ShareThis Page
Allegheny

Pittsburgh learning from mistakes of Silicon Valley to build a diverse tech hub

Aaron Aupperlee
| Thursday, March 30, 2017, 6:48 a.m.
Dave Sevick, founder of  Computer Reach, works with Toshie Onai and Cooper Olsen, 11, both of Highland Park Volunteer, at Computer Reach's workspace in Point Breeze, Friday, March, 24, 2017. Computer Reach, is a not-for-profit company that rehabs old computers and makes them available for those in need. They will host volunteers for Pittsburgh's Inclusive Innovation week.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Dave Sevick, founder of Computer Reach, works with Toshie Onai and Cooper Olsen, 11, both of Highland Park Volunteer, at Computer Reach's workspace in Point Breeze, Friday, March, 24, 2017. Computer Reach, is a not-for-profit company that rehabs old computers and makes them available for those in need. They will host volunteers for Pittsburgh's Inclusive Innovation week.
Volunteer, Charlie Hutchens, of East Palestine, OH, is framed by a workbench at Computer Reach, a not-for-profit organization that rehabs old computers and makes them available for those in need at their workspace in Point Breeze, Friday, March, 24, 2017. Computer Reach will host volunteers for Pittsburgh's Inclusive Innovation week.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Volunteer, Charlie Hutchens, of East Palestine, OH, is framed by a workbench at Computer Reach, a not-for-profit organization that rehabs old computers and makes them available for those in need at their workspace in Point Breeze, Friday, March, 24, 2017. Computer Reach will host volunteers for Pittsburgh's Inclusive Innovation week.
Volunteers, Rick Fitzgibbon, of Plum and Cooper Olsen, 11, of Highland Park, talk about the process of rehabbing computers at Computer Reach's workspace in Point Breeze, Friday, March, 24, 2017. Computer Reach, is a not-for-profit company that rehabs old computers and makes them available for those in need. They will host volunteers for Pittsburgh's Inclusive Innovation week.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Volunteers, Rick Fitzgibbon, of Plum and Cooper Olsen, 11, of Highland Park, talk about the process of rehabbing computers at Computer Reach's workspace in Point Breeze, Friday, March, 24, 2017. Computer Reach, is a not-for-profit company that rehabs old computers and makes them available for those in need. They will host volunteers for Pittsburgh's Inclusive Innovation week.
Volunteers, Toshie Onai and Cooper Olsen, 11, both of Highland Park Volunteer, clean a monitor at Computer Reach's workspace in Point Breeze, Friday, March, 24, 2017. Computer Reach, is a not-for-profit company that rehabs old computers and makes them available for those in need. They will host volunteers for Pittsburgh's Inclusive Innovation week.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Volunteers, Toshie Onai and Cooper Olsen, 11, both of Highland Park Volunteer, clean a monitor at Computer Reach's workspace in Point Breeze, Friday, March, 24, 2017. Computer Reach, is a not-for-profit company that rehabs old computers and makes them available for those in need. They will host volunteers for Pittsburgh's Inclusive Innovation week.
Cooper Olsen, 11, of Highland Park and volunteer, cleans a monitor at Computer Reach's workspace in Point Breeze, Friday, March, 24, 2017. Computer Reach, is a not-for-profit company that rehabs old computers and makes them available for those in need. They will host volunteers for Pittsburgh's Inclusive Innovation week.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Cooper Olsen, 11, of Highland Park and volunteer, cleans a monitor at Computer Reach's workspace in Point Breeze, Friday, March, 24, 2017. Computer Reach, is a not-for-profit company that rehabs old computers and makes them available for those in need. They will host volunteers for Pittsburgh's Inclusive Innovation week.
Volunteer, Jon Smith, of Banksville, works at demanufacturing a computer at Computer Reach, a not-for-profit company that rehabs old computers and makes them available for those in need at their workspace in Point Breeze, Friday, March, 24, 2017. Computer Reach will host volunteers for Pittsburgh's Inclusive Innovation week.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Volunteer, Jon Smith, of Banksville, works at demanufacturing a computer at Computer Reach, a not-for-profit company that rehabs old computers and makes them available for those in need at their workspace in Point Breeze, Friday, March, 24, 2017. Computer Reach will host volunteers for Pittsburgh's Inclusive Innovation week.
Kelauni Cook, a software engineer, learns computer coding during her third day at Academy Pittsburgh's coding boot camp in Allentown about a year ago. Cook, 28, moved to Pittsburgh from North Dakota to learn how to code.
Kelauni Cook, a software engineer, learns computer coding during her third day at Academy Pittsburgh's coding boot camp in Allentown about a year ago. Cook, 28, moved to Pittsburgh from North Dakota to learn how to code.
Tools hang on a wall inside of Prototype, a feminist maker space, in Oakland on Thursday, March 23, 2017.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Tools hang on a wall inside of Prototype, a feminist maker space, in Oakland on Thursday, March 23, 2017.
Women attending a lamp making workshop gather inside of Prototype, a feminist maker space, in Oakland on Thursday, March 23, 2017.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Women attending a lamp making workshop gather inside of Prototype, a feminist maker space, in Oakland on Thursday, March 23, 2017.
Women attending a lamp making workshop gather inside of Prototype, a feminist maker space, in Oakland on Thursday, March 23, 2017.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Women attending a lamp making workshop gather inside of Prototype, a feminist maker space, in Oakland on Thursday, March 23, 2017.
Maddie Moyta, 25, of Uptown, introduces herself during a workshop on building lamps inside of Prototype, a feminist maker space, in Oakland on Thursday, March 23, 2017.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Maddie Moyta, 25, of Uptown, introduces herself during a workshop on building lamps inside of Prototype, a feminist maker space, in Oakland on Thursday, March 23, 2017.
Naomi Chambers, of Swissvale, leads a workshop on building lamps inside of Prototype, a feminist maker space, in Oakland on Thursday, March 23, 2017.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Naomi Chambers, of Swissvale, leads a workshop on building lamps inside of Prototype, a feminist maker space, in Oakland on Thursday, March 23, 2017.
Naomi Chambers, of Swissvale, leads a workshop as her daughter Dodi Chambers, 8 months, looks up at class participants inside of Prototype, a feminist maker space, in Oakland on Thursday, March 23, 2017.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Naomi Chambers, of Swissvale, leads a workshop as her daughter Dodi Chambers, 8 months, looks up at class participants inside of Prototype, a feminist maker space, in Oakland on Thursday, March 23, 2017.

