A Trip to the White House - Inclusive Entrepreneurship and Data Science Diversity

Following his visit last month to the White House for the first-ever Demo Day, Joel Horwitz of IBM files this report about deep efforts to boost diversity in tech — and how those efforts dovetail with IBM’s ambitious plan to train one million new data scientists and engineers.

Extra: IBM partners with Galvanize to make $150,000 available for female participants in data science and data engineering programs. The funding assists with tuition, mentorship, internships, and employment opportunities. Read more.


Most of you reading this already know about Galvanize, the Denver-based company that’s combining tech office space with programming classes, mentor matching, and access to investors. They’re blending the line between learning and working in order to train and place hundreds of fired-up workers across the fields of entrepreneurship, engineering, and data science. You probably also know that Galvanize is growing and growing — already with six campuses and gearing up to open a seventh in Austin in 2016. To state the obvious: The model is catching on.

What might be less obvious is the work Galvanize is doing to boost diversity in the notoriously un-diverse tech world. That work has been a core aspect of the Galvanize DNA from the beginning. When Jim Deters, Lawrence Mandes, and Chris Onan started Galvanize in 2012, they made sure the mission statement declared their intentions in its first line: “We believe in making education and growth accessible to anyone – especially underrepresented groups in the tech industry.” That’s a commitment to provide access to anyone who has the drive and determination to jump into the tech world — in particular women, veterans, and minorities. Galvanize makes good on that commitment by setting up a dedicated scholarship fund for every class they offer – and by awarding those scholarships based on merit, financial need, and increasing diversity in the tech industry. If a scholarship isn’t enough to get potential students in the door, Galvanize connects them with lending partners who share the Galvanize values. Combine that with the Galvanize commitment to mentorship and job placement, and you’ve got an end-to-end system for getting students all the way from their first dive into programming all the way to full employment.

Not surprisingly, Galvanize is attracting partners who want to help them achieve their goals, not just lending partners but government and non-profit partners like Women Who Code, #YesWeCode, the Jesse Jackson Scholarship in Data Science, and Obama’s TechHire Initiative — as well as industry partners like PricewaterhouseCoopers, Cooley LLP, and IBM.

IBM in particular is partnering with Galvanize across several initiatives, including opening up access to the IBM Bluemix Garage, jumping in on recruitment activities, and assisting with developer training. It’s also worth say that, independent of Galvanize, IBM is promoting diversity in tech on its own: with internships at the Spark Technology Center, Diversity 3.0, and with its landmark initiative to educate one million data scientists and engineers.

IBM recognizes data’s potential to fuel the next era of innovation that will grow the economy for years to come. Key to the success of this vision are three critical areas we need to solve — and we need to tap into all communities to grow the skills to make the vision a reality. First, we need a simple-to-use analytics operating system that all data people can work with in one environment. (By now, we know Apache Spark is the key technology to meet this need.) Second, we need an ecosystem for people to take what they build in Apache Spark and infuse the insight into any application imaginable. That swings open a big door for ambitious, newly-trained developers and data engineers. To make the ecosystem possible, we launched Apache Spark as a Service on Bluemix to work with all of the many application frameworks available today. Finally, to truly have an impact on our way of life, we have to reach a massive audience and continue to grow the number of people with the skills to speak the language of data. Big Data University, Hack-a-Thons, and Meetups are all key elements to meet this challenge. And now that those vehicles for training and community-building are combining with diversity efforts from IBM, Galvanize, and so many great partners, we’re beginning to see impressive changes.

To celebrate all of this great work, IBM, Galvanize, and other leaders were recently invited to the White House for the first ever Demo Day. President Obama, Dr. DJ Patil (Chief Data Scientist of the United States Office of Science and Technology Policy), and other top innovators came together to check out new products and initiatives. Among the companies showing off their work was Base Directory, run by Tony Hatala and Billy Griffin, two military veterans who took the IBM developer bootcamp, trained at Galvanize, and built an application to help military personnel adjust more easily to new bases — whether Army, Navy, Marine, Air Force, or Coast Guard. Base Directory recommends activities, maps the location of essential services on base, and connects new military personnel with others who share their interests.

While there, President Obama asked the Base Directory team where they got their coding training:

Billy Griffin: Denver, Colorado.

Obama: Was it at a community college?

Billy: No, it was a six-month full-time coding bootcamp called Galvanize.

Obama: Did the VA cover it??

With so many great efforts underway, and with such high-level recognition of the challenges, there’s reason to be hopeful that we’ll rise to the occasion of training one million data scientists and engineers — and that in the process we’ll harness the full potential of barely-tapped communities by continuing to broaden training, skills, and access.

Definitely reason to be hopeful, but there’s still a whole lot left to do.

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