Y Combinator's new startup teaches disadvantaged kids to code

Y Combinator, nonprofit CodeNow bring face-to-face programming classes to kids who normally wouldn't get them

Y Combinator is normally known for incubating startups from Reddit to ZenPayroll, but now it's joining forces with a nonprofit to support the next generation of programmers.

CodeNow, which bills itself as "a nonprofit focused on teaching underrepresented youth to code," is pairing with Y Combinator to create a new kind of in-person programming workshop designed to reach students in neighborhoods where programming instruction is typically absent.

CodeNow's new Y Combinator-backed workshops are hosted on weekends in venues outside of regular schools (via local tech outfits, like Causes in San Francisco), with workshops hosting anywhere from 40 to 60 students. Students are split in groups of six to eight and are to work in pairs. Three days of training, each day running 9 a.m. through 4 p.m., are spread over a four-week period, with five hours of homework assigned between training sessions.

The workshops focus on creating specific programming projects, rather than just general concepts. Ruby is used as the language of choice via tools like Hackety Hack. CodeNow's press material states the projects students build include "a hi-lo game; a rock, paper, scissors game; a calculator; and an encryption engine." (Studying Ruby on Rails is done during "a more advanced summer program.")

The newest addition to CodeNow's approach is a new program called "CodeNow in a Box," a way for companies to self-host training sessions of their own. Ryan Seashore, founder and CEO of CodeNow, explained CodeNow in a Box this way: "We provide [companies] with our materials, tools, and frameworks, and they provide the space and the volunteers. This shifts us from facilitators to content creators and organizers, which allows us to scale from reaching hundreds of students to reaching hundreds of thousands of students."

Originally launched in Washington, D.C., in 2011, CodeNow has since expanded to other cities. CodeNow presently is focusing on its existing programs in the Bay Area and in the metro New York area, but Seashore states, "Our model allows us to work with students throughout these cities from any neighborhood."

Unlike other code bootcamps that charge fees -- some of which have landed in legal hot water in California for operating as unlicensed schools -- CodeNow is free to those accepted to the program. It's also provided amenities to some of their students to make attending easier -- such as providing subway cards for New York students to allow them to attend sessions more easily.

One possible pitfall of the CodeNow's new approaches -- the CodeNow in a Box program, in particular -- is whether tech companies will end up using them to scout for talent that can then be relegated to low- or no-paying internships. Tech workers in general enjoy more consistent employment and generally higher pay, but it depends on the position being filled. The problem of unpaid internships among young workers is bad enough that one startup, Flinja, has emerged to connect students with actual paying work.

This story, "Y Combinator's new startup teaches disadvantaged kids to code," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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