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Tech Diversity Nonprofit Code2040's New Class Of Fellows Is The Largest Ever

Laura Weidman Powers, CEO of Code2040, speaks onstage at Keynote: Elephant in the Valley during the 2016 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival at Austin Convention Center on March 13, 2016 in Austin, Texas. JEALEX Photo—Getty Images for SXSW

Code2040, a nonprofit addressing the racial wealth gap by increasing representation of marginalized groups in the U.S. tech workforce, just announced its largest-ever class of incoming fellows.

This fellowship, the initial program at the startup-minded nonprofit founded by Laura Weidman Powers and Tristan Walker, places black and Latinx computer science students as interns at partner companies. The program has grown from five fellows in its inaugural class in 2012 to 135 incoming fellows this year. And this is only the beginning of the organization’s plans to scale, according to director of fellows Chris Simamora.

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Chris Simamora, director of fellows at Code2040. Chris Simamora, director of fellows at Code2040

The goal is to have 225 fellows in the next class, 350 fellows the year after that and 500 fellows by the year 2020, he told Fortune.

The program provides experience and support to the students, but also gives resources and training to partner companies like Airbnb, Lyft, and Github to help them better manage diverse teams.

For Alona King, a 22-year-old senior computer science student at Stanford University who returns this summer for her second fellowship with Code2040, it’s the community that made the biggest impact.

Last year King worked with LinkedIn as an Android developer and this summer she’ll be on Slack’s iOS team. But the Chicago-area native says she may not have ever considered the tech industry if she hadn’t ended up at Stanford and been exposed to the Silicon Valley culture. Once she decided to pursue computer science, the lack of inclusion was abundantly clear.

“Being in the fellows program last year, it was the first time I had been surrounded by other students in tech who did not question my ability just from the color of my skin,” she said.

Simamora says the program helps students feel more equipped to enter their field, especially knowing that they may often be the only person of color on their teams. Last year fellows reported a 22% drop in imposter syndrome, grew their professional networks by 45%, and learned one additional technical language and three technical processes over the 10-week period, according to a Code2040 survey.

The companies benefitted as well.

All of the managers and HR reps left Code2040’s training feeling like they better understood the barriers facing underrepresented candidates, according to the study. Ninety-three percent felt they had increased their own skills for supporting diverse employees.

Some in the tech industry still consider the diversity issue a “pipeline problem,” Simamora said. “We’re, with a two-person recruitment team, not having that hard of a job finding black and Latinx engineering talent out here.”

This year’s fellows were selected from 1,400 applicants who came from nearly 300 colleges and universities. Many of the candidates accepted to the fellowship this year come from places you might expect — Stanford, University of California, Berkeley, MIT.

“The third largest contributor of fellows on that list is Cal State Monterey Bay, just behind Stanford and MIT,” he said. UC San Diego, Pomona College and Morehouse College are all among the top ten schools as well.

Code2040 fellows received return offers from their host companies at a rate that’s twice as high as the industry average, which Simamora points to as a key indicator of the program’s success.

“One of these things I combat is this narrative of lowering the bar,” he said of diverse hiring. “We are sourcing the top talent in the country.”

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