competition.

If it's one of our stem case studies, it could be anything from a fintech case study.

We're working on one about identifying pain points for a business and delivering business solutions.

A few on mobile apps, but gaining exposure to a variety of real business problems.

And with both students from all over the country and with volunteers from that company, as well as other codes of college partners on solving these in two hours.

And so it's just a great opportunity to work on those stem case studies, professional skills.

We've got students who are developing their first resumes and working on interview prep.

And then we also have college access workshops. That's new this year.

We're able to work on everything from their recommendation letters to prepping for their admissions essays.

OK, good. That's really good to hear.

And I wish there was a code to college when I was in high school, because, you know, with our age, we had to figure a lot out on our own.

So a whole lot.

So I really want to touch on this because you have such an accomplished background and resume.

So I want to make sure I get this right. You are the 2020 nonprofit leader of the year for Champions of Change by Div Inc.

You are constantly on local Austin news.

You have written for the medium. You have been posted in the Austin Statesman and so much more.

But even though you have all of these accomplishments and you are growing such a successful nonprofit organization, you still run into issues with investors as a black man.

So what is your drive to keep pressing in spite of the obstacles you face?

Yeah, I wake up every day knowing that I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing.

You know, I love I love this work. I love the impact that we're making.

You know, the challenges that I face with with investors, with funders.

I think that what's what's exciting is that, you know, we are in this extended moment.

What black folks are saying is getting amplified.

I don't know that change is happening.

I think change. I know that change some change is happening. I don't know how long lasting the change will be.

I will say that the two things for me that that that truly move, move the dial on change are one money and two policy.

Yes. And there's a little asterisk there with the money because the money needs to be commensurate with actual change.

And so I'm not talking about that. It needs to be commensurate and it needs to be ongoing.

Mm hmm. Mm hmm. Mm hmm. Like a commitment. Mm hmm.

You know, I it's it's funny is not the word. It's fascinating to me that reparations is scoffed at.

It's a it's a debt. Yeah, it's a it's a debt and unpaid debt is always a problem.

And so it needs to be rectified. And so I think that there are very.

And while while it's obviously nuanced, there are very way there are very poignant ways that America can work to repay this debt.

And while we have black people early have are quite diverse here with African-Americans, Caribbean -Americans, Africans, you can do something significant on the policy side and on the financial side to to affect change in this country.

And it needs to happen. I see that a lot of companies are are making a start at it.

It'll be interesting to see what 2021 looks like.

I think. Yeah, I agree with you on companies making a start at it.

But I wonder, like you said, how that will transition into 2021, but more so longevity for our children, not just doing it because the lens is on you, but more so doing it because it's the right thing to do.

And it should be an even playing field for everyone.

Yeah. So as we talk about Code to College, I know you've grown.

You have Austin, you have San Antonio, you have Philly. When you look at Code to College five to 10 years from now, where do you want to grow and what is your vision?

10 years from now, I want to be in, you know, just nearly every MSA with one hundred thousand people or more.

Fifteen years from now, I'd like to be out of business.

Oh, OK. Yeah, I mean, I think. I think for any true change to happen, it cannot be.

So I always struggle with this, right, because when I say out of business, I mean that there is some systemic or some institutional iteration of Code to College.

Because I think that there are so many ways that we can bring together the many stakeholders that we bring together.

Yes. I think the school districts are generally ill-equipped to do so.

And I think the companies, this is a blip. And you need to have someone who's long term, who's got a long term vision, like the visionary of the organization to take up the helm.

And so I typically am speaking with the CEOs, the CTOs, organizations that we partner with.

OK. And that's the only way for us to become generally for us to become partners is because folks who are junior than C-level or VP level, their perspective is not more than 12 months out.

And therefore, they oftentimes don't understand Code to College. And it takes someone who's got a three to five, three to five year view to say, I absolutely get this because it's high school student years from now.

Yes. And I'm like the unicorn full time hire.

