DREAMer Learns to Code: How Sabio Is Diversifying Tech One Coder at a Time

Nov 7, 2014
2:27 PM

In 2013 when Luis Rivera received deferred action, he was ecstatic. Life was going to be totally different now, he thought, he wouldn’t have to lie anymore and it would be easier for him to get a better job. As it turned out, that wasn’t necessarily the case and the Riverside, California resident continued struggling to find work, bouncing between dead-end jobs, layoffs and nepotism.

Then one day, things changed.

Rivera was driving to a construction job when he heard about Sabio, a Los Angeles-based web developer program, on the radio while listening to NPR. Once he found out that the program was reasonably priced, nearby and after he spoke with the Latino co-founders, Liliana Monge and Gregorio Rojas (who are both immigrants themselves), “That was it,” Rivera said.

On October 6, Rivera and seven others began a full-time web developer program that is Sabio’s fourth cohort since launching last year. (Full disclosure: I am one of the seven.) In a year, the Latino-founded startup has trained five women, five Latinos, two African Americans and two people over the age of 50 as .NET full-stack software developers—these are all groups grossly underrepresented in the tech space. And that’s the whole point, said co-founder Rojas, who has worked as a developer for 15 years.

“In a short period of time, and together with our Fellows, we have demonstrated that that our underrepresentation in this field can be changed,” Roja add. “Given the opportunity, support and and proper direction, anyone can learn to code.”

Sabio’s current class, cohort four (again, which I’m a part of) is mostly Latino, meaning that after four classes Sabio will have created 10 Latino and Latina software engineers for the tech world.

And that’s the point.

Sabio’s mission is to diversify tech while empowering women and minorities to access higher paying jobs so that they, like Rojas, can enjoy the benefits of working in tech. Now in its second year, Sabio is making a huge push to recruit women to the 3-month full-time program, as well as the 6-month weekend program in 2015.

“We are really excited about the prospects of helping many more Latinas, and African American women become exceptional web developers. The tech industry is looking for talented, and diverse candidates, so this is the perfect time to join this thriving industry.” said Monge.

Liliana Monge and Gregorio Rojas

Liliana Monge and Gregorio Rojas

Rojas’ own trajectory into the tech world is part of Sabio’s motto that “Anyone can code.”

The Boston native and Colombian immigrant was working in sports medicine when he decided he needed a change. So, he began teaching himself VB Script while waiting tables; he built a website with the skills he taught himself and landed a job as a software developer. Fifteen years later, Rojas was a senior software developer who had worked for MySpace and TMZ and always wondered why there weren’t more Latinos, African Americans and women working alongside him.

“It never made sense to me. Once I realized what it really was about, I was convinced that the tech industry should make room for more people like me and that more people like me needed to consider this field. Now, with some perspective, Liliana and I are making that happen for the benefit our Fellows and the tech industry that really needs to bring more voices to the table if it is going to continue to innovate,” Rojas said.

On a recent afternoon, on break from building a web app to help Latinos register to vote, Rivera likened his coding experience to how he learned English: “They threw me into school, no ESL, so I’m used to it,” he said. Coding is a difficult and frustrating process, but Rivera said his family is excited for him and tell him to keep going.

Luis Rivera

Luis Rivera

“My dream is to get a good job and try to become a resident so I can go back to Mexico and visit my other family,” he said, adding that he also wants to be able to help support his mom and sisters financially. And as a musician, he hopes to be able to build an app to help self-taught musicians like himself write songs.

“I am the kind of person who, if I wanted to learn something, I just did it — like learning music. I just learned it; it was difficult, but, it’s kind of fun doing difficult things,” he said.

To learn more about Sabio, visit here.