Appirio’s Kalvin Jones empowers unserved communities and solves problems through coding
After living and working in Georgia and Kentucky, Kalvin Jones, a quadruple-certified Salesforce consultant and Butler University grad, chose to come back home to Indiana to make a difference. His first job back in Indianapolis was with Salesforce followed by a startup and a couple of consulting gigs. Just about a year ago, Kalvin landed his current role with Appirio, and he continues to build the nonprofit organization he founded—Code Black Indy.
As a technical consultant at Appirio, the global Salesforce and cloud consulting partner, Kalvin works to bridge the gap between people and technology, improving the digital experience for employees and their customers. When speaking about Appirio and his own experience, Kalvin is thrilled with Appirio’s culture.
“The company is authentic and genuine,” said Kalvin. “Appirio has a unique culture that’s definitely different from any other place I’ve worked. It’s a good place to work, develop your skills, and advance your career. Plus, it’s a high energy place with a reasonable work-life balance; that’s important to me.”
Kalvin’s interest in coding started in high school when he took his first coding class which was taught by NBA player Eric Gordon’s mom, Denise Gordon. While he was initially hesitant to take the course, he credits Denise for having a huge influence on his career. “She had a big impact on me and pointed me in the direction of technology,” said Kalvin. “I only had her as a teacher for one semester, and it made a big difference in the path I chose for myself in the years to come. I’d like to thank her for the impact she made on me.”
In college, Kalvin went on to work in the IT rooms at Kentucky State, which helped develop his skill set from a help desk standpoint. While he made some shifts in majors and schools, he ultimately came back to his roots, both in Indianapolis at Butler University and in technology and science.
After graduating from Butler, Kalvin took an iOS development contract down in Atlanta for three months at the city’s startup hub called Atlanta Tech Village. That’s where Kalvin credits “really learning” how to code and dive in. While he enjoyed the experience, Kalvin ultimately missed Indianapolis and applied for a job at Salesforce. On his first day in the office in 2014, the company had a historic assembly where it was announced they were buying what is now Salesforce Tower and planning to put the Salesforce name on the tallest building in the state. As we know today, Salesforce Tower stands proud and tall in the Indianapolis skyline.
While working at Salesforce, Kalvin was the community liaison for BOLDforce, the Black Organization for Leadership and Development. Responsible for outreach with the community and building relationships, Kalvin’s goal was to expand and empower black employees at Salesforce to increase the diversity and inclusion of the workforce. This is where Kalvin became passionate about building the tech ecosystem through targeted outreach, helping to develop unserved communities through coding resources.
Code Black Indy: Empowering Black and Brown Youth with Coding
“When I left Salesforce after a little over three years later, I knew I wanted to continue that kind of work with the community,” said Kalvin. “I felt like there was an opportunity to build something on my own that people really wanted in the community. I kept getting these requests to do coding classes at schools.”
It took some time to figure out a business model that could be sustainable as a nonprofit, but after two years of work, Code Black Indy received its 501(c)(3) status. “Through Code Black Indy, we are creating a powerful pipeline that incubates and fosters the success of young black and brown people from underserved communities into the tech ecosystem in Indy,” said Kalvin. “We connect and engage through interactive programming and education.”
The organization quickly developed and now operates with 10 paid student facilitators and more than 200 participants total in the sessions offered by Code Black Indy across the city. “The value of what we’re providing rose very quickly because there is such a great need in Indianapolis for a pipeline that feeds from the schools and community into the software companies and startups,” said Kalvin. “They need the talent that our programs spark an interest in and lead to skilled tech workers.”
“It also helps that we’ve hired very well and our student instructors are beloved by the students. The kids just love them, tell them they miss them and can’t wait for them to come back,” said Kalvin. “Code Black Indy lifts the burden of creating the curriculum and managing the processes, and all our student facilitators have to focus on is running the training while really building relationships with the participants.”
The model is proving to work well at helping transition kids to opportunities in high school and in college, which translates into future jobs in the tech ecosystem. Code Black Indy has helped prepare students for academies like Kenzie Academy or Eleven Fifty Academy. The organization is also looking into building out certificate programs while continuing to create content, resources, and curriculum.
How Code Black Indy is Helping the Community
“Code Black Indy isn’t just about students; it’s really about community engagement,” said Kalvin. “Right now, we are working on the limited Internet access problem in our community. People don’t have access to eLearning at home, and others are now realizing that tech is more than a privilege when we operate in a society where it’s a necessity for everyday life. Code Black Indy is working with community activists like the Ross Foundation and Lynn Park Project.”
Together, the organizations are gathering data using Formstack as the data capture platform and Salesforce as the database, both Indiana-based companies. They are asking questions like “Do you have Wi-Fi? Is that Wi-Fi spotty? What kind of device do you use?” The goal is to determine what limited access actually looks like and how that impacts daily lives.
“This problem has multiple parts to it. One is limited access, while the other is devices,” said Kalvin. “It was reported that people need computers, but that’s only solving one part of the problem. We need to think about the situations these people may be in at home. If they do get these computers, who’s to say they actually have Internet access at home? We came up with a plan and process for getting this data so we could actually see what this issue looks like.”
Code Black Indy also worked with AfterSchoolHQ and a couple other companies to develop a Raspberry Pi so parents and students can load Zoom meeting classes or content onto a TV, linking a keyboard and mouse. “Basically, it’s like a PC or makeshift computer so they can have access to the Internet and go to eLearning classes. We’re planning to release this soon to a couple of schools because this device costs around $100-$110 versus a $200 computer, so it can stretch a budget by almost double.”
Kalvin believes that it’s part of his organization’s duty to take these challenges on. “Being well-connected to the community puts me in a position to learn about problems and challenges that need someone to take on and provide solutions,” said Kalvin. “This project started when someone came to me and told me that there were at least 2,000 students on the Eastside where I grew up who didn’t have Internet access and wouldn’t be able to do their stay-at-home eLearning with their teachers. We came together pretty quickly with the Raspberry Pi solution and the ISP access, but what we didn’t really have was any solid data on who didn’t have access. So that’s when we started the data collection effort so we could put some scope around what we were actually trying to solve. That was a really complex issue that was solved, or at least planned to solve, in a week by bringing the right people in the room.”
Appirio’s Diversity Commitment and the Master Plan
Kalvin says that Appirio has also been very supportive of Code Black Indy, offering to help when he needs it. “Another thing I really commend Appirio for is their commitment to diversity and inclusion,” said Kalvin. “It’s a shame that some companies just don’t realize what they’re missing when it comes to building a diverse workforce. I hear from people all the time who tell me they’ve applied at 10 different places and they never hear back. I always do my best to match them up with someone I know at a company that would be a good fit for them, a place like Appirio that gets that having more black and brown people helps the culture and bottom line.”
By leveraging his connections in the tech ecosystem here in Indy and his leadership with Code Black Indy, Kalvin ultimately wants to see progress. “I really want to feed the black tech ecosystem here. I wanted to see young black and brown people succeed, thrive, and run their own businesses. I want to see black-owned businesses that are already here grow by using more technology that Appirio and, on a smaller scale, Code Black Indy can help them with. I want to help demystify tech for the community so that they can get a slice of the acceleration that so many other businesses are seeing by adding CRMs, digital marketing, and communications. I want to help bring these solutions to them,” said Kalvin.
“If I had to sum it up, I want to be the Bill Gates or Steve Jobs of the black tech community,” said Kalvin. “I don’t really think I’m much of a pirate and we’re pretty far from Silicon Valley, but that’s the kind of success I want for myself and for the community here in Indy.”