Abel Regalado used to think that tech was not for him.
For his twelfth birthday, Abel was given an iPod Touch. At first, the device was a disappointment—Abel’s family couldn’t afford to load it with apps. “They didn’t even have the resources to buy me a twenty-five-dollar gift card for the Apple store,” says Abel.
Then, a friend showed Abel his jailbroken iPod. Jailbreaking a device—essentially, hacking it—allows that device to run third-party apps, apps beyond those available in the Apple store. Abel’s friend’s iPod “was the same device,” Abel explains. “But the features inside it were different. There were themes, apps that we wouldn’t have been able to afford, music—and all of these things were free.” Abel’s friend helped him jailbreak his iPod. “That was really what drove me to get interested in what makes tech—and who can make tech,” says Abel. He read up on the founders, the luminaries of the tech industry: “They were mostly white males from higher income families.” Abel is a low-income Latino high school student, born and raised in Fruitvale, a majority Latino neighborhood in Oakland, California. Outside Oakland, Fruitvale is probably best known as the neighborhood where Oscar Grant, III, an unarmed African American man, was killed by transit police in 2009. So, Abel assumed that tech was not for him.
When Abel was starting high school, his father left his family. His family was wrecked. “I didn’t want to stay at home, where all I would talk about was my father’s absence and our depression,” says Abel. “So, I was at school a lot of the time.” To keep Abel occupied, his teachers steered him toward a three-day coding boot camp, Code Now. Abel had broken his hand three days before the boot camp, so he coded one-handed. “Yeah, it was painful,” he laughs. But he was hooked.
That summer, Abel joined Hack the Hood’s coding boot camp. As a student at Hack the Hood, Abel created a website for Jareem Gunter’s The Man Book, a book meant to aid young men of color growing up without fathers. Out of dozens of boot camp members, Gunter had chosen Abel—without knowing his personal story—to create his website. “Creating a website [for The Man Book] was an extension of what I felt inside,” says Abel. “Of the anger—and all my bottled-up emotions.” He adds: “I think it was fate.”
After Hack the Hood, with the aid of Hack Club, Abel started a coding club at his high school. To date, the club has served about 10% of Abel’s small, public charter school and has a consistent core of about a dozen students. Its beginnings were less auspicious: “At first, it was just me, coding alone in a room, which was really depressing,” says Abel. But the club grew. One of its earliest participants became Abel’s co-leader. “It was really powerful to see that someone—from knowing nothing but having an interest—became interested, started learning to code, and then got to the level where he was wanting to teach and share skills with others,” says Abel.
Therein lies one of Abel’s most significant accomplishments. Not only has he managed to create his own path into tech—with limited resources, with few, if any, relatable role models—but he also strives to make this path a possibility for his peers. He wants to expand opportunities—to bring tech opportunities into his community. “I want to share my skills with more people,” says Abel. “Rather than being egocentric—going to a company, building stuff for that company, and making money. I want there to be more people like me.” Tech inclusivity is not solely a matter of ensuring that tech’s economic opportunities are available to all (although Abel is acutely aware of the ways in which the growth of the tech industry has effected the displacement of his community). It’s also a matter of bringing in new perspectives. “We’ll be able to use technology to solve problems that people in the tech industry didn’t see,” says Abel.
--Thea De Armond