Kelauni Cook isn't your typical software engineer.

And it's not because she learned how to code — and what computer coding was — a year ago or because she moved from North Dakota to Pittsburgh to learn it.

“I'm always the only black female,” Cook said.

At a recent panel discussion about technology and medicine, she was one of three black people and the only black woman in the crowd of about 60 people.

“I'm bringing together two communities that I feel there is a gap between,” she said.

Pittsburgh's Inclusive Innovation Week begins Friday. It's the city's latest push to make sure women, minorities, the poor and anyone else interested has a chance to participate in the city's blossoming tech community. The week spans nine days and includes more than 60 events.

A complete schedule of events is available online here .

They include a Saturday brunch hosted by Cook about including minorities in tech, a small business workshop with Google aimed at helping companies increase their search engine prominence and sessions on growing your handmade business, how to start a small business and how to market your business.

Dave Sevick, executive director of Computer Reach , a nonprofit he founded to give computers to needy communities, will host volunteers on the Fridays book-ending the week to refurbish machines and ready them for distribution. Computer Reach volunteers also will teach classes at a senior center in Banksville.

“If you're not included in the digital world, you're at a severe disadvantage,” Sevick said. “We feel that it's no longer a privilege; it's a right.”

RELATED: Pittsburgh nonprofit sends computers to Nicaragua in 2010

In 2015, the city launched its Road Map to Inclusion Innovation that included, among many other initiatives, plans for the first inclusive innovation week in 2016. Christine Marty, the city's Civic Innovation Specialist, said as other cities transformed into tech hubs, a huge gap formed between people who had the means to participate and people who did not.

“We're going to make sure that this just isn't about bringing Uber here and Amazon here,” Marty said. “We're going to make sure everyone can come along.”

The statistics on tech inclusion aren't flattering. It's a field dominated by white men, most of whom are fairly affluent. Companies such as Google, Apple and Uber have all acknowledged the need to hire a more diverse workforce, have more diverse leadership and make their products and services accessible to low-income and struggling communities.

Women make up less than 30 percent of the workforce at the country's top tech firms, according to documents filed by companies with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. Seven percent of that workforce is black, and black women make up 3 percent.

About 60 million Americans lack internet access at home, and poor families are much more likely not to be connected than affluent ones.

Statistics for Pittsburgh's tech sector weren't available. But people participating in the Inclusive Innovation Week said they hope that as the local tech industry continues to grow, the gap between those involved and those left behind does not. Erin Oldynski and Louise Larson, who this year founded Prototype , a feminist maker space, said there is value at looking at what has happened elsewhere. Pittsburgh can learn from it, Oldynski said.

“This is a conversation that's happening in Pittsburgh,” Larson said. “I don't know if it was happening a decade ago in San Francisco.”

Oldynski and Larson, who both also work at TechShop in Bakery Square , will host a discussion Saturday evening on women in tech. The pair said they have been encouraged by efforts in the city to promote inclusive innovation but added more could be done.

Women made up almost half of Carnegie Mellon University's incoming computer science students, setting a national record for gender diversity. Since 2008, about 51 percent of the startup companies that Innovation Works invests in, funds or assists through its seed fund and incubator programs are founded by women or minorities, according to data the organization provided.

Prototype has more than 150 members since it opened in January and was awarded a grant from The Sprout Fund as part of the organization's 100 Days of US initiative. TechShop will host more than 200 students from Homewood and Wilkinsburg during free summer camps this year, bringing students into a space they never thought was for them.

“We're helping to normalize it and we're helping to say, ‘You belong here,' ” Larson said.

Cook, too, is pleased with Pittsburgh's efforts but wants to see more done. Cook moved to the city about a year ago. She had been working for her sister's startup in North Dakota when a mentor from Microsoft suggested she learn to code. Cook started looking at coding boot camps but couldn't afford them. On a whim, she searched for a free boot camp and found one at Academy Pittsburgh in the city's Allentown neighborhood.

She moved to Pittsburgh in two weeks and took the course.

“I didn't know anything about the industry. I assumed that black people weren't in it because I didn't know any,” Cook said. “Then I started looking at statistics before I got into this, and I was thinking this is not going to be easy.”

Cook completed the boot camp and got a job working at the Washington Post as a software engineer. She's since returned to Pittsburgh to continue work as a software engineer and to promote diversity.

“I thoroughly in my heart believe that Pittsburgh is one of the nicest places I've ever been, in my opinion,” Cooke said. “I have been completely embraced by the tech community, which leads me to believe there are good intentions here.”

Aaron Aupperlee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach Aupperlee at aaupperlee@tribweb.com or 412-336-8448.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me