By: Chloe Young
83% of tech executives are white. In an industry focused on innovation and breaking barriers, the lack of diversity is extraordinary. One kid in Chicago has a goal to change this, and his name is Ian Michael Brock. Ian is a 16 year old computer science activist, public speaker, entrepreneur and soon-to-be author.
One night when he was just eight years old, his mom found a video by Mark Zuckerberg that discussed the importance of computer science. His mom loved the video and showed it to her son, however despite her enthusiasm, Ian initially didn’t have a positive reaction. He thought it was boring, and more importantly, he didn’t see anyone that looked like him. This all changed when basketball player Chris Bosh came on and started talking about his experiences with coding. Seeing someone who looked like him and played his favorite sport was a game changer. In fact, it impacted him so much that he co-founded a 501(c)(3) called Dream Hustle Code. Dream Hustle Code aims to ensure that kids from underrepresented communities in tech get access to computer science education.
In most tech companies, black and brown people make up less than 5% of the workforce, so how are black and brown kids supposed to be inspired to go into tech? Well, the answer is Ian. Him doing what he’s doing is inspiring other kids, and they’re starting to look up to him.
‘I can be a model for others to go into the computer science space.’
Ever since Ian and his family realized the importance of seeing oneself in these tech jobs, they’ve made ‘if you can see it, you can be it’ a large part of their model at Dream Hustle Code. Ian believes that it is his responsibility to be proactive, and make sure that he on-boards as many kids as possible so the tech space becomes more diverse.
In addition to leading his non-profit, Ian has interviewed an array of successful adults, taking pieces from each interview, and now lives by what he’s learned. ‘Each and every person said that whenever you are coming across adversity, you need to learn how to overcome it and you can’t give up or quit, no matter how hard it gets.’ If you are doing something good for the world, there will always be a struggle. It is important to remember that pain is temporary: ‘it may last for a minute, an hour, a day or even a year. But eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If you quit, however, it will last forever.’ This idea that ‘if you quit, you will live with regret’ has stuck with Ian, causing him to almost develop a FOMO about missing opportunities. “You have to learn how to role with the punches”
Ian is doing incredible work every day, but as T.D. Jakes says: ‘If you don’t want no problems, you don’t want no progress’. Ian has received more backlash than he initially thought, saying that they ‘receive some amazing feedback from people sharing their support, but there are some individuals that have called me racist for the work I’m doing and have said that I am one of the reasons racism exists.’ This has had an impact on Ian – and that makes him human – but he says that when he is feeling down after hate he reminds himself that ‘somebody’s thoughts about you aren’t your responsibility’. Ian’s incredible ability to not let others’ hate drag him down from working towards his dream has certainly paid off.
‘We need to change the mindset from consumers to creators’
Gen-Z is unlike any generation before us; we have kids using technology before they can even walk. A lot of minority communities are users of tech, but not creators. ‘There was a time when there were no black or brown people in sports, music and entertainment. So when we started getting into those industries, we made a huge impact, and we made those fields even better and more popular worldwide. Black and brown culture hasn’t been infused in the tech space just yet, meaning that we are at the cusp of what is possible’.
However, it is unreasonable to expect minority communities to be integrated into the tech space without the school system stepping up. Computer science isn’t being taught as much as it needs to be, and in Illinois the graduation requirement is only one year of computer science. Of course, computer science should be integrated into school, but it can’t be taught like any other course because kids won’t receive it the way they should. ‘Earlier in the year, I started an intro into computer science and personal development boot camp for kids from 5th-9th grade. In the beginning, we did it for 17 weeks and one thing that I’ve learned through this camp and other events is that kids understand something better when another kid is teaching it to them. When an adult tells you to do something, you hear them but you’re not really listening. When another kid tells you that exact same thing, you tend to listen more.’
‘We turned a negative situation into something positive’
COVID-19 has given Dream Hustle Code an opportunity; they knew that they had to continue doing the work, but they had to approach it differently. ‘After doing the boot camp, we decided we wanted to scale this model and make it free. In the beginning of June, we started raising money so we could on-board 300 black and brown kids, focusing on kids in Chicago. We wanted to take kids off the street and get them out of harm’s way for at least a couple of hours, and really put them onto life changing skills that could change both their families and communities lives. We launched this program and it ended up being successful. COVID-19 gave us the opportunity to serve more people’.
2020 has shown us that it’s impossible to predict what will happen next, and Ian told me that if I would’ve asked what his year would look like at this time last year, he would have said ‘vacation, going out with friends and doing a bit more work with Dream Hustle Code’. Instead, it has consisted of working with hundreds of kids and changing all of their lives. Ian doesn’t know what his future will look like, but he’s aware that there are so many different directions it can take him. Regardless of the uncertainty, after speaking with Ian I can tell you one thing is for sure: Ian Michael Brock is going to make the tech industry a more innovative, creative and diverse place, finally changing it for the better.