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Code as a Second Language

Hispanic Heritage Foundation

Latina Coding Jam in Los Angeles, CA
Latina Coding Jam in Los Angeles, CA

By ; President and CEO of the Hispanic Heritage Foundation

On appearance, Kaira Villanueva seems to be an average sophomore student at Columbia University tracing her way through New York with a well-worn backpack, scratched-up MetroCard, and a youthful curiosity. Except she’s not typical. As a Latina computer science major, unfortunately, there is nothing common about her career path. And after being selected this year by the Hispanic Heritage Foundation (HHF) and Google to be part of the Code as a Second Language (CSL) initiative, she’s more of a Tech Action Hero.

Kaira and about a dozen other Latino programmers were tapped to be CSL Fellows to teach computer programming to Latino youth across the country – Kaira just finished instructing a class of high school girls in New York over an eight-session course using CS First curriculum to ensure there are more Kairas going forward. And more, Dantes. Dante Alvarado-Leon is a student at UC Berkeley that also wrapped up his CSL effort this week but across the country in an underserved school in San Jose. As America scrambles to find more programmers, it will take creative and resourceful approaches like the CSL initiative to empower more Tech Action Heroes like Kaira and Dante who are strategically leveraged to more effectively reach the imaginations of younger Latinos to join them in the dynamic but unfortunately exclusive tech space – a space which is desperate for programmers.

Yes, it doesn’t make sense to be desperate and exclusive at the same time but that’s exactly what the tech industry is. And the math just doesn’t add up … According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over the next five years, 1.4 million new computer science jobs will need to be filled in the United States but currently in the pipeline are only about 400,000 CS students. At this time, there are over 500,000 vacant tech jobs. What is baffling is that nine out of 10 high schools don’t offer coding classes and in 33 of 50 states, computer science classes aren’t counted as high school math or science graduation requirements (according to That’s right, in most states computer science is treated more like a shop class instead of a math or science-based course. CS/Technology is only one of the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields to decrease in student participation over the last two decades according to the National Center for Education Statistics. It’s no wonder that we’re so worried as a nation about competing globally.

And the long-term solution isn’t to search the globe for talent. (In about a week’s time, the H01B visa cap of 65,000 had been maxed out like a data plan on a very social teen’s phone.) Actually, the solution is right there here in the United States – in barrios, rural areas, urban areas, pretty much everywhere. To prove it, HHF hosted a LOFT (Latinos On Fast Track) Coder Summit at Stanford which attracted 500 registrants who were all programmers with half CS students and half professionals (40 percent were female). Participates broke down and cried about how overwhelmed they were to not be the only Latino or Latina in a room of programmers. Kaira and Dante were there and presented their innovative ideas along with about 15 other Latinos. We proved at the summit that a base of Latino programmers does exist and needs to be built upon and mobilized to grow the pool of talent, which is exactly what the CSL program is doing. We need to show Silicon Valley and the private and public sectors that a Latino programmer isn’t a brown unicorn carrying a keyboard!

However, leveraging the talent means tapping Kaira and Dante, providing them with platforms to inspire, introduce and teach younger Latinos about coding or to simply spark an interest in tech careers, or innovating to make a social impact, or learning a tool to express themselves better and be creative in today’s and tomorrow’s changing environment. This new wave of Latino innovators, tech workforce and entrepreneurs needs to be added to the already burgeoning young Latino population to move America forward. America needs us.

And once again Latinos can fill the jobs our country needs us to fill. Latinos have always done what America has needed. Whether it was to build buildings, pick fruit, serve food or fight wars, we are a noble, hardworking and flexible workforce. And now we need to fill the gap in tech jobs. And as we have throughout history, we will come through.

But in order to do that we to be more resourceful, creative and actionable through programs like CSL, which just concluded in eight regions with visits to Google offices and the important connectivity to employee volunteers for mentoring and a vision of very cool jobs that they are now on track for (through CS First Curriculum it’s an opportunity for mentors, parents and teachers to also be Tech Action Heroes). It will take a collective effort between the private, public, education and nonprofit sectors to make an impact. This summer, HHF is working with Saber es Poder and the Mexican Government to bring CSL to the Mexican Consulates to provide our new arrivals that are on a pathway to residence and citizenship with a powerful value proposition for America. Immigrants are here to help to pay back the enormous debt we have to live in the United States. That’s the mindset. Our job is to collectively provide them with the tools and knowledge to fulfill that responsibility.

There needs to be a focus on Latino youth who currently represent nearly 25 percent of the student population. This is our future workforce of which 75 percent of new jobs will be filled by Latinos according to a report by IHS Economics. We need to make sure that a large portion of those new jobs being filled are in the tech industry. In the fall, CSL will start a year-round effort in up to 30 schools in Los Angeles alone through a partnership with community colleges.

And yes, going forward more Tech Action Heroes like Kaira and Dante will be deputized and empowered to meet our workforce challenges head on.

Originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

For more information on the Hispanic Heritage Foundation’s programs and initiatives visit:

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