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ADA Developers: When Crisis Elevates Your Commitments in Service and Equity

June 2020:

ADA Developers is a nonprofit, tuition-free coding school for women and gender diverse adults, whose primary focus is to serve low-income people, under-represented minorities and members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Their diverse group of students comes together for six months to study web development, for free.

  • 76% of admitted students are People of Color, within this group 46% are Under Represented Minorities.

  • $24M in new salaries for women and gender diverse folks in the tech economy.

  • On average, Ada alum incomes increase by 126% post-graduation.

In March, they had to move all of their intensive curriculum and internship opportunities on-line. It was a tremendous amount of work but the crisis has also held a magnifying glass to their mission and values at every turn.

We spoke with Bethany Lindsey, Director at ADA Developers.

Tell us a bit about your students – why are they doing this program?

They are all adults and this is a total career pivot for our them.

They are auto mechanics, teachers, unemployed, musicians – really a variety of backgrounds - but they’ve decided they want to make a change in their career. Whatever they're doing at that moment, it's not working for them.

And they come to us because they’ve heard about our program, our high placement rates, and the quality of our internships. When they come out the other side, their salary levels increase over 120%. It's a total life change for them.

This is a really intense, immersive experience for the students: how has it worked to move it all online?

We’ve found that the students most likely to struggle find it most difficult to reach out for help in an on-line environment. So, we’ve had to work to make the on-line experiences as good for them, as the in-person connections. And, we’ve had to develop new strategies to do that. We’ve realized we need to have one-on-ones with all of the students, at least every other week, to know where they are mentally as well as in the class, because it’s not just that they’re facing difficulties in school but the stress in society right now.

How many students have gone through the program?

We have more than 400 graduates. And our current cohorts are around 50. Our incoming cohort is going be our largest – at 52.

And, what sets your curriculum apart?

Our students learn coding. But, they also learn social justice and they learn in three languages and we work with them throughout their internship, on job training and computer science.

How was your team able to make that transition to online so quickly?

At first, we didn’t know how long the shut-downs would last so we started by rearranging our programming, to move the Javascript training up, which we thought would be easier to teach online.

But, we quickly realized that was not the best decision for our students. We thought we could move all the lectures online - not a big deal. You just lecture on Zoom instead of in-person, right? But, that doesn't work. It does not work. No one's attention lasts that long on Zoom.

We realized that we needed to give people a minute, to adjust. We created more breaks in the schedule, to allow staff and students to take care of themselves, even if it was just going to the grocery store.

Then we decided to flip the classroom. Instructors are now doing prerecorded lectures so that students can engage with that lecture on their own time. And we’ve coupled that with small group discussions. Earlier on, students were just getting lost and we weren’t sure how they were doing. So, this approach has helped everyone.

And then what about the internships? Have the companies adapted?

All of the internships moved online when we did. We have some amazing company partners that helped us by doing trainings for our students on how to be successful in their online learning environment. And they hosted a panel to talk with the students. Our company partners already know how to do this so it’s been helpful to let them take the lead. We’ve really been leaning into our existing resources even more.

Has there been anything that's really surprised you throughout this pivot?

I would say overall, no one's a really big fan of it. We’ve shifted things around and tried to create more space but we’re all dealing with the same fatigue.

But, we have started doing short stand-up meetings before class starts every day and that has worked. It’s where, we as a team, can engage in that water-cooler talk and connect. Before, we never felt like we had time for those chats because we felt like we needed to get straight into our morning classes. But, now we see how important they are.

And we’re working to create that space for students as well: we put up Zoom Hangouts all day where they can pop in and out if they want. We made one the ‘living room’ and one's ‘the kitchen’.

The impact on non-profits of COVID has been different than in the for-profit world. Some have been affected financially, some simply can’t do their work out in their community. All the rules have changed. What is changing for you?

I think it's a really exciting time because our systems and our structures can change in the way we want to envision them. As an example, we're really working to be anti-racist. We're partnering with Paradigm Shift, having them write us some social justice curriculum that all of our students go through. We want to make sure that we are leading the edge in that way as well.

With our focus on serving underrepresented minorities in tech, our goal is to really change the tech industry. We want to make a difference. We want to make sure that this is a place where everyone feels safe in this industry.

In what ways do you work to connect your students to the social justice components of your work?

We do a lot of work on micro-aggressions: what those are and how to manage them in the workplace. We dig into allyship: how to help each other. And we model caucusing: where you can be around other people who look like you and talk about what’s important for you, without needing to change yourself in any way.

We also put a lot of work into supporting the students throughout their internship. We try to place them in a company, where there are other ADA alum, where there are people to support them. And we provide them with a mentor.

In what ways do you work to connect your corporate partners to these values?

We offer trainings to our corporate partners as well. And we provide educational resources and newsletters for them. We’re also in the process of sending out a handbook. Really, we’re working to create a safe space for the interns to succeed in their work.

What do you wish the government understood about your work right now?

I’ve been thinking a lot about mental health resources. This whole thing has made me realize how important our physical and emotional well-being really is and we need those resources to be readily accessible to everyone.

I’ve also been thinking about equity in infrastructure. Everyone needs wi-fi right now. So many people need childcare.

And, then on top of that, we need to bring racial equity to forefront. And we need to build up the infrastructure to support that.

Both you and your husband are working full-time. You’re at home with two school-aged children. How are you doing this?

I ask myself that daily. I think part of it, is that this work is so important to me.

I love our students and I love our staff and I just know that they need me to be accessible. I also find ways to turn off - I can't be on Slack all day because I just can't, but if they need me, they can text or call because I'm available.

I focus on the hour ahead. And, try to communicate what I need to my family and team.

The work is what keeps me grounded. And, I have to remember what’s really important throughout this: it’s not always what tasks got done but what conversations did I have and how did I connect?

And, I work hard to stay in my body – I work out every day, so that I can take it all on.

What part of ADA’s mission is keeping you going?

A little while ago, we got to we got to go down to Olympia and talk in front of committee….and one of the alum who was with us was talking about how this program changed her life. Before ADA, she was doing lots of different things, trying to figure out where she should go and what she should do. But now, she works as a software developer. She's able to have stable care for her children. And she's able to buy a house, which was never something that she thought she could do in Seattle.

Making transformations in people’s lives is what keeps me going.

It's knowing that somebody can go from being very unsure of what their future holds to knowing that they're secure and that they are financially secure.

And there’s an incredible sense of community around this work, when adult learners come together. They want to help each other. There's no competition on who can be the best – it’s more like, how do we help each other get better?

Hey, Seattle, here's how you can help and learn more:

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