Transforming an Aging House into a Tech Training Hub

Tufts alumni envision G{Code} House in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood as a place for young women and nonbinary people of color to live and learn skills to launch high-paying careers

The house on Hutchings Street has seen better days. Built in 1900, its white siding is now a grimy gray, and the periwinkle paint on its porch and columns is chipped and faded. Still, this battered Victorian in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood captivated Bridgette Wallace, AG11. Noting its more than 4,000 square feet of living space, plus a massive carriage house in the backyard, she looked beyond the peeling paint and collapsing ceilings and saw one thing: opportunity.

Wallace’s vision for the house was bigger than merely restoring it to its former grandeur. What if, she wondered, you created a space where people who were struggling to find housing could live and work? What if that place offered training for high-paying tech jobs and extensive career support? And what if you focused those efforts on serving Black, brown, and Indigenous young women and nonbinary people, who are historically underrepresented in technical careers? In 2019, she founded the nonprofit G{Code} to help make that vision a reality.

Wallace studied economic development and housing policy under James Jennings at Tufts and co-founded the urban planning firm Dudley Visions SkyLab, which worked to promote entrepreneurship at the Roxbury Innovation Center. Her career is informed by her life experience: She lives in Roxbury now and grew up in Boston during the 1970s, when desegregation of schools through busing led to protests and violence. As part of one of the first Black families to arrive in Boston’s Hyde Park, she watched as neighborhoods throughout the city hollowed out due to white flight.

“We couldn't even take the bus to Cleary Square because they would throw stones at us,” she recalled recently in the driveway of the Hutchings Street home, which she purchased in 2015.

From the start, Wallace has fought to bring the G{Code} vision to life. She had to go to housing court to purchase the house, which is in Roxbury’s Garrison-Trotter neighborhood, after its previous owner tried to reneg on the deal. After securing the house, she brought in grants, crowdfunding support, and sponsorships, and the design firm Sasaki signed on pro bono, but then the pandemic slowed her building plans.

So Wallace and her team, which now includes director of programming Rizel Scarlet and director of operations and partnerships Bailey Siber, A18, pivoted to create an online coding course. Today, the nonprofit has provided its Intro to G{Code} 10-week training to more than 50 young people, providing Zoom classes to three cohorts of students. All those students identified as people of color and nearly half had experienced housing instability or homelessness.

And now, finally, the group is mapping out the phase one build-out of what the Hutchings Street property will eventually become: the G{Code} House.

Architect David Supple, A02, the chief executive of New England Design & Construction, is planning to transform the carriage house into a training hub. The first floor, which still has the original horse stalls, will be reimagined as a tech center and computer lab. Upstairs, he’s designed an apartment for a program coordinator to live in, along with a COVID quarantine space. The group is close to its fundraising goal to cover the $850,000 cost of this phase of the project. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2022.

Eventually, the group plans to rebuild the main house to accommodate 14 students, who will live there for a two-year rotation while learning to code and focusing on personal and professional development. Stipends will be provided for food, transportation, and equipment, and the students will intern at partnering tech companies in Boston. Wallace anticipates the renovations will top $2 million.

Supple said the carriage house will set up the foundation for the group’s future. “It's incredibly inspiring to know what they're going to be able to do when they actually have a space from which to grow,” he said.

The neighbors on Hutchings Street were skeptical at first. There are already several group homes along the block and some worried that the G{Code} House would be more of the same, Wallace said. Others were concerned about gentrification. Wallace explained that the house’s aim was to subvert displacement and provide opportunities for young people within the community. “Instead of looking at tech companies as the adversary, or something to be feared, why can’t we partner with them?”

Aiming to create a pipeline for its students, G{Code} has linked up with tech teams at HubSpot, Pega Systems, Toast, and Wayfair (the home goods giant will also be furnishing the carriage house). Roughly 80% of Intro to G{Code} graduates have gone on to other elite coding programs or landed desirable jobs at sites like the Broad Institute and Vertex Pharmaceuticals.

“It’s one of the best experiences that I’ve had so far,” said Finesse Stevens, 28, who enrolled in an Intro to G{Code} cohort from California last summer. She has continued her tech training, she said, and she and her cohort peers keep in touch on Slack almost daily.

“That’s a really big advantage in tech,” she said. “You have to know people, so that when you have all the skills, someone can vouch for you and know you can learn it. That’s what can take you to the next level.”

Jasmine Bien-Aime, 30, said that G{Code}’s approach stood out from other Boston coding camps she’s taken part in. “It was a smaller setting, and I was able to ask questions, especially about expectations” in this line of work, she said. She believes the training center and house will provide future students with even more support. “Having a stable environment, and even things such as WiFi, is essential,” she said.

Siber said many tech bootcamps can be “pretty intense and also pretty isolating, especially if you're a woman and/or a person of color.” Creating a place where both the students and the curriculum facilitators are women and nonbinary people of color “creates a different, empowering learning environment,” she said.

Yes, it’s about learning Javascript, she said, but it’s also about helping the students manage the “pivot into tech, which is often, for a lot of folks, even harder than learning how to code.”

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