YesWeCode's Van Jones on The State of Silicon Valley
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YesWeCode’s Van Jones on The State of Silicon Valley

Head shot of Van Jones
Former White House Special Advisor and #YesWeCode founder Van Jones

Former White House Special Advisor and #YesWeCode founder Van Jones sat with Black Enterprise during the Rainbow Push Economic Summit.

Q: Why are there so many organizations dedicated to teaching coding?

A: I don’t see any issue at all. It’s only when you’re trying to help people of color that everyone wants there to be just one thing. How many different tech companies are there? Incubators? Venture capitalists? With every other thing, the more the merrier. but when it comes to creating on-ramps for our communities somehow monocropping is the way to go. I think all these groups are very different, They do different things well. For instance, #YesWeCode doesn’t teach coding at all.

We help people who do teach coding by directing money and support to them. We’re not a training organization, we’re an intermediary organization that supports all those groups. We politically support them all and we practically support the ones that want our support. We’re going to have to build an ecosystem and there should be more, not fewer, efforts because for Native American girls there may need to be some special approach that really gets them inspired on the reservations.

That said, the challenge of scaling all this stuff is real. Finding enough qualified instructors. It’s a limited pot. Figuring out what you can put online and what has to happen face-to-face. Different groups are trying different things, trying to find different combinations. I think we’re still early in the model. If someone discovers something that works like gangbusters, they might be able to do a whole series of mergers and acquisitions and sweep the field based on success and excellence, but i don’t think anyone’s that far along.

Until there’s somebody that clearly solved this problem they just need to scale, then the idea that all the groups need to fold in, I mean, what do you fold in on the basis of? You could wind up with some mushy middle outcome, everybody says that to us. But which of the groups do you think should be the one? I don’t see division, I see a flowering of innovation trying to solve this problem for the next generation of people of color. You’re either gonna be coding or coded.

Q: I heard about your Glide talk about kids competing for NBA jobs instead of tech jobs.

A: To be successful, a community has to put maximum effort against maximum opportunity. You’ve got a million black kids trying out for jobs at the NBA, and 15 kids trying out for jobs in Silicon Valley. You’re gonna fail by design. That’s just stupid. That is our failure to realize where the opportunity is. If you had a million black kids trying out for a million jobs, we’d probably be alright.