Spotlight on: Danny Rojas, Executive Vice President of All Star Code

Danny Rojas, Executive Vice President of All Star Code

Q: How did you hear about All Star Code?

A: One day while I was at General Assembly, I heard a lot of laughter in the main events space. It was intriguing, so I went out into the space and I saw about twenty young men of color, talking about code and celebrating failure. They must have been high school students, I thought. I was curious, it was 2017, it seemed pretty collegial, and I was like what is this event about?

It was an All Star Code site visit for one of their Summer Intensive cohorts. I learned about All Star Code in that way. I was curious about what they do, and I learned that they were a computer science nonprofit, focused on young men of color in high school! That really drew me in, particularly aligned with my passion for diversifying the tech talent pipeline. I just thought that wow, that’s really cool what All Star Code is focused on, and that’s how I got my first dose of All Star Code.

Q: Tell me a little bit about your work with General Assembly.

A: Being part of a growing startup when I joined GA in 2015 was an incredible experience and connection to a vibrant community of entrepreneurs, startups, change makers, and all things tech. Our mission was simple — help people find the work that they love.

I had two roles at GA. The first one was a client service director, responsible to lead engagement teams delivering custom enterprise education to top tier Fortune 500 companies. We help large organizations address the talent / digital skill gap for existing workers (those impacted by automation, machine learning, AI) and new employees (how can organizations recruit workers with job ready, digital skills).

My second role was as an Account Director, responsible to generate revenue and sales, focused on financial services and insurance companies. Our learning solutions — from data science, UX / design thinking, product management, to full stack web development — ranged from custom 1–2 day workshops to launching internal digital skills academies (3–4 months in duration).

Q: What industries did you see that were slowly being disrupted by digital?

A: Every.

Q: All of them?

A: Every industry. Our team was organized across sectors because disruption was happening across industries, and introduction of tech and digital meant new skills were necessary to acquire for career mobility and preservation.

Q: So you mentioned that part of your passion has been diversifying the tech talent pipeline. Where did you see that problem, or where did you become aware of that as a problem?

A: I personally lived it. As a Latino professional, consultant, engineer, and STEM student, I was always aware that there were few of “me” in the spaces that I operated in. I have always felt a responsibility to represent my community and serve as a voice for inclusion and equity.

Q: Representation in tech is an incredibly complex problem, it has a lot of different facets. What are a few of the reasons you think this happens?

A: A few things come to mind — access and exposure.

First off, even understanding that I could have a career in tech is one big barrier. The second is, once I do recognize that I think I like tech, I can’t access the education; maybe there’s a barrier there, right? When I think about full time immersive courses, it’s a $15,000–17,000 investment.

Q: It’s a lot of money and time.

A: And time more importantly. People have commitments, families, working more than one job, or may be underemployed. It’s a significant barrier for communities of color. Access and exposure are two of the biggest pieces that I think about as barriers.

Q: What made you make the jump from General Assembly to All Star Code? What drew you to this program specifically?

A: A few big things. One was the singular focus on boys and young men of color. I’m very much aware of the inspiring work of Girls Who Code and Black Girls Code — tackling and elevating the conversation around gender equity in tech continues to be so important for all. What hasn’t been as visible has been the work for boys and young men of color. Picking that lane was something that really attracted me to All Star Code.

I also sit on the board of trustees of my national fraternity, Phi Iota Alpha, which is a Latino fraternity that was founded in 1931. My role at ASC to build a community and network for our students is very much analogous to my responsibility in educating younger generations of my own Latino fraternity brothers. ASC’s use of the word “brotherhood” is very impactful, and explicit.

The third thing I would say attracted me is the programmatic model of actually having our students reside in technology companies like Google, Facebook, Goldman Sachs, etc., and giving them exposure to guest speakers and mentors. That, to me, is incredibly powerful: to put you out of your element, and to see the skyline and think do I really belong there? We’re actually putting you in there. That, to me, is another really attractive element.

Q: You were recently promoted to Executive Vice President of All Star Code after 3 months of joining the organization. Coming off the board retreat, where do you see the future for All Star Code? Like maybe in a year — let’s say a timeline of a year to five years?

