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Big Dreams Meet Big Opportunity.

Daly City doesn’t get as hot as Baltimore, says Perry Ogwuche, a rising senior majoring in computer science and mathematics. This is the first time he has been to California, but he’s not there on vacation. Ogwuche and Randi Williams ’16, computer engineering, are spending their summer hard at work as members of the second class of CODE2040 fellows.

CODE2040 is a fellowship program designed to help black and Latino students advance their careers as technology professionals. “Just taking CS [computer science] classes is not enough to build a career in Silicon Valley, New York and some of these other tech hubs,” says Amy Schapiro, manager of program operations at CODE2040. “The industry is looking for people that show a lot of initiative and passion for their work.”

The program focuses on black and Latino talent because there is a visible lack of proportional representation and diversity in technology companies. This is important, Schapiro says, because having a team with different perspectives can mean the difference between success and failure in developing solutions to complex problems.

As two of 18 CODE2040 fellows, Ogwuche and Williams put UMBC in a class with MIT, Carnegie Mellon and Stanford as the only universities to have more than one student receive this prestigious fellowship.

CODE2040 fellows work full-time in internships with some of the hottest startups in the San Francisco Bay Area and participate in special programming to promote their career development. Students visit companies such as LinkedIn and Google, and the program provides a speaker series, mentorship from industry professionals, and executive coaching on a group and individual basis. “What they get out of those resources by the end of the summer is a comprehensive view of the opportunities in the tech industry,” Schapiro notes.

"I wake up daily with a heart of gratitude toward the founders of the program,” says Ogwuche. “We've had the opportunity to meet so many inspiring leaders in the tech space, from high tech entrepreneur and venture capitalist Ben Horowitz to the founders of Dropbox and Piazza. I can’t imagine expanding my professional network on my own in such a short period of time."

“It’s pretty cool,” says Williams. “We got to talk to the founder of DropBox. We get to have one-on-one conversations [with technology professionals] and they give us advice on things like how to start a business. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

The internship is the most time-intensive component of the program. Ogwuche is working at Redbeacon, a technology firm that connects home-service professionals with job requests from homeowners. Ogwuche is a software engineer and spends his days writing code. “It’s definitely a learning experience,” he says, “I face some challenging problems, but I have a lot of resources and a lot of help.”

Williams is interning with Jawbone, a wearable device and audio technology company known for its noise-eliminating Bluetooth headsets. She is working in web development and maintaining the company’s server. In the process, she’s developing important skills, including learning to code in CSS, HTML and Python. But she says that what she likes most about the program is how it emphasizes giving back. Fellows participate in community service projects around the Bay Area and alumni continue to stay involved with the program as mentors.

What’s next? Williams, a Meyerhoff scholar and Center for Women In Technology (CWIT) affiliate, dreams of having her own company someday. Ogwuche’s plans are more immediate. He shares, “I’m looking forward to coming back and being an ambassador on campus for the CODE2040 program.”

UMBC students interested in applying for the CODE2040 fellowship in 2014 should visit the CODE2040 website.

(7/12/13)