In my background in corporate America, I was always taught to start projects with the end in mind. Having recently switched to the nonprofit sector I think this still mostly holds true, however everything must start with “why”. Some time ago I stumbled across Simon Sinek’s TED Talk on this exact subject, and it has stuck with me ever since. He simply said “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”.
Thinking about this concept from the perspective of the nonprofit sector, this ideal goes far beyond studying buying patterns and force me to evaluate why would I even want to go down this path. I’ve had a long, relatively successful career in the corporate world as a software developer and general IT guru. Why would I leave all that behind to focus on nonprofit initiatives?
The answer for me in all of this was pretty simple and didn’t take long for me to conjure up. I’m simply tired.
Unlike most people, I decided pretty early on in life what I wanted to do in life and never have deviated too far from it. I can still remember it like yesterday when I first sat down in front of a computer screen in the early 1980s and was instantly enthralled with everything about it. Back in those days I used a Tandy TRS-80 with a monochrome display and software that ran on a cassette tape player hooked into the computer. There was no sound or fancy graphics, just words on a screen and I was hooked. Everyday was more of the same, waking up, getting myself together and then heading to the computer to discover something new.
My grandmother in her infinite wisdom, quickly caught onto my hobby and began investing in programming books, technical manuals, and electronics kits to keep me busy. I started learning BASIC and quickly became of master of line numbers and GOTO statements. Time went on and I eventually went back home with my parents and all my adventures would be put on hold until the next time I went to San Antonio and was able to get back onto the computer.
A couple years later, my dad broke down and bought a computer for our house and by this point games were finally available (along with 5 1/4″ floppy disks). I quickly became a master of 13 Ghosts and Pyramid 2000 as I took my passion to a new level. By this time I can also remember my school having a few Commodore 64s in the library and being able to do some more BASIC programming even though I was well beyond anything that our librarian or teachers knew at the time.
By the time I got to high school I was able to take a computer math class my freshman year and I learned to program in Pascal. I was 13 in a class of juniors and seniors and quickly stood out as the whiz kid of the group. I finished most of my assignments early and then would sneak over onto the teacher’s main computer. One day the school upgraded his workstation to one powered by an Intel i386 processor and neither one of us wanted to ever get off of it. He would change the password and I would quickly figure it out. My obsession grew to the point that once basketball season was over, I never went back to my 7th period Athletics class and instead spent my last period of every day in Mr. Collier’s room playing on the computer.
It’s easy to say the first 10 years of my career working with computers was purely hobby as I had no idea what would be coming along soon in the “Internet”. When I started college in 1995, I went to the University of Texas at Austin and majored in the only thing that made sense at the time, Computer Science. It didn’t take long for me to find the campus computer lab and quickly be blown away by everything I had at my disposal, even though you literally had to wait on images to load on every webpage you visited.
Over the last few years I’ve created this online persona of “Shawn Dot Scott”, and many people think “Dot” is my actual middle name. The name is actually a throwback to my very first email address in college, email@example.com. It’s funny that even occasionally get mail delivered to me under this name.
So what does this long, nostalgic story have to do with why I’m tired and started Hack My Future?
Where We’re Headed
Over the course of my professional career, I have truly had a blast doing every job from entry level help desk support, to being the Chief Technology Officer of a few companies. Over 20 years of professional experience and one theme has remained true in almost every company and environment I’ve worked. No matter if I was in a small startup, or a large Fortune 500 company, I was always either the only or one of the few people who looked like me, either in my department or across the entire company.
Much has been said over the last couple years about the lack of diversity in the tech industry with major companies such as Apple, Google and Facebook released their diversity statistics that would make you wonder how minor minority groups are in our society. The stunning thing about these numbers is not just that only 2% of the tech workers at these companies is Black, but that 2% is across the entire company including sales, operations, marketing, etc. An even more interesting thing is that this number is roughly the same in pretty much every major tech company you look at and even worse in some industries like finance.
Through some divine intervention over the next 3 years I would be matched up with some great friends and partners to produce some hackathons and learning events. One of the biggest things I learned during this process was just how large the divide was between kids like Isaiah and Kyle and the average kid here in Dallas. As large of a place as the DFW metroplex is, we are severely lagging behind in ensuring that all kids have access to the same resources to be successful in life. Sadly enough, Dallas actually has the highest child poverty rates among the 10 largest cities in the country, which explains why so many youth here have no idea what the letters WWW or HTML stand for.
Rather than continue to complain about the status quo, I want to be a part of the change that makes our youth more prepared for a future that is far different than anything we’ve seen to date. Our mission at Hack My Future sums up everything we are about and why we do what we do. It is simply:
Inspiring young coders to use their imaginations and talents to create a future where they are included, relevant, and in charge of their own success.
It’s one sentence that sums of everything we do now and will do in the future, as well my personal mission for whatever time I have left here on Earth. Over the last 3 years I’ve worked with nearly 1,000 kids from all over the country and the one thing I know is they are more than capable of solving whatever challenges are thrown their way. What most of them lack is the permission to be great and the resources to ensure their greatness. I promise that if we give these two things, they will completely blow us away and create a world we are all proud to be a part of.
I won’t say this mission is easy, nor will it be quick. However I can say with absolute certainty that it’s necessary and possible. We have already seen considerable success as students we’ve worked with have started to enter college and major in fields like computer science and engineering. We see the difference being made in getting our corporate partners more involved with our students and exposing them to career options they would have never considered before. We also see the difference in school as more schools and districts reach out to us to partner in bringing our programming to their campuses.
If a few years, we’ll begin to see more impact at the corporate level as their workplaces become impacted by our students as interns and graduates. We know the process works if we do out part. Now the questions is, will you join us on this journey?