I want them now. Yes. We make this we make this investment now, which is it's kind of nothing.

And not to mention, if we make this investment now, they're going to be bringing their friends.

Exactly. They're they're they're going to grab the attention of other black and brown professionals.

Word of mouth is the best advertisement.

Yep. But when you're when you're working with folks who only think 12 months out, they're thinking.

We need X amount of FTEs tomorrow.

Yeah. This isn't on my radar. So I guess what I what I what I mean is. I would love for Code to College to exist as this institutional presence where the private sector and the public sector.

Don't need a conduit or don't need such a substantial conduit and work with each other in a very meaningful.

Yes. Biotic way.

So Code to College is building the foundation for that. Yeah. OK. And speaking of.

If that happens in 15 years. Great, because then that means I can. I mean, I'm probably not retired.

I'm not old enough for that, but. You can enjoy life.

But, like, I just the reason the other reason why I say that is because I feel like there are a lot of career nonprofit professionals who got into it to solve a problem, but they are very comfortable in their role.

It's like a problem problem.

Like at some point. Like if this problem still exists by the time I retire, I didn't do my job.

I see what you're saying. But you know what I think to do to because it's bigger than Code to College with the system, the way the system has been created, like the system is working the way it was created to work.

So I'm that that's just a fact. So with that being said, with everything like I'm 47.

So with everything that has transpired, it probably will take beyond 15 years.

But with a foundation built, it may make it easier to continue to even out that playing field.

So I understand where you're coming from. But speaking of partners, how do people stay in contact with Code to College?

How do they learn to partner with you?

Meaning companies, volunteers, all that good stuff? Sure. So if they reach out to us at info, code to can get them connected for anything, whether it be to host a volunteer recruitment luncheon for their company, be for an individual who's looking for volunteer opportunities.

Yes. If they're looking to sponsor a student or an initiative.

We've got a really exciting initiative that I can't wait to announce, but I won't do so just yet.

So you'll just keep your ear to the ground.

I will. I will. I wish I could announce it here, but OK.

Oh, you'll get the exclusive next time. I promise. But those are some ways. And then I would also say, follow us on social media.

We are on Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

Code the number to college. I'd say also on Instagram.

We are at technically 200, technically the number two zero zero. Our podcast about black and Latinx women in STEM.

And then also at C, the number to see Vision 2024 C2C Vision 2024.

That is our initiative to place 200 black and Latinx women into STEM roles by the year 2024.

So many ways to follow us. OK, great.

Great. And I hope everyone took notes of that. So we have three minutes left and I want to give you time to focus on this.

So what would Matt today tell Matt 20 years ago based on what you've learned?

Say yes, a lot more.

Really? Why? OK, elaborate on that. Yeah. So when I mean, so I was a finance and information systems major.

And so one of the one of the things that you learn about is you learn about the relationship between several variables like risk and time.

And, you know, one of the reasons why one of the key principles is that you can afford to be riskier when you're younger because you can make up for any losses.

Yes. And that's why generally speaking.

Yes. Investors push younger people to be more aggressive versus older folks.

So I think back to some things that I said, I mean, I don't regret anything because I think everything you've done have led you has led you today.

But for example, you know, my best friend, she lived in London for a year and she invited me to come out.

And I said, I can't. I'm really busy at work. My best man, he was on a on an assignment in Tokyo and told me the same thing.

I was like, really busy.

You know, there are just a lot of times where I said no. And it's usually because of work and like one minute.

And, you know, my work ethic, you know, again, I'm my heritage.

I'm Jamaican. So, yeah, a lot of jobs. I know. But but I will say that I would have just said yes.

Yeah. A little bit more. That's good advice.

And that's a good way to look at it. Well, thank you so much, Matt, for speaking with me today.

I'm hoping to have you on again sometime soon. I really appreciate you.

And thank you, everyone, for tuning in to We Are Conquerors. I will see you all soon.

Thank you. Thank you. Have a good one.