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Discussion on: From Streets to Code

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Ben Halpern

Amazing story!

I was lead to believe that the only way you can be successful, was to be either a doctor or a lawyer.

There's a portion in the ESPN documentary "The U" about the University of Miami football program that chronicles how the poor parts of southern Florida have become football factories because they see the positive results of the kids who have gone on to university degrees. It's a demonstrative path to success, so therefore, the community has become successful in producing these kinds of successes.

Obviously the path to division 1 football is not a "healthy" path for a community due to the lack of overall opportunity for actual success. But it's the only path the community, in general, really knew. I really think these sorts of "oh, damn, someone like me can do that???" is what we need in this industry. The path to software development is actually fruitful, healthy, and inclusive. But it's really hard to establish momentum because of the stigma these communities feel.

I come from a pretty poor family with a single mother. I got to go to a good college because of a partial football scholarship, but still struggled to find my path. I've dealt with some homelessness myself and code really set me on the right path ultimately. While I had no shortage of hard work and natural inclination for the craft, I think my race and gender really helped nudge me in this direction. If I told someone I was going to get into software, nobody ever tried to talk me out of it. They generally saw me as someone who could succeed, and I don't think I experienced the micro-demotivations others experience.

That being said, subtle demotivation came into play based on being different from others in my class enough that I dropped out of the computer science program after only a year and a half. I'm really lucky to have regained the motivation to pursue computers on my own.

Three black men I know from my high school of only 300 students have been killed since I graduated a decade ago, and I've read about a half-dozen kids I didn't know to also die this way. So when I look at these "way out" paths like the South Florida story, it's hard to not map this back to the experience in in the communities near me and want to make a difference. And code is how I want to ultimately help make that difference.

I can also report that one of my older brothers, who did not graduate from high school, recently got into software development in his late 30's. It gives me a lot of hope and gives us a lot to talk about when we get together!

Anyway, awesome story. I hope you don't mind that I dumped my own story/experience here too.

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Anthony Lombardi Author

I am glad you can relate to my story. It's refreshing to read that! On the football thing, I've watched this documentary "Ballplayer: Pelotero" that kinda reminds me of your story. Kids in poor ghettos with only a dream to get out of there is by getting into the major leagues.

I think race and gender do play a large part in what direction in life we can choose, which is sad. My high school days being into computers was something of a joke to 95% of the people there. It wasn't until after I left high school they started teaching computers.

It is really awesome to read your side of the story. I'm glad your brother is getting into software development. Possibly one day I can teach my brother the same.