Former Times Square street Vendor turns software engineer and teaches thousands to code

Devin Jackson, CEO and co-founder of non-profit, "We Build Black." Photo: Courtesy of ABC News

Devin Jackson transitioned from selling tickets to tourists on Times Square to an engineer working for multiple large corporations while impacting black communities.

Disappointed with the discouraging number of Black engineers in the American tech space, Jackson sought to devise solutions to address the matter by giving back to society. In 2017, he co-founded “We Build Black” a non-profit organization that hosts meet-ups, training courses, and workshops for upcoming Black engineers.

Jackson told ABC News, “I became a software engineer and realized that I need to share the blessings with everybody around me, and you know, show my community essentially those freedoms.” He also shared that he used to feel annoyed about the fact that certain opportunities were not afforded to the Black community. Though he wanted to complain, he rather resorted to concretely taking action to make an impact.

“We Build Black” has a mission to empower the Black community to achieve socio-economic change through technical education and professional appointment. According to the organization’s website, they create opportunities for Black technologists to network, share skills, give and receive mentorship, and discover their next employer.

They seek to build a more equitable tech industry for themselves and the next generation by nurturing the existing community of Black technologists and creating pathways into tech.

The Business Insider reports that Jackson never went to high school or college; he sold graffiti t-shirts and comedy tickets on the streets of Times Square, and later left the streets to attend coding workshops. He received scholarships to enroll in Python and data-analysis boot camps and studied for multiple professional IT skill certifications. “It was nuts,” he said, “I was like I’m never doing anything else except for this.”

Jackson started his tech career in 2013 as an IT help-desk intern at the consulting firm, Accenture, and later got a job approximately a year later as a full-stack developer at a boutique-software firm in Brooklyn. Today, he works as a senior software engineer at the cannabis-tech firm, LeafLink, according to LinkedIn.

His non-profit has evolved from a one-man operation to a volunteer-run group that aims to support thousands of members looking to advance their professions. Jackson has led his company firmly believing that free career-development courses are more effective at aiding to seal the gap of racial wealth and breaking down institutional hurdles than diversity panels or any other thing that does not provide the community with hands-on skills.

Speaking to ABC News, Sheree Edmund, an autistic software engineer who enrolled in the program said, “It was a community, [and] an atmosphere where I didn’t feel like I had to hide who I was to fit in. And that made it a lot less stressful to be my authentic self.”

Even though We Build Black offers coding courses, mentorship, and networking events like other like-minded institutions, the company stands out with its community-focused approach to programming.

Since it launched six years ago, Jackson’s organization has raised millions of dollars, hosted many events, trained and helped over 3,000 members with their careers.

Jackson expressed that he wants to make sure people don’t have to go through the same financial obstacles that he had to face.

He encouraged others who may be using limited opportunities as a reason to discard their dreams of entering into the tech world, “You got to control what you can control at the end of the day, and what you control is yourself. So get to the grind.”

Last Edited by:Editor Updated: June 11, 2023


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