Mass Challenge

Innovation Blog

Finalist Interview Series: Resilient Coders

Give me the elevator pitch on your company:
At Resilient Coders, we get in front of young people from Bostons traditionally underserved communities, and we teach them to code. We source our hackers through our partnerships with schools, community organizations, and corrections institutions. We bring them together with our network of mentors, to pop open our laptops and code together. And we make paid opportunities available to our higher-performing young people, through our web development shop, Resilient Lab.
Tell me a little bit about your background: what did you do previously?
I worked at PayPals Boston office (formerly WHERE), leading a team of designers and coders.
What does entrepreneurship mean to you? How did you first get involved?
Jason Fried (37signals) says Dont start a startup. Start a business. To me, entrepreneurship is about identifying a problem (we have many), and fixing it, rather than building a product (we also have many) and then scrambling to contrive a problem.
Where/when did you have that a-ha! moment for envisioning Resilient Coders?
I was at a big tech conference a few years ago, excited to see what the worlds best and brightest were up to. And I watched people pitch some really elegant solutions to problems that dont exist. (Heres another app that helps you stalk people just a little more thoroughly.) Have we run out of problems to solve? Or have the walls of the bubble have grown so opaque, that too many of our best and brightest just cant see them? It seems to me that since the development of the wheel, technology has been the tool by which we inch our society ever closer to what wed like it to be. I never thought Id find myself working with teens. But thats where I found the problem that keeps me up at night. And so thats where we hope to build a solution.
What is the pain point youre hoping to solve with Resilient Coders?
Heres a short story that plays itself out over and over again in our city: A smart young man or woman doesnt see the point of going to school, because school failed to make any impact on his parents lives, or on those of his neighbors. The potential return on his investment of time and energy is not clear. On the flip side, he could hustle drugs or participate in gang-related activity. This engages him intellectually on some level, and pays him for his talents. He drops out of his school. He gets arrested, does his time, and is released through a re-entry program that teaches him to install cable or drive a forklift. He gets bored. He looks for something else that engages him intellectually and pays him for his talents. He hustles. He gets arrested. And the cycle of incarceration continues.
Why MassChallenge and what are your goals while being involved in the accelerator?
Im a big believer in MassChallenge, and in fact was a mentor last year. I was so blown away by the people I met and the companies they were building that I wanted to be a part of that community, and soak it in. My top priority during my time at MassChallenge is to button up a sustainable fundraising strategy.
What is your greatest strength as an entrepreneur? Weakness?
The programs greatest strength is in the magic that happens when session begins. I think weve got the pedagogy and the culture down. And then Id say my own greatest personal weakness is that Ive never run a non-profit before, so there are tons of things that Im learning as we go. That, and parallel parking.
What do you do to blow off steam when youre taking a break from changing the world?
I love to run. Especially when Im able to use running as an actual means of transportation. Once a week, I stash some clothes at the office, where we have a shower. Ill try to find a weird new route to take as I run into work. Then I shower, change into the stashed clothes and start the most productive day of my week.
Whats one quality that you think entrepreneurs need to have — and why?
The ability to get the right people in your corner. For some people, thats charm. For others, its straight-up, unbridled passion. Sometimes its a persons track record, their intellect, their personal network, or just the way they act. For me, its my hackers. I let them do all the talking:

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