Mohammed Ali bridges the coding gap with Urban Coders

young man outside

The importance of coding in today’s tech-based world cannot be denied. We live in an era where business, information, communication and data storage are utterly reliant on systems of software created by lines of code. If we had not realized it before, the COVID-19 epidemic where our work and social contact have continued only because of technical and virtual world we have built has opened our eyes to the importance and power. Coding is a skill that many argue is now as important as reading and writing.

However, not everyone has access to coding education and the ability to gain this valuable skill for themselves.  Although it seems as if the campaigns to get students interested in coding are innumerable; it’s simply not the case that everyone is able to learn coding. In many communities, such as communities of color within cities, there is a reality of a ‘coding gap’ where computer science is not taught and students have no opportunity to learn it.

Mohammed Ali, a sophomore studying information technology, hopes to change that unfortunate reality. “Coding is an essential skill that everyone should know. Learning to code isn’t accessible for individuals in urban communities.”

In order to bridge these coding gaps, an issue that Ali believes is of utmost importance, he started an organization in 2017 called Urban Coders, which is a computer science education platform for students in elementary and middle schools.  In the past, Ali used his free time to volunteer teaching students in classroom coding; and the inequalities he discovered within coding education inspired him to create an organization to increase access. 

Ali taught New York City middle school students after their classes were over and helped them learn how to code. It’s these students he was teaching, Ali said, that are often left without education of important skills such as coding. He understands the value of coding because when he learned to code at a younger age knowing that skill helped him grow professionally and pave the way for his future career.

Urban Coders hopes to reach and educate these students through hosting coding camps in cities. This past winter, the organization partnered with a nonprofit to host a computer science camp in South Bronx over students’ winter break.  This summer, they’re partnering with two nonprofits focused on empowering students of color to host a series of coding camps in New York City.

As he teaches these coding camps, Ali is also planning to expand Urban Coders. For the camps this summer, he’s created an original curriculum to teach from. He’s also looking to expand his team—in the past he has planned and taught all camps but now he’s working to add more teachers to his team so he can focus on outreach and managing his organization.  He’s passionate about his mission of increasing computer science education and helping students. Not only has Urban Coders contributed social change and positively impacted students’ lives, but it has also grown immensely. Originally it started out as Ali’s idea for a way to help students’ lives, but due to his hard work it has since grown into a successful company that Is part of the Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars at SU Libraries.

Especially now that we are, even temporarily, living lifestyles that are have almost wholly turned virtual; the necessity of educating our future generation to understand, maintain, and help create these technologies is paramount. Coding is the language our world today is built upon, and students should have access to learning that language. Organizations such as Ali’s Urban Coders are playing an essential role in educating the next generation and creating a progress-oriented world.

Story by Claire Howard, Blackstone LaunchPad Global Media Fellow Photo supplied