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By Brian Latimer

Noting the tech industry boom, the Hispanic Heritage Foundation is mobilizing a team of Latino coders to travel to underserved school districts to inspire Hispanic youth to enter the tech industry.

“We hear from Silicon Valley that they cannot find Latino engineers,” said Alberto Avalos, the Innovation and Technology Program Manager at the HHF. “There are plenty of Latino and Latina engineers that are graduating, so we are taking them directly to Silicon Valley ourselves.”

The Hispanic Heritage Foundation, which was established by the White House in the 1980’s to recognize Latino leaders, organizes programs to prepare Hispanic youth entering rapidly growing industries. For the second year in a row, “Latinos On Fast Track” is holding the Code as a Second Language initiative to give Latino students, communities and entrepreneurs the tools their students need to enter the tech industry.

Attendees of the 2015 Code as a Second Language Summit.Hispanic Heritage Foundation

“We are not just consumers of tech, we are a community of creators,” Avalos said. “LOFT cultivates an ecosystem of Latino innovators by connecting them and challenging them to return to their communities to teach youth.”

The 2016 LOFT Coder Summit on Saturday will host aspiring coders, professionals and executives in the tech industry; half of the attendees are students. Avalos said 40 percent of the attendees are female to maximize inclusivity.

“We focus on gender balance so we can put extra outreach on the ground specifically for bringing Latina software engineers to the summit,” Avalos said. “At the end of the day, we as an organization do not just see this as the right thing to do in terms of diversity in tech, but as a value proposition for America. They are missing out on top talent.”

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Attendees are not the only ones who benefit from attending the summit, Avalos said. Code as Second Language fellows are trained to return to low-income communities to open or teach coding programs. Only 10 percent of U.S. public schools offer coding courses, Avalos said, so CSL experts are based in 20 U.S. states.

Attendees of the 2015 Code as a Second Language Summit.Hispanic Heritage Foundation

“We are mobilizing an army of Latino software engineers to create a network of coders ready to introduce programming across the country,” Avalos said. “Code as a Second Language fellows share their skills with underserved communities throughout the U.S. and prepare young Latino students with open source curriculum.”

LOFT cultivates an equal system of software engineers and innovators, while showing that Latinos are already coding and programming, and ready to work.

“In an increasingly digital future, computer science skills will be evermore critical to the success of tomorrow’s workforce,” Vandana Sikka, chairperson, Infosys Foundation USA, said in a statement. “We are proud to partner with the Hispanic Heritage Foundation to expand access to core coding skills and help strengthen the Latino programming community here in America.”

The summit will include speakers from tech companies known around the world. Jaqueline Huerta, a senior developer at Infosys will do her presentation in Spanish. Raquel Romano, a software engineer at Google, and founder of Latinas in Computing, will speak as well.

One example of the workshops is how do we create real solutions using virtual reality technology from video games, all while trying to enhance learning and education with technology.

"LOFT aims to create a collaborative environment for Latino software engineers," Avalos said. "A lot of the time Latino developers are alone at their companies, their schools, in classes or on their teams. LOFT aims to create a collaborative environment for Latino techies."

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