DURHAM — Back in 2014, Daisy Magnus-Aryitey was a stay-at-home mother looking to re-enter to the workforce. But she felt like she had few options.
Despite being older than the “typical student,” she applied to Code the Dream’s pilot program and, to her surprise, got accepted. Within a year, she was working as a full-time software developer at Duke University.
Fast forward to today: She’s the organization’s newly appointed co-executive director. She now joins executive director Dan Rearick in leading day-to-day operations and mapping the path for the fast-growing non-profit.
Launched in 2015, Code the Dream (CTD) provides free training to those underrepresented in tech fields, including immigrants, low-income individuals, people of color, and women.
“This organization, its people and mission, have a special place in my heart,” said Magnus-Aryitey, a native Ghana who moved to the US when she was four and relocated to North Carolina in 2009.
“I’m proud of the work that we’ve done thus far, and I’m energized thinking about what’s next.”
WRAL TechWire’s Chantal Allam recently had the chance to chat with her. Here’s what she had to say:
- Congrats on the new role as Code the Dream’s co-executive. Given that you graduated from Code the Dream’s pilot program back in 2015, what does this new leadership role mean to you on a personal level?
Magnus-Aryitey: Thank you! I’m deeply grateful and so excited. I took my first coding classes with CTD and became a software developer at Duke University before returning again to CTD to help impact more lives.
On a personal level, I find it wonderful that our leadership reflects our community. It’s not just me — many of the people running the organization have risen up through the ranks after completing CTD classes, and most of the people running CTD reflect the underrepresented communities that deserve a voice in the tech world. I’m proud to be part of an organization that leads by example.
- The organization has experienced exponential growth in the last two years. Tell us about that (give stats/numbers, if possible), and what your vision is going forward.
Magnus-Aryitey: Our growth has been really phenomenal. Even beyond what we had imagined — and we have some pretty big imaginations! Code the Dream has grown by over 500% since 2018 to now serve students in 17 states. Last year alone, we worked on over 3 dozen apps that serve people in Triangle and all across the country. But despite the rapid growth, demand for CTD continues to far outpace capacity. Going forward, we want to grow our capacity through strategic partnerships with the goal of reaching even more participants in the coming years. In addition, we want to continue to build those incredible tech projects that serve marginalized communities.
The program itself has changed and grown dramatically, but we haven’t strayed from the central idea that fuels CTD. We are still serving primarily people from diverse, low-income backgrounds. In 2021, our community looked like this: 80% people of color, 88% low-income, and 53% women or gender nonbinary. Code the Dream envisions a world in which tech innovation comes from all of us and benefits all of us.
- Take us back to the beginning. How did CTD get started? What does the program entail? Do you need a college degree?
Magnus-Aryitey: Since the beginning, we’ve wanted to increase accessibility to tech careers by providing free coding classes. Over time, we realized that having the education was great, but people also needed real-world experience so we developed CTD Labs as a way for people to grow their tech skills under the direction of top-notch developers. And CTD Labs generally develops public interest tech, which allows us to increase our impact on underserved communities.
CTD offers free courses in web development using modern, popular languages and frameworks. We work with industry leaders to design and build curriculum that prepares students for software development positions at top companies. After classes, some students are invited to participate in a paid apprenticeship in our in-house development shop, CTD Labs, where they get hands-on training by working alongside senior developers building real apps that address issues such as food insecurity, criminal justice reform and access to education.
No, you don’t need a college degree to be in our program!
- How did you get a spot in the inaugural class? What’s your personal journey been like?
Magnus-Aryitey: I was a stay-at-home mom before becoming a developer. As my kids were getting older, I knew I wanted to return back to work — but being out of the workforce for so long, it didn’t feel like I had many good options. I read an article about software development as a career and immediately became fixated on the idea of becoming a software developer. When I heard about Code the Dream, their classes were open to high school students and people in their early twenties. I was way out of that age group, but I applied. We keep all the applications submitted over the years and I recently went back to look at mine. In my application I said something to the effect of “I know I’m a little older than your typical student, but if you give me a chance I know I’ll take this opportunity and absolutely run with it.” I was accepted into the class which started in January of 2015. By October of that year I was working at Duke University as a software developer.
- According to Data USA, the average American software developer is about 40-years-old and earns $109,309 per year. They are also overwhelmingly male—about 81 percent of developers identify male—and white. Why is it so important to train people of color and immigrants to become software developers?
Magnus-Aryitey: We know that if we want to solve complex, real-world problems we need people from diverse backgrounds deeply involved at every step of the way to help build new technology that makes a difference. Innovation requires different points of view and thrives on diverse perspectives. So giving these sharp, driven minds a place to be productive benefits us all. But it’s also the right thing to do — there is no good reason for the tech industry to be excluding so many people, and changing that addresses crucial issues like income inequality and access to health care.
- What advice would you give to someone who is currently out of the labor market, and is looking to make the leap into software development?
Magnus-Aryitey: To anyone who is thinking of making the leap into this career, I say go for it! There are lots of excellent and free online resources to get you started. Before you dive in though, set yourself up for success. You want to experience what education theorists call “durable learning”, or deep and lasting knowledge retention. In other words, as you’re going through tutorials you don’t want the information to go in one ear and out the other! To that end, I always recommend two things: first, that people focus on one coding language at a time and, second, that they find a community to learn with.