A job in technology is like a shiny gem, with each facet representing job benefits such as societal respect for what you do, upward mobility, pleasant working conditions, portable skills, and a chance for an individual to help their community. For many, getting into such jobs or developing the skills necessary for future employment in technology is not an effort that can be made alone.
The Black Codes is a tech resource that caters to Black members of the Greater Nashville area. According to its website, the company “strives to empower and position our community to be leaders in the tech industry.” Through planned events such as their “Hack Nights” and networking-while-dining “Code Brunches,” The Black Codes advocates the three pillars of their organization, which are “Culture, Community, Code.” They aspire not only to educate community members, but to create job opportunities for them as well. Via their podcast content of the same name, The Black Codes highlights talented people in the area who are relevant to the Black technology community and covers topics that may not make the regular news cycle.
The website for The Black Codes explains the name of the organization by way of connecting it to historical realities faced by the Black community, stating, “The Black Codes, sometimes called Black Laws, were laws governing the conduct of African Americans. The best known of them were passed in 1865 and 1866 by Southern states, after the American Civil War, in order to restrict African Americans’ freedom, and to compel them to work for low wages.” The site adds that the Black Codes were updated laws governing former slaves, and that these rules “were part of a larger pattern of whites trying to maintain political dominance and suppress the freedmen.”
The Black Codes collective is co-founded by four Black developers, which are CMO Calvin Foster, COO Trevor Guinn, CFO Glenn Dixon, and CEO Tony Fletcher. Trevor is a self-taught developer who serves as an instructor for both Pivot Technology School and a Black Tech Ecosystem Builder Fellow for Black Tech Futures Research Institute. He tells Launch Engine that The Black Codes was an idea that started back in 2016, with his involvement in a similar tech Nashville group, Black in Tech. At that time, he, Glenn, Calvin, and Tony were all highly motivated coding enthusiasts looking for a formal space where they could do coding work and learn.
“The group was not necessarily geared towards that,” Trevor explains. “It was more towards the startups and venture capitalists. People who… were raising funds for their tech startup business. That’s not necessarily what we were looking for. We were just looking for a place to grow our skill set.”
Trevor recalls that within that group, there were a lot of coders and developers who had a desire to learn. Recognizing an opportunity, the four decided that a separate community just for coders was in order. As a result, they decided to make a Slack group for the coders in that group, and invited them to do coding challenges to build their skills. They also envisioned the group as a place to share resources.
Over a period of three years, the Slack community grew into something much more. Trevor says it’s not quite an official entity, and more like a movement that’s grown into a loose affiliation. He says, “I think we started off as… more of an organization… Recently, we did start a business side. Because what we wanted to do was take the community that we had, and start looking to provide opportunity for [members to make money], and what that looks like in the sense of seeking out government contracts, as far as providing those for the people in our group. Because I know… we’re in a time now where diversity and inclusion has become sort of a buzz.”
Calvin says that both the business and the friendship between the four principals of The Black Codes were strengthened through the bond of coding. He had previously known Glenn, but a need to build a professional website for the business pushed Calvin to find two other steadfast project partners in Tony and Trevor.
Aside from finding a brotherhood of people who share the same interests and skills, Calvin likes the sense of personal pride he gets from being a coder. He says of the group’s combined skillsets, “One thing I like about code is that you can create something out of nothing as well… We’re pretty much like wizards!”
In many ways, the relationships that form are based on similar backgrounds and interests. Trevor explains that a lot of the developers in The Black Codes are alumni of Nashville Software School or coding boot camps, and that he’s found that a lot of the companies hiring in the area aren’t necessarily willing to take a risk on a junior developer. He says that there has to be an in-between vehicle to help such people caught in that vocational gap to get the experience they need. This is where The Black Codes comes into play.
As the four co-founders of The Black Codes were all beneficiaries of great teachers and mentors, they want to continue that chain of mentorship/apprenticeship by creating a safe place for Black coders in the Nashville community to learn from someone else. Trevor says that Tony was a mentor for the three of them, since he had the most seniority in the group. He had previously created a few applications and helped to start tech businesses on his own.
“We were really able to lean on him for guidance and navigation throughout this,” Trevor says. He adds that the various mentors that they’ve had have kept them honest by not babying them, giving them a realistic perspective of the software development business landscape, and pushing them to do better.
Dr. Teresa Vasquez—a Nashville technologist and co-founder of software platform Autism Possible—believes that The Black Codes is something that could have benefitted her when she started in technology. She explains, “The Black Codes creates a much needed space for Black techies in Nashville to come together to network and collaborate. I personally have found wonderful relationships and support through the group and have loved the authenticity and hospitality that comes from the leadership team, which also permeates through the members.
We share and support each other in code, design, and life. I cannot express how proud I am that this group exists and that I get to contribute to the growth of Black technologists by being a member.”
Regarding the potential for future content from The Black Codes, there are a lot of topics that the organization’s podcast could cover. There’s a lot of work that remains to be done for Black coders to get the know-how they need—and not just from the coding side of things. Glenn speaks to this untapped potential of what the podcast could bring in 2021, sharing, “I can definitely see us having a conversation… Discussing the business side of tech later on down the road… I haven’t personally seen anybody talk about the business side of tech. It’s scarce.” This could include a number of topics, like approaching an investment project from the perspective of a coder, or the general tricks of capitalism coders should know about business.