The High Barrier to Entry in Tech for the Underpriviliged

Short Form


When you are trying to transition into tech, it helps to be part of an open source community that welcomes people from all types of backgrounds and experience-levels. If you are a beginner programmer and underprivileged, the search for the right tech community can be a daunting experience. You may be systematically excluded from participating in some communities by gatekeepers. As a programmer who comes from a marginalised community, allow me to share with you the story of how I found a programming community that welcomed and helped me to overcome the high barrier to entry in tech. This talk aims to encourage everyone to do their bit to create inviting communities for the underprivileged.



I am a minority who grew up in an inner-city area in London, England. I was working at a failing startup that was building a platform to help people discover unique overseas experiences. The runway was getting shorter and the product wasn’t taking off as expected. That’s when I decided to pull the plug and focus on learning how to program.

I tried participating in various communities for about a year. I always stood out like a sore thumb and never met anyone from my background. Worst of all, I feared asking questions to more experienced programmers. That’s when I came to the conclusion that there this weird culture that is prevalent in tech. I had to find the right community to realise my dream of getting dramatically better at programming.

My search for the right community led me to the Recurse Center, a writer’s retreat for programmers in New York City. I was able to improve as a programmer in a judgement-free environment. More importantly, I made life-long friendships with wonderful humans who excelled in programming ranging from entrepreneurs, teachers, college students, to stay-home-parents and artists.


Under this backdrop, we’ll firstly explore some of tech’s high barriers to entry for the underprivileged. For the purpose of this talk, underprivileged is defined as people who lack the advantages that non-marginalised groups enjoy. We’ll then dig deeper into how the ideal tech community and learning environment should look like. Spoiler alert: they should have lightweight social rules. Finally, using my own story as a framework, we’ll discuss some strategies on how to create inviting open source communities for the underprivileged.


inclusivity, learning strategies, community, self-learners, empathy, social rules, Code of Conduct, programming, underprivileged, privilege

Speaking experience

I have given five talks at the Recurse Center in New York City and one talk in FullStack JS in London, England. I have also spoken on BBC London radio.


  • Hacker

    Khalid A

    Recurse Center (Alumni)


    Khalid is a programmer/entrepreneur that is based in London, England. Khalid loves to experiment and dive deep into game development, data visualisation, and functional programming. When not programming, Khalid loves to live abroad at least once every two years, social tech, and personal fitness training. He never graduated from the Recurse Center on December ’15.

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