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Black History Month 2020: Leon Noel cracks the code for economic opportunity in communities of color

Tech entrepreneur turned educator Leon Noel is working to close the wealth gap for people of color one line of code at a time.

Noel is the managing director of engineering at Resilient Coders. There, he is creating a curriculum, running an after school program and putting together a 15-week boot camp that trains anyone from any background on how to code.

Growing up in Philadelphia, raised by a single mom, Noel’s connection to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM, was tenuous at first. His family couldn’t afford a computer until a doctor at his mom’s job gave them one. Curious about how it worked, he took the computer apart.

“I remember one day [my mother] came home. She cried because it was in pieces all over the bedroom floor,” Noel said.

He eventually figured out how to put it back together.

Noel excelled in school and got a scholarship to Yale University. There, he used his computer coding and design skills and founded Social Sci, an online survey platform designed to assist scientific researchers. He opened offices in Boston.

After working for years in private industry, Noel came to Resilient Coders on a mission to give people of color a level of access to the tech industry they don’t always get.

“The two biggest things right now, in my opinion, are climate change and the wealth gap,” Noel said.

According to a White House report, the U.S. will need to add one million more STEM professionals to meet workforce needs. However, African-Americans are the least likely to enter the STEM field. Noel says that needs to change, adding, “the number one job for a black male and for males in about 24 different states is driver. You look at the number one job for black females, one of those is retail associate.”

The average yearly salary for graduates of the Resilient Coders program is $96,000.

Noel says, every time a graduate comes back to volunteer or just to re-connect, he’s reminded of the generosity he experienced as a young kid who took apart a computer and unlocked a career in STEM.

“STEM can be an equalizer,” says Noel. “To write code, you don’t need a degree. To write code, you need access to some technology, and you need access to a community of inpiduals that can help guide you, or give you the right resources to learn.”

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