“Does anyone know where the cloud is?” asks Wilfred Amuri, an engineer in the cloud platform team at Goldman Sachs.
About a dozen hands shoot up, the students patiently waiting to be called on to give their answers.
Amuri’s audience is a group of 25 rising high-school juniors and seniors from the New York area, gathered around a table in a conference room at Goldman’s headquarters in downtown New York City.
They are engaging in a lively conversation on topics such as infrastructure, virtual machines, application servers, and the cloud.
These students, many clad in blazers and ties, are in their fifth week of a six-week summer immersion program run by All Star Code (ASC).
ASC is a nonprofit organisation founded in 2013 by Christina Lewis Halpern, daughter of Reginald Lewis, the prominent African-American lawyer and businessman who inspired her efforts. The program provides mentorship, tech-industry exposure, and intensive computer-science training to high-school boys of colour, hoping to close the opportunity gap in the tech industry for this underrepresented group.
Acceptance is need-blind, with more than half of the participating students coming from low-income families.
Goldman Sachs is one of the sponsors of the program, and this is the first year the firm has hosted a group of ASC students for a summer program. Goldman provides the classrooms, food, and resources, and it even donates a laptop to every student participant.
The partnership began three years ago, when Valentino Carlotti, the global head of human capital management for the investment banking and merchant banking divisions at Goldman Sachs, first met Halpern and learned what the organisation was trying to achieve.
“She had me at ‘Hello,'” Carlotti recently told Business Insider.
Carlotti, a black male alumnus of Yale and Harvard Business School, said he didn’t see many people like him in the schools he went to.
Wall Street, and Goldman Sachs, are also dominated by white men. Only 2.7% of Goldman Sachs’ senior executives in the US are black, while 83.6% are white.
The partnership also comes as Goldman Sachs pitches itself as a tech company. The bank’s technology division makes up more than a third of the firm, or about 11,000 people, and the company is focused on hiring top tech talent.
Each week of the ASC curriculum focuses on a different subject, from computing to robotics, video games to graphics, physical computing to apps and APIs, and final projects.
Field trips include tours of Yahoo, Uber, and Twitter. The program also offers weekly mentoring sessions, external speakers, and sessions with senior employees across the firm on a range of topics.
ASC lines up well with Goldman Sachs’ values and mission, Carlotti said, citing “the pursuit of excellence, performing to the best of your ability, being thorough, being rigorous, and having an open mind-set.”
That is the reason it was such any easy sell to get support for the program from everyone from partners to analysts at the firm. The summer intensive is also sponsored by the firm’s internal black, Latino, and Hispanic affinity network.
The mission of ASC extends beyond building a skill set of coding and expertise in computer science.
Along with industry exposure comes skills in leadership and resilience. The kids share ideas and learn how to fail.
The goal of the program is to provide kids with encouragement and a belief that they can pursue anything that they’re passionate about, regardless of race or background. “You approach things in a whole different way when people engage with you that way,” Carlotti said.
The kids at ASC are taught to celebrate failure. If they code and it doesn’t work, or if the program crashes, they are taught to yell out, “I have failed!” and the whole class claps.
The mentality is that if you’re not failing, you’re not pushing hard enough. “It’s important to look at failure as a learning opportunity and a step along the way to progress,” Carlotti added.
Many of the boys have limited resources and access to technology, but Carlotti believes the places they come from often build up a unique strength they can actually leverage.
“It could actually be an advantage if you have a different mind-set,” he said.
Aside from pioneering the partnership with ASC, Carlotti is actively involved with the running of the program. He recently gave a fireside chat with another Goldman partner in which they discussed their own careers as well as lessons they learned, challenges, passion, and resolution. He also kicked off the program to welcome participants to Goldman Sachs and has tried a hand at coding himself.
He often stops and checks in with them to see how they’re getting on.
“When I get together with them, it’s incredible the amount of inspiration I get, and the reminder of how I felt during my own journey,” he said. “You see that in them and it comes right back to you.”
Earlier this month, on August 6, ASC held its third annual benefit out in East Hampton at the residence owned by the Lewis family, raising almost $800,000 for the program. More than 400 people attended, including 40 to 50 employees from the firm ranging from analysts to partners and about 30 current ASC code students and alumni. The kids set up their final projects and exhibitions at the fund-raiser and mingled with guests.
The kids from ASC have gone on to intern in the tech and finance worlds, organise their own hackathons, and form companies.
“I think these young men have what it takes,” Carlotti said. “I hope I can hire some of them some day.”
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