CommunityCode: One Mlter’s story on the way he is giving back to his community
By Hugh Martin, MLTer
A native of Anderson, South Carolina and a graduate of Harvard University, MLTer Hugh Martin has always recognized the significance of giving back to his community. Growing up in a small town with limited access to tech resources, Hugh knew the importance of returning home after college to help make a change. The result of this change; CommunityCode. Read our interview with him to learn all about CommunityCode and his goals for the program.
What is CommunityCode?
CommunityCode is an edTech company that offers teachers professional development, I.T. fundamentals, and life skills training to ultimately introduce students to opportunities in STEM-related fields. Our programs are for teachers and students. We facilitate I.T. awareness events at schools and community centers, offer customizable afterschool programs and also offer educational and engaging summer camps for students. Thus far, we have reached 2600+ students, 100+ teachers, and 800+ community members in 3 states. The vast majority of our students are females and ethnic minorities—groups that have historically been underrepresented in STEM fields.
What inspired you to start CommunityCode?
After I finished college, it was important to me to return to my hometown. I felt it was important to use what I learned in school to try to improve the communities in which I was raised.
While I was home one summer, I spent time mentoring at various youth programs and children’s residential homes in our area. Those interactions caused me to reflect on my own experiences as a youth. They made me remember the enthusiasm I once had to learn things like how computers worked, and how to program them. They also made me remember the discouraged feeling I felt when I wasn’t able to find resources, mentors, or avenues readily available to engage that interest.
I co-founded CommunityCode in 2013 to prevent that from ever happening again.
We want to provide any student who wants to learn with access to high-quality resources, mentors and a supportive environment to further their interests in STEM. Moreover, the White House has said that there are nearly half a million high-paying tech jobs open in the US today, and that this figure is expected to more than double within the next 4 years. Some estimates nevertheless suggest that 75% of US schools don’t offer computer science courses with programming, and many of the schools largely serving minority communities lack the resources to meaningfully address this. There’s no reason that minority students shouldn’t be able to take advantage of these lucrative tech career opportunities in the future, but that process begins with increasing awareness and granting them access to resources, mentors, and support structures—in their communities—that can cultivate their interests at an early age.
What are some challenges you faced along the way in building CommunityCode and how were you able to push through them?
Early on, I was deeply involved with the classroom instruction in our programs. Standing on the other side of the classroom was fun, but challenging! I have always thought highly of educators, but I have so much more respect for the work that teachers do after those experiences. I’ll admit that on a few occasions, I questioned whether I was really getting through to our students, and whether I personally was making the kind of difference that we had envisioned. It didn’t happen right away, but little things like having one of the students give me a high-five and say “Thank you!” and witnessing the sense of accomplishment on their faces after they had just solved a big problem or presented their projects—let me know that our efforts had not been in vain. I have learned a lot since then, but those interactions continue to guide our teams’ steps to this day.
What do you hope for CommunityCode in the future?
Today’s programmers are tomorrow’s problem solvers, and my hope is that the lessons they learn in our programs—how to push through adversity, how to work in teams, and how to share their ideas—will help our students to be successful in many areas of their lives.
On an organizational level, we want to see CommunityCode programs operating around the country, using a new educational approach to transform local communities and inspire students to rethink what’s possible.
I want to continue building a career as an executive in the technology industry, and I think that it’s important for people from our generation in the sector to play an inclusive, active role in shaping the kind of future for the industry that we want to be a part of.
How has the MLT network served as a resource for you?
Whether it’s strategic insight into a new market, a strong referral for an employment opportunity, or just a pleasant text or phone call from a coach or other fellow, MLT has been a great source of support for our organization thus far. Perhaps the best thing about MLT however, has been having access to so many talented people from a variety of industries and with various experience levels and backgrounds. Being able to tap into that knowledge base, and having the opportunity to hear the perspectives of diverse students and professionals from around the country during various stages of our organization’s growth has been a huge advantage for Community Code.
What advice would you give to those who are interested in pursuing entrepreneurial goals in the social sector?
I would recommend that students interested in becoming entrepreneurs take advantage of opportunities to speak with other entrepreneurs, and gain experience in an entrepreneurial environment (perhaps as a volunteer, intern or early employee, if possible). There really is no substitute for immersing yourself in a startup environment, to get a true feel for the flexible nature and speed of a startup, in addition to the skills needed to be successful in that arena.
For those students who have had that experience and are committed to pursuing an entrepreneurial path, my advice is to embrace the unconventional. It’s hard to innovate by doing things the way that they have always been done, or to reimagine things by always following conventional wisdom. If you can find comfort in straying from the beaten path every now and then without being shaken, MLT’s programs can be a great support system for you and your business.