Codeboxx cohort uses tech skills for good

Officials at Codeboxx, a local technology training company, take pride in evolving program curricula and preparing students to become industry and community leaders.

As such, the St. Petersburg-based company collaborated with Social Ventures Tampa Bay and Tech4Good Tampa to hold its first hackathon Jan. 13. The event connected CodeBoxx’s latest cohort of junior developers with local tech leaders to complete pro bono web development projects for three local nonprofits: 360Eats, the Barbershop Book Club and Voices of Hope for Aphasia.

The project served as a capstone of sorts, with students showcasing their completely revamped websites as part of a graduation event at ThriveDTSP. Kim Vogel, campus director for Codeboxx, said, “we decided to take a really entrepreneurial leap with this cohort.”

She relayed that officials did not present the idea for a hackathon until about six weeks before graduation and credited students for using their “amazing” energy and willingness to help empower the surrounding community through technology. Bryan Peret, program director, said that 95% of the website redesign and redevelopment took place that day.

“A lot of magic happened in a little bit of time,” said Peret. “We were able to assist, but this is their work.”

Miles Morel, left, and Marcell Perkins showcase their work on the Barbershop Book Club’s website.

The hackathon was a culmination of an immersive four-month program that teaches coding skills to people from all backgrounds. Coaches and students credited the company’s commitment to diversity and fostering community during the graduation ceremony.

Vogel said the program is “all hands on deck and no-holds-barred,” and the goal is for participants to find a job that aligns with their passions and fits their strengths.

“We believe that technology is here to empower every single one of our lives,” she added. “It can rule our lives, or we can use it for good – and this hackathon is a perfect example of how we use technology for good.”

She noted that the founders of 360 Eats and the Barbershop Book Club have a previous relationship with Social Venture Partners (SVP). They participated in SVP’s mentorship program and its subsequent Fast Pitch events, with master barber Antonio Brown winning the $15,000 grand prize for his book club in November 2022.

Brown, owner of Central Station Barbershop, encourages youth literacy by giving culturally relevant books to children who read them aloud while receiving a haircut. Two students built that website from scratch and focused on highlighting the nonprofit’s story and increasing awareness of the nation’s inner-city literacy crisis.

Cameron Macleish participated in SVP’s 2021 Fast Pitch event. He and his mother, Ellen, founded 360 Eats to bridge the gaps between hunger, food waste and environmental sustainability.

Hackathon participants refreshed that website by streamlining navigation tools and making it easier for the community to connect with the nonprofit’s services.

Vogel said Tech4Good is another organization that utilizes volunteer developers to help improve nonprofits’ digital offerings. Its leadership referred Voices of Hope Aphasia, the first national organization dedicated to advocating for people affected by the language disorder, to their counterparts at Codeboxx.

Aphasia impedes a person’s communication ability, and students kept those limitations in mind when revamping the organization’s website. They used specialized fonts and bright, contrasting colors while enhancing content and increasing functionality.

Following the presentations and ceremony, Randy Rosenthal, chief marketing officer for Codeboxx, likened the company’s coding program to a “phoenix rising from the ashes of the boot camp movement.” He said the course is about embracing technology, understanding how it works and realizing the importance of communication, collaboration and creative thinking.

“We’re graduating cohorts of leaders – it’s not just the tech skills,” added Rosenthal. “They care about the community and care about people. They have to be big problem solvers and understand technology so that they can use it in a myriad of ways.”

Xinqi Davis celebrates graduation while Brian Peret, program director, looks on in admiration.

Rather than continuing the four-year college education model, Peret said Codeboxx educators adapt the curriculum to what industry leaders want to see in new hires. He also noted that technology is continuously changing, and people are unlikely to stay with the same company for the rest of their lives.

While Peret said narrowly focused programs based on core concepts are suitable for jobs with conglomerates like Amazon and Google, he believes Codeboxx’s diverse clientele requires a different approach.

“These are people who are coming in from all walks of life and going back out into all walks of life,” said Peret. “We want to be able to serve that – and keeping that in mind – fundamentally makes us different than any other educational institution.”

Editors note: Irv Cohen is CEO of Codeboxx and a co-founder of the St. Petersburg Group, which has an ownership stake in the St. Pete Catalyst.