PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia’s technology industry is growing fast, with high salaries and big opportunities available for those interested to take advantage.
However, there’s also a big problem.
“Only 2.5% of tech workers are African Americans,” says Sylvester Mobley, “there’s opportunity, but children of color are being left out.”
Mobley is an Iraq War vet who spent time serving in three branches of the armed forces. He got into the Air Force Reserves working in computer network and Cryptographic switching systems.
The Lankenau High School grad eventually went to Temple University and when he finally left the military, he decided to make a change in the industry.
“It’s critical that we are not left behind,” says Mobley, a father of three.
In 2012, he founded Coded by Kids, a youth technology education program with one goal:
“To make software engineering and coding as accessible as youth sports are for kids,” says Mobley, “so that every kid in every neighborhood has the opportunity to learn about technology.”
Volunteer programmers and engineers teach the classes at two Philadelphia recreation centers, including the Marian Anderson Rec Center in South Philadelphia.
Kids from age 5 to 18 learn about web development, coding and user interface design.
“With it being in rec centers in a community– we’ve removed all barriers,” says Mobley, “cost isn’t a barrier, location isn’t a barrier.”
Last year, Coded for Kids taught 200 kids and are on track to reach more than 300 in 2017. Mobley even raised $25,000 through an online crowd funding campaign, but there are challenges.
“We need computers,” he says, “we need volunteers to do classroom management– we need money.”
But even with the challenges- the program is growing.
“To see what the kids are learning, to see the opportunities they have in front of them- it’s definitely a good feeling,” says Mobley, “but there are still a lot of kids that are not getting this opportunity, and they need it.”
Software engineering and programming have few African Americans, and yet the fields are high growth. Mobley is hoping that by introducing kids from Philadelphia to the language and culture of the tech industry, they’ll think about these jobs and be able to be successful in them.
“There’s a lot of opportunity for people who have the skills but don’t have a degree,” says Mobley.
Many of the jobs pay above $80,000. In just a few years, Coded for Kids have already seen early success. Two of their students participated in technology competitions, experimenting with start-up technology and venture capital.
Mobley wants to bring this type of experience to kids throughout Philadelphia.
“I am bringing something that has traditionally been out of touch for our kids, and I am bringing it to every neighborhood,” says Mobley.
He’s changing the game by bringing coding to the inner city. But he’s not done yet.
Today, Coded by Kids is in two rec centers and 15 schools and they are expanding. By next fall, they’ll be in four rec centers and 20 schools.
“It’s imperative and critical that we are not left behind,” he says.
For more on Mobley and his organization, go to www.codedbykids.com.