Creating a Latin America Youth Network Built on Code

Coderise - Alex Torrenegra-160 (Edit) (Logo)-2From Lima to Guadalajara, Coderise equips kids with real IT skills

By James Bargent

For an ever growing body of IT evangelists, the tech revolution has the potential to drive development and reduce social inequality across the globe. But with developing countries still playing catch-up in the tech realm, the question remains: How? Finding an answer to that question has been the goal driving Coderise, a program started by a group of young social entrepreneurs and IT specialists.

Coderise aims to furnish the upcoming generation in Latin America with the software development skills, contacts and networks they need to participate in the global tech economy.

“What Coderise does is it puts the knowledge of software development in the hands of youth, along with a vision to use what they know to become future programmers and also tech entrepreneurs,” said Andrea Cornejo, Coderise’s Peruvian program director.

The mainstay of the program is an intensive course for selected high-school-age children in software development and computer programming. Over the course of eight weeks, the kids are taught how to write code in JavaScript, HTML and CSS before designing and developing their own web application.

They also receive a series of talks from local and international tech specialists, with the idea the speakers will go on to act as mentors for the budding programmers. “We intend for them to be successfully integrated into their local tech community and to feel like they have a community of networks and mentors that they can count on if they have any ideas they want to pursue or if they just want to know about the opportunities that are out there,” said Cornejo.

The Pilot Project

For the pilot course, which finished in November last year, the Coderise team selected Colombia’s second city, Medellin. “We chose Medellin because it is a city that is investing a lot of resources in the tech startup scene,” said Cornejo. “It may not have as well developed networks as Silicon Valley or even Bogota but it is investing a lot of time and energy in catching up … [and] we wanted to be part of a growing community from the start.”

The reaction from the 17 students who completed the course has been overwhelmingly positive. “More than teaching us to code, it taught us to be different people, to think about change, to be more persistent and to motivate ourselves, to start things and to innovate to change things through code” said Carlos Alvarez, one of the graduates.

“I’m sure it has changed my future, and that of a lot of other people too,” said another, Juan Pablo Hincapie.

The hope for the Coderise team is that the course will just be the beginning for the new graduates. They will continue to receive monthly updates on the latest tech developments in Medellin but, more importantly, they are now part of a network that can provide support and access to opportunities. According to Cornejo, several of the students are already exploring how they can take the app they developed for the course to the next level through these networks.

The Medellin Experience

Although one of Coderise’s main objectives is to help reduce social inequality, its students are selected on merit from all social strata, and on the Medellin course there was an approximately 50/50 balance between children from private schools and those from public schools.  “In Coderise what we are looking to do is find students that have a specific profile and an interest in this field,” said Cornejo. “That will bring together students from high socio-economic levels and low socio-economic levels that are there on merit, [building] a passion focused network rather than a socio-economic focused network.”

However, one area of recruitment that the program is seeking to improve is the participation of girls in the program. Only 25% of students in Medellin were girls, something Cornejo attributes to a failure of marketing. “The way that one markets a program strongly affects how girls perceive themselves and determine whether this is a good opportunity for them and sometimes when you focus on science, technology and apps girls are really turned off by it,” she said. “We’re really trying to find strategic marketing that will accentuate factors in the program such as [it being] rewarding in terms of a stronger professional network.”

After the success of the pilot, the Coderise team are now looking to expand the program and in the year ahead hope to run courses in Bogota, Colombia and Guadalajara, Mexico as well as another course in Medellin. In the future, they are also hoping to use the networks created by the courses to set up apprenticeships with the local businesses that partner the program.

Sign up for our Nearshore Americas newsletter:

How far the program can expand may eventually come to down to funding. According to Cornejo, 50% of the Medellin course was funded by crowd sourcing, 25% from individual donations and 25% from businesses. In the future, Coderise hopes to attract more support from local businesses in the project. “We will only seek to expand where we can find strong local partners – 2 or 3 partners who will put down 50-75% of our required resources,” she said.

However far Coderise spreads, Cornejo and her team believe it and programs like it are what is needed for the technology sector to realize its much vaunted social potential in the developing world. “Programs like Coderise that put software development knowledge in the hands of young students are essential because while talent in the global community is ubiquitous, opportunity is not,” she said.