When Narayan and the rest of the Code the Dream delegation walked into GSK’s Triangle headquarters to receive the 2019 IMPACT Award, the space looked familiar to him, but not for the reasons you might think.
Looking across the cavernous wood-paneled auditorium and out into the lobby encased in towering glass windows, Narayan, a full-stack developer at Code the Dream, told us he’d been to the GSK building once before. It was nearly a decade ago, when Narayan had only been in the United States for two years. At the time he was not at the GSK building to receive an award, he was there to apply for a job on the custodial staff.
Narayan immigrated to the United States from his home country of Nepal in 2008 and began looking for ways to support his family. He knew that he wanted a professional career, but was struggling to find the right fit for him. In the meantime, Narayan worked at McDonald’s while taking some classes at a community college.
Looking for a new job, Narayan found himself applying for a custodial staff position at GSK, a company he had heard of in Nepal. Narayan worked the night shift, vacuuming offices from 5 p.m. to midnight each day. Once he was done with one building, he would load up his vacuum in his car and move on to the next. The nights were marked by the dull roar of the vacuum and the emptiness of the deserted office buildings.
“I knew this wasn’t what I wanted to do forever,” Narayan told me, so he began looking for opportunities to try something new. A community college professor told Narayan about Code the Dream, so he excitedly applied for our spring 2017 Ruby Basics class.
Narayan was accepted to the class and began his new career as a computer programmer. While the class was difficult at first, he slowly started to find his groove, and upon finishing the class Narayan joined Code the Dream Labs as a full-stack developer.
Even then nothing came easily. “I was not able to contribute at all at first,” Narayan told me, “I didn’t know what to do.” But through working with the other interns at Code the Dream and steadily making his way through new material, Narayan got better and better at coding: “The internship gave me a lot of chances to go through tutorials … that’s what helped me a lot.”
Today, Narayan has been with Code the Dream for nearly two years and is on a team developing web and mobile apps for social justice organizations in North Carolina. Thinking about his future career prospects, Narayan says that wants to get a job building apps that make people’s lives easier. Through this process, Narayan is proud to be a part of Code the Dream.
Code the Dream is not just for one person, it’s for all underrepresented communities, for all undocumented people. It feels good to be part of this organization.
Looking back on his journey, Narayan sees the return to the GSK building as a symbol of what he has been able to accomplish. “It felt so good to be there,” he said. “Ten years ago I was there filling out an application for a custodial job, but now I was able to return as part of a non-profit receiving their award! It will be so nice to look back in the future and show my kids how far I’ve come.”
This story sticks with me as Code the Dream begins our end of year fundraising. Avenues to success in the tech sector have traditionally been closed to people like Narayan, people who are immigrants, who don’t have a college degree, who don’t have extensive connections or experience.
Code the Dream exists because we believe that the tech sector, and our economy as a whole, benefits when people like Narayan have seats at the table. When tech companies hire diverse staff, the technology they produce is more effective at serving all communities. We’ve seen this firsthand as our program graduates land job placements at major tech companies like IBM and Cisco.
Your support of our work makes this possible, and it helps us give Narayan and other students the skills and experience to be successful in the tech industry. Together, we not only make a difference in the lives of our students, but we also make an invaluable impact on the broader community.
In her acceptance speech at the GSK Awards, our Director of Programs, Daisy Magnus-Aryitey, quoted Dr. Mae Jemison, the first black woman to travel in space:
Once I got into space, I was feeling very comfortable in the universe. I felt like I had a right to be anywhere in this universe, that I belonged here as much as any speck of stardust, and comet, any planet.
At Code the Dream, we are uniquely aware of barriers many people face entering into the tech industry. Tech has traditionally minimized the voices of immigrants, people of color, women, and people from low-income backgrounds. But the stories of Dr. Mae Jemison and Narayan remind us that our communities are stronger because people like them have fought to gain a seat at the table. Our collective success is directly related to our ability to include the voices of everyone, not incidental to it.
We belong here, and so do you.