A: Great question! While I don’t have a crystal ball or Magic 8-ball…actually I do have one at home, my son has one.

But for next year — to break down your question — in 12 months I see, number one, the Summer Intensive generating consistent and impactful results. Meaning that we’re able to measure each student — as soon as they come into the program — what they believe, their level of confidence, their mindset around how they grow, how they envision themselves in tech and in computer science and demonstrating a really significant upshot. I think a lot about results. I also see next year as a planning year, getting ready for scale. I would consider it sort of a priming year for improving our program, our processes internally, getting it really ready to go.

In five years…I mean, a personal mission for me has always has been how can I impact a million humans of this world before my time is expired. That’s my own sort of personal North Star. What am I doing every day to empower communities at scale?

In five years will we be positively affecting a million students? Probably not. But directionally, there is a big desire. We are talking about numbers that we have not talked about before — I won’t put a number on that, but I think it could be thousands. All Star Code and what we do is applicable in every community across the United States. I think we can replicate that. We can go big.

Q: Absolutely, and you know Christina mentioned the new mission — it’s not even a new mission, more like a refinement of our original mission. Can you speak to sort of why we’ve tweaked it?

A: Happy to. The two major additions or tweaks have been — previously, just to sort of read out the mission statement — it says All Star Code “creates economic opportunity by developing a new generation of entrepreneurs who have the tools they need to succeed in technology”. I think for the moment it made a lot of sense; a lot of our work was centered around a programs like Design in a Day, our Summer Intensives were very much creating widgets and creating new apps, and that hasn’t gone away. But what we’ve realized is that it’s the entrepreneurial mindset is what we’re developing in this new generation of All Star Code scholars. So it’s the mindset of an entrepreneur — the growth mindset, the hustle, the grind, celebrating failure, daring greatly.

The other is the need to succeed in technology and for us technology is not the end game. We recognize, as I mentioned before, disruption in technology is happening everywhere. So we thought we would change that to “succeed in a technological world”, whether you actually go into tech and work as software developer or become a radiologist and work with artificial intelligence work to improve patient outcomes. It is the world at large that is driven by technology that we want our generation of students to succeed in rather than just succeed in technology.

Q: One thing that’s come up a lot, in talking to us, is that for you in your story, models of success are really important. For young men (especially of color) who are looking towards technology, or towards just financial success or security, that having a good model of success is very useful. I was wondering if you had any when you were coming up through Deloitte, or GA, or as a kid?

A: Great question. A few things that I’ve picked up over the years — I manage a personal board of advisors that can counsel, coach, and respond to questions, keeping me grounded. They care about my career, well-being, and access to networks and resources to realize my career goals. I learn so much from them.

When I think about success, I think about sports. An individual basketball player can take as many shots as they can and become Steph Curry, and keep launching, but without a coach you could only get so far. To become an All Star, you really need an All Star coach, so I think for me, executive coaching is so important.

A big role model and model of success is my own father. From the immigrant hustle , entrepreneurship, and prioritizing family first. He taught me early about hard work, delivering excellent work, collaborating with others, and continual learning. But always prioritizing family above all.

Finally, re-evaluate what success means to you. Whether you are in a startup for 2 years or a consulting firm for 13 years (long time huh?), pursue work that brings you joy, learning, and impact.

Q: Our most recent SI just wrapped, and many of those All Stars will be going back to high school. Some of them will be applying to college, and so they’re in this weird pivotal moment in their lives, leaving one place and going towards an uncertain future. Any last advice that you’d give to our All Stars?

A: I have a lot to share on this topic and a lot of tidbits that I’ve picked up, but when I think about our All Star scholars…I’d say that number one, you are enough. A lot of our All Stars are entering environments that they’ve never been in, whether that’s college or getting ready for college, and sometimes we get this imposter syndrome where we feel like we’re not adequate. Take advantage of your growth mindset, persist, and tell your story. Remember that your ASC network will be here for you. We’re here for you, and we care about you, and we know you will be successful however you define it.