One of the Mission District’s newest tech ventures isn’t trying to court venture capitalists or outsource your unwanted tasks. Rather, it’s developing homegrown talent to work within the industry.
To make that happen, dev/Mission’s founder, Leonardo Sosa, uses guilt as easily as charm. He’s a paternal figure who commands respect in the classroom.
“We decided to launch dev/Mission because we believe that the tech industry folks need to start thinking about giving back to the community,” said Sosa, who is 47.
Sosa arrived in Visitacion Valley in 1985, after he, then 16, and his parents received political asylum to leave Guatemala. His brother gave him a Mac LC computer to tinker with, and he fell in love.
He had hoped to work for a big tech company as an adult, but was unable to find a job. The barriers were “even greater back then in the 1990s,” said Sosa, who received his associate’s degree from San Francisco City College in information technology.
Since then, he’s been devoted to bridging the technology gap through teaching and mentorship, first at Youth-Net in 1995, then with Digital Connectors for ten years before starting dev/Mission in partnership with the Mission Housing Development Corporation.
But inequity in the tech industry looms large. Not just in the massive wealth gap it has created, but also in its culture of inclusion for minorities and women.
“There’s a problem in tech,” said Melissa Powel, a program manager at Google for developer relations, “There’s a need for a diversity of thought and voice.”
Powel, a San Francisco resident, has been volunteering with Sosa’s programs for the past five years. This past summer, she helped teach the first cohort of dev/Mission.
Mellany Quiroz, a 19-year-old San Francisco native who had never touched code before, was in the first class.
“There were computer science classes at my high school, but I never felt encouraged to pursue them,” Quiroz said. “There weren’t that many Latino students in there.”
That changed this summer, when the classes filled with young women who looked like her. “It felt really nice,” she said.
She also appreciated that Sosa emphasized that women, such as Jean Jennings Bartik and Grace Hopper, were among the early pioneers in tech and computers.
Jessica Colorado, a recent graduate of dev/Mission, immigrated from Mexico three years ago to Richmond, in the East Bay.
There were no coding classes at her high school. Nor were there similar programs to dev/Mission where she lives.
As part of the course, Colorado and the other students made weekly site visits to the tech giants of Silicon Valley, trips Colorado documented on Instagram and Snapchat. “How did you get in there?” her friends asked jealously. “How did you get to go to Google?”
The visits closed the gap between her world and Silicon Valley and made working at Google seem more attainable.
This fall, she shelved her idea of being a real estate agent and enrolled at City College to major in computer science.
Her dream job is to work as a developer at Google.
Dev/Mission’s current fall class concludes in December, and applications are open now for Spring 2018, for young adults ranging 16 to 24.
The inaugural class was over 90 percent Latino, half of them women.
“When you include everybody, you to start to design for everybody in mind,” Powel said on a break from teaching her class. “Only when you have all of the voices represented at the table are you going to have true ethical design.”