Pacific Northwest leaders who are wielding tech for good causes are doing great things — and we’re excited to celebrate those efforts.
In the past, for the Geeks Give Back category at the GeekWire Awards, we invited the GeekWire community to vote for the top organization that has benefited kids and education, people under-represented in tech, the environment, healthcare, and other worthy missions.
This year, we’re doing it differently. There are so many folks doing so much important work that our judges instead selected three groups for “Geeks Give Back” recognition this year. There’s no voting in this category; all three honorees are our winners.
They are: the Black Boardroom Initiative, Coding Dojo and CovidWA.com.
The 2022 honorees join a laudable cohort of previous winners that includes the Female Founders Alliance (now renamed Graham and Walker), the Year Up and Apprenti training programs, the Technology Access Foundation (TAF) and a campaign to end malaria.
The Geeks Give Back Award is presented again this year by BECU.
The GeekWire Awards recognize the top innovators and companies in Pacific Northwest technology. Our Geeks Give Back honorees and other award finalists were selected based on community nominations, along with input from GeekWire Awards judges.
In other categories, community voting will continue until April 22, combined with feedback from judges to determine the winner in each category. Results will be announced at the GeekWire Awards ceremony on May 12 in Seattle.
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Continue reading to learn more about this year’s three Geeks Give Back Award honorees.
The Black Boardroom Initiative
Leaders of the Black Boardroom Initiative, from left to right: James Williams, Steward Landefeld and Trey Chenier. (Perkins Coie Photos)
Motivated in part by the murder of George Floyd, Seattle’s Perkins Coie in June 2021 launched the Black Boardroom Initiative. The effort is working to increase the diversity of S&P 500 corporate boards by training cohorts of potential candidates. The law firm set a goal of 12.5% Black directors in Washington by 2028 — a ratio that matches the fraction of America’s Black population.
To get a sense of where Pacific Northwest companies are starting from, GeekWire last summer examined the board composition of 30 publicly traded tech and biotech corporations in Washington. Our research found that approximately 6% of directors at these companies are Black.
The initiative’s inaugural cohort included 23 Black executives in the C-Suite or reporting directly to the C-Suite from a variety of industries. The program offers seven months of free training and networking. The first class graduated in November, and one participant has already been appointed to two public company boards.
This spring the program is expanding to New York City, and in May new cohorts will be created there and in Seattle.
The Black Boardroom Initiative also fields requests regarding open board positions and provides introductions to program participants.
Perkins Coie’s James Williams, Stewart Landefeld and Trey Chenier have partnered in leading the effort.
“There are many benefits to a public company having a more diverse corporate board, including diversity of opinion, stronger corporate governance, and the encouragement of diversity throughout an organization,” said Williams at the time of the program’s launch.
The initiative is also backed by Deloitte, and the first cohort’s sponsors included Microsoft, Amazon, Zillow Group, F5 and RealNetworks. The effort is currently establishing sponsorship for the next round.
Related coverage: The Black Boardroom Initiative launches with support from Seattle tech to boost board diversity
Coding Dojo CEO Richard Wang. (Coding Dojo Photo)
Since Richard Wang co-founded Coding Dojo in 2013, the computer programming bootcamp has trained more than 11,000 students globally, both in person and online.
The Seattle-based company, which offers instruction in computer programming, data science, cybersecurity and other technologies, has had a long-term focus on helping underserved communities. Over its history, Coding Dojo has awarded $13 million in scholarships and tuition assistance.
But more recently, Wang, who immigrated to the U.S. from China at the age of 13, sought to help a more specific group of learners. In 2020, Coding Dojo launched a program serving refugees. Five students received scholarships covering the nearly $15,000 price tag for their 14-week training. The company partnered with Jewish Family Service and Community Credit Lab to provide stipends of $3,000-4,000 a month for food and housing support.
“I evaluated my options, and I felt like technology was a good way to go,” said Valery Shema, a refugee from Rwanda and former lawyer who participated in the first cohort. “The world is evolving toward technology, and I want to be part of it.”
Coding Dojo this February launched a second cohort of five additional students. A graduate from the first group has returned to help mentor and support the new students. The goal is to one day expand the program more broadly.
Related coverage: Refugees get free training for tech careers in pilot program launched by Coding Dojo and partners
George Hu, former Microsoft engineer and a lead on the CovidWA.com effort. (CovidWA.com Photo)
When COVID-19 vaccines began widely rolling out in early 2021, it unleashed an anxious scramble to find available doses. Getting vaccinated was a chance to put at-risk family members out of harm’s way. It opened the door to reunions with loved ones after months of separation. But despite the high stakes, there was no single place to figure out who had shots available, and when.
So a team of volunteer tech experts in Washington stepped in to quickly fill the void.
The group formed in early February and within five days launched CovidWA.com to help people find shots across King County, which includes Seattle, Bellevue and Redmond. Less than two weeks later, the site covered the whole state.
“We all have been admiring the workers that have been able to make a difference on the front lines,” said Maureen O’Hara, a project manager for CovidWA.com at the time of its launch. “I can’t cure COVID, but I can help people get the information they need to protect themselves.”
The platform scraped appointment availability information from websites for 1,400 vaccine providers, providing updates on openings every five minutes.
The team shut down the site at the end of May as vaccine scarcity diminished and the state Department of Health improved its site. CovidWA.com was used by more than 1.1 million Washington residents, and the initiative provided data to DOH that served an additional 2 million users.
The core leaders were former Microsoft engineer George Hu, MIT software engineering student Darren Lim, Facebook engineer Dmitry Grigorenko, Microsoft engineer Olga Illarionova, and Microsoft software engineer Dan Morris. (Grigorenko and Illarionova are also a married couple.) The effort drew 130 volunteers.
Related coverage: Eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine? Seattle techies create site that shows open appointments
A big thanks to Astound Business Solutions, the presenting sponsor of the 2022 GeekWire Awards.
Also, thanks to gold-level and category sponsors: Wilson Sonsini, ALLtech, JLL, DreamBox Learning, Blink UX, BECU, Baird, Fuel Talent, RSM, Aon and Meridian Capital. And thanks to silver level sponsors: J.P. Morgan Chase and Material+.
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