Detroit Hosts First Neighborhood Tech Talk in Cody Rouge

| Meghan Urisko, MSFT Chicago Civic Tech Fellow

On June 20th in the Cody Rouge neighborhood on Detroit’s far west side, the first Neighborhood Tech Talk was held in the basement of Grace Community Church. Hosted by Grand Circus, this event brought technologists and entrepreneurs of color to one of Detroit’s westside neighborhoods to talk about their paths to careers in tech. The term “neighborhoods” in Detroit typically refers to areas that have not seen the same kind of economic investment and growth as thriving areas such as Midtown, Downtown, and Corktown. This discussion series aims to increase diversity in Detroit’s growing tech scene and connect people in the neighborhoods with potential tech mentors.

Panelists Marlin Williams, Diversity and Inclusion Entrepreneur-in-Residence at TechTown and founder of Sisters Code, Justin Cook, Co-Founder of Pro:Up, Ashley Williams, founder and CEO of RIZZARR, And Monica Wheat, Lead at Detroit Startup Week and founder of Digerati Girls / Digerati Kids, talked about what led them to careers in tech.  They also discussed both positive and negative experiences they had as minorities in the industry.

An audience of about thirty people listened to the panel talk about computer science and entrepreneurship. For some panelists, their inspiration to pursue a career in tech came from the desire to build a business. Justin Cook told the audience how his idea for an app that helps students find job, volunteer, and scholarship opportunities came from working as a high school guidance counselor.  Other panelists echoed this sentiment, encouraging students to seek out solutions to challenges they face everyday because diverse perspectives identify a wider range of challenges and more innovative solutions.

The panel discussion was followed by a Q+A. Local community benefits advocates asked about opportunities to get coding programs started in the Cody Rouge neighborhood. While programs currently exist in Midtown and Downtown, due to inadequate public transportation, some Cody Rouge residents are unable to get to those locations. This concern highlights the need for increased access to computer science education programs in the neighborhoods.

At the end of the event, the panelists, all from Detroit, offered to connect and serve as mentors for students who may not have previously considered a career in tech. Studies have revealed the importance of having a mentor from a similar background who can empathize with and guide mentees through challenges they may face. Events like Tech Talks in the Neighborhood are an important part of creating a more diverse and inclusive tech community and providing opportunities for all Detroiters.

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