Bringing Black Talent to Silicon Valley

CODE2040's Tristan Walker is helping entrepreneurs of color connect with tech-world gatekeepers.

Getty Images
Getty Images

(The Root) — Census data emerged earlier this year that projected racial and ethnic minorities will likely outnumber non-Hispanic white Americans by 2042. However, that anticipated demographic change doesn’t necessarily mean that the balance of economic power or achievement will also shift.

Tristan Walker, 27, a Stanford business school-educated tech guru, is hoping to have some say in that regard. Through his organization, CODE2040, he’s attempting to increase racial and ethnic diversity in a booming — and predominately white — technology industry. In an era in which cell-phone apps are bought for millions, Walker aims to spark an entrepreneurial fire among blacks and Latinos by linking exceptional engineers to Silicon Valley companies.

Through its inaugural pilot program this summer, CODE2040 placed five outstanding engineers into fellowships with tech companies such as Tumblr, Jawbone and RockMelt. The fellows also attended a speaker series, networked with eager investors and received mentorship from top-flight executives in Silicon Valley. “We need to crack the code,” Walker told The Root. “We need to match the skills that tech companies want with the talented people who may not have access.”

He credits Sponsors for Educational Opportunity for motivating him to start CODE2040. As an undergrad at Stony Brook University who hailed from a low-income housing project in Queens, N.Y., Walker said the SEO program helped him get a job at an elite investment firm on Wall Street. While the world of New York finance has grown more diverse in the past few decades, Walker claims that the tech industry can better reflect our country’s population. “Right now Silicon Valley is where Wall Street was 30 years ago,” he said.

Where other diversity initiatives are focused on education, programs such as Black Founders, NewMe Accelerator and CODE2040 aim to increase minority participation in the tech world and seek to build the kind of idea incubators that fuel the Valley. “For those who didn’t go to certain schools — to MIT or Harvard — they haven’t really had exposure to what Silicon Valley’s all about,” said Monique Woodard of Black Founders.

The executive director of CODE2040, Laura Weidman Powers admitted it can be tricky to get plugged into Silicon Valley, where much of the hiring depends heavily on networking and personal referrals. “But CODE2040 is an easy sell to companies that are always looking for top talent,” she told The Root. “They want exceptional engineers, and our students want experience at top startups. It’s a win-win.”