Volunteer Spotlight: Francis Bongiovanni


Francis Bongiovanni knows the frustration of coding. He began using self-tutorials to learn languages when he was just 10.

“But sometimes I felt like I just needed person-to-person help,” he said.

Mr. Bongiovanni, now 24, has swapped roles – the Philadelphia resident was recently a teacher’s assistant at his first TechGirlz workshop. On Nov. 21, he worked with a group of 25 girls from the Grace Baptist Chapter of TeenShop. He said they played puzzles to learn the logic behind coding, like if statements and loops.

“I remember one of the girls said an exercise was too hard, and I was like ‘it’s a challenge, that’s the fun part,’” Mr. Bongiovanni recalled. “Giving somebody help with where I struggled a long time ago — that’s the part I liked the most.”

By chance, the day began with a challenge for the instructors as well as the students. When they arrived, the computers had a firewall blocking the web site they needed to access the lesson, so they spent a few minutes figuring out how to get around it.

Though the self-proclaimed “Google fan boy” has always been a gadget-lover — he’s on his fourth smart watch and he even had an mp3 player in the brief time they were trendy — he only delved into coding recently. He spent several years in sales before he heard about an intensive coding program at the New York Code + Design Academy. He graduated last month.

One glance around his classroom was proof to Mr. Bongiovanni that girls need more encouragement to seek careers in technology: There were 11 men and just four women.

“There’s obviously a deficit of women in the workplace,” he said. “Something needs to change.”

Mr. Bongiovanni is committed to being a part of that effort. He led his own Techgirlz workshop on Dec. 5 and is already planning several more. The New York Code + Design Academy in Philadelphia is also running workshops powered by TechGirlz.

These days his life revolves around technology. He’s done a few lightning talks on his experiences and he’s been attending job fairs and networking events, which is how he learned about TechGirlz. He also started his own Meetup group for people who like to code.

“It’s just to talk about tech and make friends,” he said. “There’s really no agenda other than that.”

Written by Amy Padnani.