It isn’t exactly news that the tech industry has a diversity problem. Call them techbros or brogrammers, the problem is the same: There is a pervasive industry culture where young white males are hired and rise to the top at the expense of women, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community and those with disabilities.
Look no further than Facebook’s latest diversity report for proof. Among those doing technical work at the company, 17 percent are women, three percent are Hispanic and a deplorable one percent are African American.
It’s a problem Mark Zuckerberg seems to recognize. Last month, the company pledged $15 million over the course of five years to Code.org to help the non-profit teach more students from underrepresented groups how to code. But that massive cash influx only addresses the skill set component of the problem. It doesn’t speak to job placement, mentorship, professional growth, networking, continuing education or collaborative project development.
That’s where a brand new fellowship program by the Center City digital design firm, Interactive Mechanics, comes in.
“We’re starting this program as a response to a couple of things—the well-documented lack of diversity in the tech sector and the experiences some members of our team had in other programs,” said Michael Tedeschi, Interactive Mechanics’ owner and creative director (and its only white male).
With the intention of removing some of the common barriers to those historically underrepresented in the tech field, Interactive Mechanics is accepting applications from entry- and junior-level designers and developers until August 12, for its first class to start in September. Although the program is geared toward those not typically represented in tech, they say anybody can apply.
If all goes well, fellows will leave after nine months having developed an improved portfolio of their work, a larger arsenal of hard and soft skills, and a stronger professional network that will sustain and advance them in a field where they are the minority.
Interactive Mechanics, whose clients include the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Mayor’s Fund for Philadelphia and Ford’s Theatre, says that the fellowship is a part-time, low-residency program to help those who are already in the field but may not be receiving the developmental help they need to advance in their careers.
“We’re starting this program as a response to a couple of things—the well-documented lack of diversity in the tech sector and the experiences some members of our team had in other programs,” said Michael Tedeschi, Interactive Mechanics’ owner and creative director (and its only white male). “Some programs that are otherwise awesome are unpaid or require significant time commitment. That narrows the applicant pool.”
At the outset, fellows will be assigned a mentor who will help clarify goals for the fellowship and beyond so they can develop their skills in design, front-end development and back-end development—everything from HTML and CSS to PHP and Omeka. Fellows work September through May on a portfolio-building project tailored to their learning objective and appropriate for their skill level relating to one of Interactive Mechanics’ areas of interest: higher education or arts and culture. Work will be done remotely, but weekly check-ins will help fellows meet benchmark goals over the course of their fellowship.
Each month, leaders in the field will speak at roundtables to the group on everything from interpersonal communication to project management to work-life balance and give fellows an opportunity to network. And every month Interactive Mechanics will open its doors so staff members can offer their expertise during set office hours.
“Part of our mission is to share what we know, through in-house workshops and work with local groups like Girl Develop It and Coded by Kids,” said Tedeschi. “The fellowship program is an extension of that effort.”
Tedeschi also said that the program is meant to be a mutual learning experience for fellows and the firm’s team, which will help Interactive Mechanics change as needed.
“We’ve seen first-hand how a diverse team can benefit a technology company, and we expect that this will educate us as well.” he said. “We hope that the program helps fellows not only build their skills but also forge connections and find opportunities that will help them build lasting and rewarding careers in tech.”