Mobile Apps Making a Difference

Last week New York City tech entrepreneur Patrick McConlogue made a bit of a clumsy splash onto the front pages of tech news outlets when he proposed a plan to teach the “unjustly” homeless how to code.  Initial reactions lambasted McConlogue for his arrogance and insensitivity, implying that homeless people need coding skills about as much as they need DVD players or beauty products.

But then a funny thing happened.  McConlogue’s “experiment” involved offering a homeless gentleman the choice between $100 cash and a free laptop with Java textbooks and coding lessons, and the gentlemen in question opted for the lessons.  It’s too early to know how it all might turn out, but it seems as though the press – quite rightly, we believe – is finally getting around to acknowledging that McConlogue is doing something to help the homeless, which is more than many of us can say.

On the other side of the country, something equally cool is underway.  In spite of having tried to rebrand itself as “South Los Angeles,” what was formerly known as “South Central” is still a pretty scary place for Angeleno youth.  And that’s where a non-profit program called Urban TxT (or URBAN Teens eXploring Technology) has stepped in to do what it can to improve the opportunities for kids living there.  The program focuses on 7th to 11th grades, and teaches students HTML5, CSS, Javascript, public speaking, business development, Photoshop, and PHP.  It doesn’t yet have a permanent headquarters, and its operating budget is woefully low, but the results are promising. Not only are students learning to develop mobile apps that address specific problems in their own neighborhoods, but every single one of its graduating seniors ends up in a four-year college.

Still, while the program is doing fantastic work, there remain some cultural issues that seem nearly incomprehensible to most of the rest of America.  One of the students, a 9th grader developing apps for the iPhone, was asked if he’d be interested in attending Stanford once he graduated high school.  He seemed reluctant at first, and when asked why, his answer proved as telling as it did heartbreaking: “In my neighborhood, if I wear red I’ll get shot.”

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